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World Indigenous People’s Day: Supporting Defense and Dignity

August 9th is the United Nations’ International Day of the World’s Indigenous Peoples. Grassroots International supports Indigenous social movements around the world. This blog looks at the threats facing these communities, and the resistance they’re waging.

Just a week ago, 68-year-old Indigenous chief Emyra Wajãpi was found murdered outside his village in Brazil. As reported in Scientific American, 847 environmental activists were murdered between 2014 and 2018 and “Indigenous groups suffered the worst losses.” Such is the context, or pall, cast over the United Nations’ International Day of the World’s Indigenous Peoples on August 9th.

With this in mind, Grassroots International reaffirms our solidarity and commitment to our Indigenous partners defending their territories and their very lives. But words alone are not enough. Our solidarity philanthropy model, including long-term partnership with Indigenous social movements, is essential. For our Indigneous partners like the Civic Council of Popular and Indigenous Organizations of Honduras (COPINH) and the Black Fraternal Organization of Honduras (OFRANEH), financial support without strings attached is often a life or death question.

In the last eight months alone, for example, the Honduran military police have detained OFRANEH leader Miriam Miranda at least twice. Each time, she and others from her movement were treated like criminals merely for defending their rightful ancestral land. As part of our long-standing partnership with OFRANEH, we provided them with $25,000 worth of support — including funding so they can file complaints in court against the harassment and criminalization they face.

Defense

Extractive capitalism has sustained governments in Latin America and Africa and lined multinational corporations pockets for years. Even as commodity prices have dropped, politicians like Andrés Manuel López Obrador (AMLO) in Mexico have continued development plans, scrounging for foreign investment and economic growth. Brazil’s far-right president Jair Bolsonaro, at the bidding of agribusiness and extractive industries, has declared war on Indigenous people. Many put Emyra Wajãpi’s spilt blood squarely on his hands.

But Indigenous communities are resisting this extractive and repressive model. Our partner Ser Mixe in Oaxaca is joining with other organizations to say “yes to life, no to mining.” We supported the movement with $25,000 last year to provide legal support for Indigenous communities defending their territories.

This resistance, and our concurrent financial support, spans Turtle Island (the Native American name for North America) all the way down to South America. The Indigenous Environmental Network, a longtime leader in Indigenous resistance in the land making up the United States, has organized against pipelines at Standing Rock, uranium developments in the Southwest, and fossil fuel extraction off the Alaskan coast. We provided $11,250 for their continued work as part of our Climate Justice Initiative. Through the Building Equity and Alignment for Impact (BEAI) Fund, we stood with the struggle against the Bayou Bridge pipeline planned to run through Indian Bayou lands. Louisiana Rise, a central group in that struggle, received death threats for their activism — and $25,000 worth of support from us.

Dignity

Resistance is essential, yet it’s not just about defense. It’s also about dignity: the building an alternative to oppression and destruction, rooted in traditional practices and culture.

Some of that work includes recovering Indigenous history and traditions that colonization has tried to erase. For example, our partner the Union of Organizations of the Sierra Juarez of Oaxaca (UNOSJO) used the $15,000 we sent them to strengthen the Indigenous Zapotec people’s identity and autonomy. Through workshops UNOSJO trained community members in Indigenous education techniques and raised awareness about the importance of native corn over genetically-modified or imported alternatives.

Dignity necessarily includes food sovereignty. Another BEAI Fund grantee, Dream of Wild Health, is helping the Native community in the Twin Cities area to re-establish a sovereign food system. As they say, “Native foods for Native people.” Their community-building has already seen visible results:

“One of our youth came to our programs as a silent, withdrawn 12 year old from a home that struggled with addiction and poverty. He got into trouble at 14 but stayed with the program, learning from stable Native men who provided strong role models. He graduated high school, giving credit to Dream of Wild Health for helping him to find his way. This year, he will graduate from college in Environmental Science and become one of the young leaders who will help carry this work forward.”

Running throughout many of our Indigenous partners’ and grantees’ work is an emphasis on feminism and gender equality. For Emem Okon from Kebetkache, a grantee in Nigeria, this means recognizing that women’s rights “are directly linked to issues of land, access to clean water and clean air.” They received $4,840 from Grassroots International to promote eco-feminism and reflect on their struggle against Chevron. Meanwhile in Honduras, COPINH received an additional $22,500 to empower Lencan women in the movement. And the $20,000 our partner Enlace Civil received included support for their initiative to examine and improve gender equality within Indigenous communities in Chiapas.

Solidarity philanthropy with Indigenous people will continue to be essential to all of our collective liberation. As Emem Okon told us: “Grassroots supports linkages between women and nature… [Their support] means finding the solution together, identifying a common language, identifying the thread that holds us together and linking local actions to global actions.”