Since 1994, August 9 has been dedicated as the UN’s International Day of the World’s Indigenous People. The primary purpose of this commemorative day is to help promote and protect the rights of indigenous people around the world.
United Nations Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon has asserted, “The interests of the indigenous peoples must be part of the new development agenda in order for it to succeed…Together, let us recognize and celebrate the valuable and distinctive identities of indigenous peoples around the world. Let us work even harder to empower them and support their aspirations.”
This sentiment is not only shared by Grassroots International, but is also a central principle in, and driving force behind, the work that we do. Supporting the survival and prosperity of indigenous people is at the core of Grassroots’ mission. Although we work with many amazing and influential partner organizations, here are just a few of them that are working towards this same goal:
Defending Corn and Natural Resources in Oaxaca
The Union of Organizations of the Sierra Juarez of Oaxaca (UNOSJO) has been the leading indigenous Zapotec voice in efforts to unmask the presence of genetically-modified corn in the Oaxacan countryside and undertook research to detect the first traces of GM corn in the Zapotec communities. Grassroots is proud to partner with UNOSJO on this project and other defending the natural resources for Juarez mountain communities.
Women’s Organic Garden Project in Guatemala
Guatemala’s National Coordination of Indigenous Peoples and Campesinos (CONIC) was established to promote sustainable livelihoods and community-led development for indigenous peoples across Guatemala. Grassroots International is proud to call them a partner, and to support them in all the work they do. One such project that has been effective is CONIC’s women-led vegetable garden program in Solola. The family of the young girl pictured above is part of the Solola vegetable garden project, which has been beneficial to their community. Through the use of organic compost they have been successful in growing high quality produce.
Defending Territory and Natural Resources in Honduras
In Honduras, Garifuna peoples are Afro-descendent and indigenous communities who have successfully resisted various threats – from slavery and colonialism to current-day pressures of neoliberalism. Grassroots’ partner the Black Fraternal Organization of Honduras (OFRANEH) work’s to defend Garifunas’ land and territorial rights. Garifuna communities are connected to both the land and the sea, as they sustain themselves through both fishing and farming. They face land grabs for agrofuel plantations and tourist resort development along the Atlantic coast that seriously threaten their way of life.
Integrated Family-based Agroecological Production in Brazil
In Brazil, land and water rights of indigenous peoples have long been threatened by international agribusinesses. Grassroots International partner, the Association in the Settlement Areas of the State of Maranhão (ASSEMA) is working to protect the rights of communities in Northern Brazil and has developed an integrated model of family-based agroecological production. The protection of the native Babaçu palm tree is directly tied to the livelihoods of many rural women who work as Babaçu nut harvesters. The photo above shows ASSEMA women harvesting and breaking the Babaçu nut, the products of which they are able to sell through food processing, fair trade marketing, just commerce and solidarity economy opportunities.
Stopping Megadam Projects in the Amazon
The Movement of People Affected by Dams (MAB) in Brazil has been supporting indigenous people’s struggles, but it is careful not to impose its own organizing model on indigenous communities that are being threatened by hydroelectric dam projects. Instead MAB respects and follows indigenous peoples’ political structures and decision-making processes. Through this approach, MAB has been able to establish trusting relationships with indigenous groups. In the Tapajos region, MAB has been working closely with the Munduruku tribe in supporting the demarcation of their territory and using it as a mechanism to stop megadam projects in their territory. “It’s a privilege to be in the fight with MAB,” said Juarez Saw Munduruku Chief of Sawré Muybu Village.
Creating Collective Farms in India
Over 80 percent of women in rural India work in agriculture, from sowing to harvesting crops to collecting and caring for seeds to caring for livestock collecting water. However, the current system in India does not give women formal recognition as farmers, so they don’t have access to credits, compensation and relief benefits offered by the government. Founded in 1994, the Tamil Nadu Women’s Collective, a Grassroots International grantee, works to empower disenfranchised communities, particularly Dalit (formerly untouchables) and indigenous Adivasi women. The Women’s Collective works with these rural women farmers to increase their self-reliance through the use of ecological farming practices and the establishment of collective farms.
About the Author: Sarah Welch is a volunteer with Grassroots International and a student at Suffolk University.