A scene from the launch party of the Ilê Omolu Oxum CD in 2005 in front of the National Museum of Brazil in Rio de Janeiro. (Antonio Carlos de Souza Lima)

This week the National Museum of Brazil caught fire and burned to the ground.

The museum was a scientific institution, that contained artifacts and specimens representing the social and biological diversity of Brazil and the world. Many of these items were unique: Extremely rare Egyptian mummies; some of the oldest human remains of the Americas; cultural collections of indigenous peoples (both from today and from pre-conquest times); African treasures, such as the throne of King Adandozan of Dahome, and rare ivory sculptures. There were also collections of coral, fish, mammals, insects, birds, reptiles and plants. Many of these species, such as the blue Spix Macaw (featured in Disney’s animated film “Rio”), are now extinct.…  Seguir leyendo »

I did an official 10-day visit from May 1-10 to Guatemala as part of my tasks as the United Nations Special Rapporteur on the rights of indigenous peoples. In a span of five days, while I was there and after I left, Luis Marroquin, Jose Can Xol and Mateo Chamán Paau were killed. They were killed in their fight for their rights to continue owning the lands they live in and live from. All of them are Q’eqchi’ Maya.

Marroquin, a member of the national directorate and coordinator of the eastern region of the Comité de Desarrollo Campesino (CODECA), was killed in the town of San Luis Jilotepeque, Jalapa, on May 9.…  Seguir leyendo »

Dans les prochaines semaines, le président de la Colombie Juan Manuel Santos pourrait concrétiser l’une de ses plus anciennes ambitions : que son pays soit admis comme Etat membre au sein de l’Organisation de coopération et de développement économiques (OCDE). Le 22 mars, le Comité des affaires du travail et sociales de l’OCDE débattra de la question, car cette prestigieuse organisation internationale, qui regroupe principalement des pays à revenu élevé, promeut des politiques visant à améliorer le bien-être des populations mondiales sur les plans économique et social.

La Colombie est un pays marqué par de profondes inégalités, comme j’ai pu le constater en me rendant sur place à maintes reprises pour Human Rights Watch.…  Seguir leyendo »

Brazil is home to the largest number of uncontacted indigenous communities of any country in the world. Hidden deep in primeval Amazon forests, these groups represent the final frontier of a seemingly inexorable conquest that began with the landing of Portuguese and Spanish navigators on South America’s shores at the start of the 16th century.

The history of Brazil’s Amazon region, as elsewhere in the Americas, abounds with tales of mass death and brutality perpetrated against its native inhabitants. Entire tribes disappeared, many without a trace. Few of these atrocities figured in official accounts; rarely was anyone brought to justice.

But 30 years ago, Brazil took an extraordinary step toward halting the march of this dismal history.…  Seguir leyendo »

Nothing prepares you for your first sight of Uluru. Amid the vastness of Australia’s arid red center, there is something wondrous about this monumental slab of sandstone rising dramatically out of a flattened landscape. It is not difficult to see why Indigenous Australians saw it as a sacred place.

Uluru is not just a place of wonder and reverence. It has become, too, a political and historical battleground, a place through which Australia has tried to grapple with its relationship with Indigenous Australians.

It was the Anangu, the original inhabitants of the region, who gave Uluru its name. For more than a century, though, it was known to Australians of European descent as Ayers Rock, named after a 19th-century Anglo-Australian colonial administrator.…  Seguir leyendo »

El 30 de abril, un grupo de rancheros armados con rifles y machetes atacó un asentamiento de cerca de 400 familias de la tribu gamela, en el estado de Maranhão, en el noreste de Brasil. De acuerdo con el Consejo Indigenista Misionero, un grupo de activistas, veintidós indígenas resultaron heridos, entre ellos tres niños. A muchos les dispararon por la espalda o les cortaron las muñecas.

Poco después del ataque, el Ministerio de Justicia anunció en su página web que investigaría “el incidente entre pequeños campesinos y presuntas personas indígenas” (tras unos cuantos minutos se eliminó la palabra “presuntas”).

Esto era de esperarse.…  Seguir leyendo »

«Nosotros somos indios alzados, rebeldes, nadie nos va a callar, no nos vamos a callar». Así habló hace una década el por entonces presidente de la República Bolivariana de Venezuela, Hugo Chávez (1954-2013), tras el célebre incidente en el que terció Juan Carlos I, pronunciando su famoso «¿Por qué no te callas?», mientras el Comandante Eterno tildaba de fascista a Aznar en presencia del presidente Zapatero.

