Cultural Survival encourages children and teens to learn about Indigenous peoples, especially how Indigenous communities organize to defend their rights and protect their lands. Sometimes, when governments and companies are not respecting their rights, Indigenous Peoples ask us to help them by writing letters.
Right now, a British company wants to make one of the world’s largest coal mines in the Asian country of Bangladesh. If they get the government’s permission, they will bulldoze 12,000 acres of farmland to dig out the coal. The company will force 130,000 people to move off their land, and they won’t give them new lands to farm. Indigenous people have lived on this land for 5,000 years. Their sacred groves and springs and burial grounds are there, and they don’t want to leave. They are asking us to help them convince the government to say “no” to the coal mine and “yes” to human rights. Will you write a letter to the prime minister of Bangladesh today?
Bangladesh, a small country on the east side of India, is one of the poorest countries in the world. Almost half the people there don’t get enough food to eat every day. Most of the land is close to sea level and it gets flooded every time there’s a big storm or a cyclone in the Bay of Bengal. Rice and other food crops grow best on higher land, like the farms in Phulbari in northwest Bangladesh. Indigenous peoples like the Santal and Munda have grown food in Phulbari for 5,000 years.
Now a British company called Global Coal Management Resources wants to destroy 12,000 acres of farmland and make all the people move off the land so they can make a coal mine there. They will pay the people, but they won’t give them land where they can farm because there is no land available. A Santal mother whose village would be destroyed by the mine explained, “Everywhere here is open space. The kids like to run around. We women work together in the fields and in the village. We have ducks and hens we can sell. We are happy here. If they make us move, how will we live? No, no. We don’t want the mine.”
If the company gets permission from the Bangladesh government, they will move 130,000 people off the land. Then they will dig huge open pits 1,000 feet deep to take out the coal. The air and water for miles around will become polluted with toxic dust. More dangerous pollution will be caused by burning the coal to produce electricity.
The rest of the coal will be shipped to other countries, and that is another problem. The coal barges will travel constantly up and down the rivers and through a very important forest: the Sundarbans mangrove forest. This is a very fragile habitat for endangered species like the Bengal tiger. With so many coal barges moving through the mangroves day and night, the danger of accidents and oil spills is very high.
Will you help the Santal, Munda, and other Indigenous people convince their government to say “no” to the Phulbari coal mine?
Find Out More: How Cool is Coal?
What do you know about coal? Throughout the world, most of our electricity comes from burning coal. But in the United States we have not built any new power plants that burn coal in the last two years. Why? Because burning coal pollutes the air and water with toxic chemicals that can cause illness. It also releases gases into the atmosphere that cause acid rain and global warming. In fact, burning coal is the number one cause of climate change. That means that not burning coal is the number one thing we can do to prevent climate change! Who said that? Dr. James Hansen, director of NASA’s Goddard Space Institute!
Where does electricity in your town come from?
What is your community doing to reduce greenhouse gas emissions?
Please write a polite letter to the prime minister of Bangladesh. Tell her what you think about the idea of building an open-pit coal mine in Phulbari. Ask her to respect the human rights of the Indigenous Peoples who live there.
Send your letter to:
Sheikh Hasina, Honorable Prime Minister
Government of the People’s Republic of Bangladesh
Prime Minister's Office
Old Sangsad Bhaban
Letter writing tips:
Start your letter with this salutation: Honorable Prime Minister,
Make sure your letter is polite and respectful.
At the end of your letter, ask the prime minister for a reply.
Include your name, your age, and your address on your letter.
You might get a letter back from the prime minister of Bangladesh!
Postage from the US is 98 cents.
In the Santal language, “Johar!” (Thank you!)