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New U.N. Human Rights Council Approves Declaration of the Rights of Indigenous Peoples

In June, two historic transitions in international human rights took place at the United Nations’ Geneva headquarters. The first was the inaugural session of the new U.N. Human Rights Council. It replaces the U.N.’s discredited Human Rights Commission, the members of which, chosen by regional blocs, all too often were rights-violating states that used their positions to hijack effective UN action…

Living in No-Man's Land

As the largest tribe in the United States that has land stretching across a border, the Tohono O’odham have struggled to maintain their traditional way of life as security along the U.S.-Mexico border has increased dramatically since the September 11 terrorist attacks. In response to the closing of several major ports of entry, illegal immigrants and drug traffickers have turned to Tohono O’odham…

Indigenous People UNDER THE GUN

Altaquer, Colombia On the morning of August 9, nine armed men in fatigues entered this village of displaced Awá, dragged three men and two women from their houses, and shot them dead. The murdered people were among 455 indigenous Awá living in the community, all of whom had been recently displaced by the ongoing fighting between the military and rebels. According to Jennifer Pagonis, a…

Homeland Insecurity

In 1842 the Mohawk community of Akwesasne was bisected by the U.S.-Canadian border, severing their communal lands into two equal Canadian and American sectors. Today Akwesasne is a kaleidoscope of cultural and political elements in layered complexity. Traditional practices and law of the Mohawk nation coexist with the philosophies, policies, and regulations of one state, two provinces, two…

Enjoying a Low-fat Desert

The Tohono O’odham Nation encompasses nearly 4,600 square miles, the second largest Indian reservation in the United States, roughly the size of the state of Connecticut. Around 70 percent of the tribe’s 27,000 members have adult-onset Type II diabetes, the highest rate in the world. Tohono O’odham Community Action’s food program is working to promote physical and cultural health though…

Cultural Survival Calls for Genographics Moratorium

In July, Cultural Survival asked the National Geographic Society (NGS) to suspend its global DNA sampling program, the Genographics Project, until the society addressed indigenous peoples’ fears about harm the project might cause. The appeal followed an exchange of views between Cultural Survival and NGS that began nearly a year ago. (See the articles grouped together under “Genetic Research on…

A Model For Cultural Coexistence

This summer, I had the extraordinary fortune to travel to the Autonomous Republic of Buryatia in Siberia to attend the Altargana Festival. Altargana means prairie flower, a plant with strong roots and a flower that reaches for the sky, even under the most adverse conditions. It is the symbol of Buryat spiritual unity and solidarity, which the festival displayed in abundance. Like an Olympic…

Vermont Finally Recognizes the Abenaki

After more than 30 years of struggle, the Abenaki of Vermont have finally won recognition by the state, as Bill S.117 was signed into law on May 3rd. Proposals to recognize the tribe had been introduced in the Vermont legislature year after year in various resolutions and in bills that always stalled in committee. “Resolutions aren’t enough,” said Vermont State Senator Diane Snelling, who…

U.N. Human Rights Committee Denounces U.S. Indigenous Policies

A leading United Nations human rights body has issued a report blasting the United States for its systematic abrogation of its treaties with Native Americans, stealing of reservation land, and the loss of billions of dollars of Native American money, among other things. It demanded that the United States grant American Indians and Native Hawai’ians the same basic protections under U.S. law that…

The Rhythm of Otavalo

Roberto Cachimuel is one of the founding members of Yarina, a family of musicians from Otavalo, Ecuador, that has received wide acclaim in their home country and abroad. Yarina, meaning “remembrance” in Cachimuel’s native language, Quichua, was formed in 1984 to promote native arts and culture during the formative years of Ecuador’s burgeoning indigenous political and cultural rights movement.…

Restoring the Abenaki

Chief Nancy Lyons has a vision: a “reverse boarding school” that will restore to her Koasek Abenaki Nation their language, ceremonies, history, foods and agricultural methods, and traditional basketry and other crafts. She calls it the Koasek Cultural Academy. In the four months since the Koasek named her chief, along with co-chief Brian Chenevert, she has earned enthusiastic support from her…

A Home Away from Home

Maintaining cultural identity is hard enough for indigenous peoples in countries that are politically stable, but the problems are vastly more difficult when war and persecution push indigenous people into refugee camps across a border. Few indigenous people have had as much experience with those challenges as the Karen. Riding north along the Thailand-Burma border en route from the…

Culture on the Line

In the mountainous region around the border between Siberia and Mongolia, time, politics, and boundaries have mixed to give indigenous peoples a new lease on life and new threats to their traditions. Up there,” said Dan Plumley, coordinator of Cultural Survival’s Totem Project, “is where Siberia ends and Mongolia begins.” He was pointing to the sharp, forested ridge that formed the left-…

Two Countries, One People

When Cultural Survival’s team met with Dukha reindeer-herders in Mongolia this summer, they told us about an incident that happened in late winter two years ago. That time of year is hardest for the Dukha, as game is scarce and the cold is lethal. They often go days without eating, and hunger drives them to follow game signs wherever they lead. In this case, two Dukha hunters found animal tracks…