La reivindicación indigenista de Chávez, vertida en una universidad chilena tras la clausura de la XVII Cumbre Iberoamericana celebrada en Chile, trataba de marcar distancias con el Rey español. El silencio que se produjo tras el mandato regio transmitió una idea de sumisión inaceptable en el contexto ideológico del Cono Sur.…  Seguir leyendo »

El 19 de febrero, Lenín Moreno, el candidato oficialista del actual presidente Rafael Correa, que ha gobernado el país por una década, no solo no ganó la presidencia en la primera vuelta sino que obtuvo sus peores resultados en la Amazonía Sur y en la Sierra Central, las regiones más pobres y con mayor población indígena de Ecuador. Para un partido que se define de izquierda y cuyas prioridades son luchar contra la pobreza y promover el desarrollo con base en la cosmovisión indígena, esta es una paradoja. En la segunda vuelta del domingo 2 de abril, el partido indígena Pachakutik apoyará al candidato de oposición Guillermo Lasso, un banquero de derecha.…  Seguir leyendo »

Políticas colonialistas, recelos y discordancias han hecho mella en la relación entre los pueblos indígenas canadienses y el resto del país. También los estereotipos han dificultado el entendimiento. Justin Trudeau prometió desde su campaña electoral trabajar para lograr una verdadera reconciliación nacional. El primer ministro ya ha movido piezas creando un consejo nacional para la reconciliación, aunque podría apoyarse en una serie de televisión para ayudar a conseguir su objetivo. A veces, la cultura popular tiene mayor impacto que ciertos discursos y planes gubernamentales.

Mohawk Girls transcurre en Kahnawake, una reserva cerca de Montreal habitada justamente por miembros del pueblo Mohawk.…  Seguir leyendo »

On l’oublie, mais le Mexique, vaste comme près de quatre fois la France, est aussi le pays du continent américain qui compte en son seinle plus grand nombre d’indigènes. Entre 13 et 16 millions d’individus, appartenant à plus de 50 ethnies différentes. Mayas, Otomis, Zapotèques, Totonaques, Huaxtèques, Mazatèques, Nahuas, Mixtèques… Les plus militants d’entre eux forment les files du Congrès national indigène (CNI). Créé il y a vingt ans dans la foulée de la rébellion zapatiste du Chiapas, le CNI va de nouveau défrayer la chronique en cette fin d’année avec l’annonce des résultats de la consultation de ses «bases d’appui» visant à désigner une candidate indigène à l’élection présidentielle mexicaine de 2018 !…  Seguir leyendo »

Billy Gauthier, an Inuk artist who lives in Labrador on Canada’s remote northeastern coast, began his hunger strike on Oct. 13 after a plate of salmon. The meal was highly symbolic.

The Nunatsiavut government in Labrador had released a study from a Harvard mercury researcher on the effects of the newly constructed Muskrat Falls dam. The study showed that water flooding the reservoir behind the dam would contain methylmercury levels “to the point that they exceed regulatory thresholds for exposure,” building up over time in fish and other game consumed by the native population.

And so Mr. Gauthier refused to eat the fish that the Muskrat Falls project would contaminate.…  Seguir leyendo »

The Nobel Peace Prize, awarded to Colombian President Juan Manuel Santos for his efforts in ending a more than 50-year-long civil war, serves as a reminder that Colombia is taking a worthwhile journey toward peace.

But how does a country find peace when more than three-quarters of its population has known nothing but war? The vote in Colombia on Sunday, which rejected the peace agreement Santos negotiated by less than half a percentage point, shows that this is not an easy path to follow.

Like many other Colombians who spent most of their lives living and working amid armed conflict and the atrocities of war, I celebrated this historic opportunity to reconstruct our country and to vote yes for peace.…  Seguir leyendo »

La estrella zapatista

“El silencio de los indios / fue precisando esculturas”, con estos versos Carlos Pellicer resume el trato de México con los pueblos originarios. No se habla de ellos en tiempo presente; su gloria se repliega a una etapa anterior, la edad sin horas de la leyenda. Los museos y las pirámides celebran su esplendor pretérito y las ciudades se adornan con estatuas, pero los indios de bronce no aluden a los actuales: los borran.

El 1 de enero de 1994, los zapatistas se levantaron en un país donde los pueblos indios estaban fuera de la agenda política. El libro más conocido sobre la cultura prehispánica es La visión de los vencidos.…  Seguir leyendo »

Members of the Mashco Piro tribe in the Amazon basin of southeastern Peru. REUTERS/Jean-Paul Van Belle/files TEMPLATE OUT (Stringer/Peru/Reuters)

It may be difficult to believe in this age of global connectivity and instant communications, but dozens of indigenous tribes are still living in almost complete isolation from the rest of the world in the depths of the Amazon rainforest.

While these so-called “uncontacted tribes” have experienced violent encounters with the outside world, they have managed to maintain a way of life that is almost entirely independent from our industrial economy. Everything they need to survive and multiply — food, shelter, water, clothing, medicine — comes from the forest, as long as it remains intact and unspoiled. The tribes are, in effect, the final holdouts from the global village.…  Seguir leyendo »

Cuando el Papa Francisco visitó América Latina en julio hizo una conmovedora defensa de la selva amazónica y de las personas que la habitan. “El hogar de todos está siendo saqueado, destruido y dañado con impunidad”, dijo a activistas reunidos en la Cumbre Mundial de Movimientos Populares en Bolivia. “Es un grave pecado no defenderla por cobardía”.

Atender el llamado del Papa Francisco no es solo una cuestión moral sino práctica. Más adelante en París, durante la Conferencia de las Naciones sobre Cambio Climático en la que se diseñará una respuesta a los desafíos que plantea el calentamiento global, se debería adoptar una serie de políticas para proteger a los bosques tropicales y a los pueblos que las habitan.…  Seguir leyendo »

Shuri, known as Epa, goes back and forth between his tribe and rural communities on the Curanja River in Peru’s Amazon region. Credit Jason Houston

His name is Shuri, but everyone calls him Epa, which means father in the indigenous Pano language family. His wizened face and bare, gnomish feet are familiar to the villagers who live along the Curanja River, which flows through some of the densest rain forest of Peru’s vast Amazon region.

Most of Epa’s tribe remains deep in the jungle, unclothed, hunting with bows and arrows, picking medicinal plants to ward off illness, and avoiding outsiders. But such isolated peoples can no longer depend on the forest as a refuge. In the past year, throughout the Amazon, they have begun to emerge in settled areas in unpredictable, disturbing and occasionally violent ways, often because of hunger or desperation.…  Seguir leyendo »

No Justice for Canada’s First Peoples

I believe in justice. I can’t say I’ve seen that much of it in my lifetime, but I like the concept.

On June 2, the Canadian Truth and Reconciliation Commission released its executive summary on the ill-advised system of government-mandated, church-run residential schools that persisted until 1998. For over a century the program sanctioned the kidnapping of native children from their families and communities. All under the guise of education.

The full report, a result of six years of research and public meetings across the country, along with the testimony of some 6,000 residential-school survivors, will be released later this year.…  Seguir leyendo »

Friends and family gathered around the limp body of a 15-year-old boy laid out on a bed in a thatched hut near the Brazilian town of Iguatemi, close to the border with Paraguay. A shaman shook a small wooden rattle while chanting and dancing — final rites for yet another victim of a suicide epidemic that has plagued the Guaraní Indians of the western Brazilian state of Mato Grosso do Sul.

The boy, Dedson Garcete, had hanged himself — one of 36 suicides among tribe members in 2014 through September, and one of about 500 among the tribe of 45,000 since 2004, according to Zelik Trajber, a pediatrician with the special secretariat for indigenous health within the Ministry of Health in Mato Grosso do Sul.…  Seguir leyendo »

I’ve been using the dating website OkCupid too much lately, and recently decided to reply to persistent messages from a MrNxtLvl – someone I would usually ignore based on his username alone. MrNxtLvl asked me what I was up to on Australia Day. I replied with “Nothing. I don’t celebrate Australia Day’”. He answered with complete bewilderment: “WTF?! You do nuthin? Not even listen to Triple J’s Hottest 100 ?” to which I could only reply, “not even Triple J”.

I’m an Aboriginal woman in her 20s who cruises dating websites, but it’s only four generations back that my family felt the direct consequences of foreigners invading our land.…  Seguir leyendo »

En diciembre de 1511, el cuarto domingo de Adviento, subía al púlpito de la iglesia de los dominicos en La Española (Santo Domingo) fray Antón Montesino para pronunciar un memorable sermón, que se convertiría en una de las primeras y más radicales denuncias de los abusos de la conquista española en Abya-Yala y en un antecedente del pensamiento latinoamericano liberador. Ha llegado hasta nosotros gracias a la profética e incisiva pluma de fray Bartolomé de Las Casas, que recoge lo sustancial de la prédica y las reacciones a la misma en el tercer libro de su Historia de las Indias (tomo II, M.…  Seguir leyendo »