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The Valley of Gold

Indigenous people in Chile’s Huasco Valley have held onto their land and their identity for 4,000 years despite conquerors, dictators, and a dominant culture that didn’t recognize their existence. Now they face a new threat, one that glitters. Legend has it that it was the Inca leaders of Cuzco who told the Spanish colonizers that there were hidden riches in the south. Dreaming of gold, the…

The Secret Life of Beads

For outsiders, the elaborate beadwork worn by Maasai herders may seem nothing more than a colorful decoration that enlivens ceremonies and dancing. But for the Maasai themselves, the beads capture their whole world. Consider the jewelry worn by women when they marry. Marriage in traditional Maasai communities is always an arranged affair, with parents choosing the most appropriate partner for…

The People of the Corn

For Mexicans, maize is not a crop but a deep cultural symbol intrinsic to daily life. Corn was domesticated from a grass called teocintle by the peoples of Meso-America approximately 10,000 years ago. Often referred to as humanity’s greatest agronomic achievement, maize is now grown all over the world. The yellow corn commonly found in the United States pales in comparison to the shapes, sizes,…

Sharing One Skin

I am from the Okanagan, a part of British Columbia that is much like most of California in climate—very dry and hot. Around my birthplace are two rock mountain ranges: the Cascades on one side and the Selkirrks on the other. The river is the Columbia. It is the main river that flows through our lands, and there are four tributaries: the Kettle, the Okanagan/Smikanean, the San Poil, and the Methow…

Land and Resources

With a population estimated at 40 to 50 million and with 400 identified ethnic and linguistic groups, indigenous peoples represent approximately 10 percent of Latin America’s population. Although their demography varies from state to state (in Bolivia and Guatemala indigenous people constitute the vast majority of the population, while in Venezuela and Brazil they represent approximately 1…

Human Rights Delegation Finds Colombia Guilty of Crimes Against Humanity

In September a delegation of human rights experts from Europe, Latin America, the United States, and Canada, including representatives from the United Nations and the European Union, investigated the state of indigenous peoples in Colombia and issued a statement charging the government with crimes against humanity and other, lesser charges. The group, called the International Verification Mission…

For the Love of Furniture

Big-Leaf mahogany is one of the most valuable types of wood in the international market and highly prized by furniture makers. As a result, it has been logged from most of its original range. The one area that still contains significant numbers of mahogany trees is the Madre de Dios region of the Peruvian Amazon, and loggers are flocking there despite the trees being protected. Unfortunately…

Fighting for the Right Rights

This edition of the Cultural Survival Quarterly, which focuses on the rights of indigenous peoples to their lands and resources, goes to press during the count-down to the United Nations General Assembly’s adoption of the Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples. It is thus an opportune moment to reflect on what we at Cultural Survival mean when we say we “promote the rights of indigenous…

Fighting for Rights in the Philippines

Joan Umaming Carling has been an indigenous rights activist in the Philippines for 20 years, and has been associated with the Cordillera Peoples’ Alliance (CPA), an indigenous organization, for more than 12 years. Thanks in part to her work there has been a growing recognition of indigenous issues in the Philippines, but also a growing repression from the government. In the five years since…

Extraction: In Colombia, a Mine Takes Much More from the Land than Coal

“It was very beautiful. There was plenty of food; the people here hardly ever got sick because everything was clean; there was a beautiful pond, unpolluted. This was what life used to be like here. It was very safe; you could go wherever you wanted, at any hour of the day or night… “My house, mine and my husband’s, was a memory that was very dear to us… We had two bedrooms, a dining…

Who is Indigenous? Who is Afro-Colombian? Who Decides?

One of Cerrejón’s key claims in justifying its refusal to recognize the collective rights or even the collective existence and identities of the communities around the mine is that they are not, in fact, indigenous or Afro-Colombian. “In Colombia, the state regulates and legitimates the ethnic categories that people belong to,” Juan Carlos Forero, the company anthropologist, told us in August,…

Digging Chile

Since the 1980s, the Chilean government, hoping to bring the country into the global market, has dramatically increased development. This strategy, first initiated under Augusto Pinochet’s military dictatorship, has been adopted by the country’s subsequent democratic governments, which have signed free-trade agreements with Canada, Mexico, the United States, the European Union, Korea, and China.…

Cultural Survival Lobbies Guatemalan Congress for Indigenous Radio Rights

In November, Cultural Survival executive director Ellen Lutz traveled to Guatemala to lobby congressional representatives there, hoping to convince them to pass a new law that would finally give full legal rights to community radio stations in indigenous areas. A provision for community radio is actually written into Guatemala’s constitution and into the peace accords that ended 30 years of…

Coal and Wayuu in Venezuela

We will not be removed from the lands where our ancestors are buried. We are defending the animals, the forests and the water. This planet can’t withstand any more contamination. What good is all this wealth from oil and coal if we are dying of diseases and misery? Several years ago they pushed out some of our people to make a coal mine. In that region the animals, the fish, the birds and…

Australian Apocalypse. The Story of Australia's Greatest Cultural Monument by Robert Bednarik

Australian Apocalypse. The Story of Australia’s Greatest Cultural Monument By Robert Bednarik Melbourne: Occasional AURA Publication No. 14. Australian Rock Art Research Association Inc., 2006. ISBN 0-9586802-2-1 Reviewed by Ian S. McIntosh The moral outrage of the global citizen at the wanton destruction of the Bamiyan Buddhas by the Taliban in Afghanistan in 2001 now…

Aborigines Win Ownership of Perth

In a ground-breaking decision, an Australian federal judge has found in favor of an Aboriginal land claim that would give the Noongar people native title to an area of 2,300 square miles, including offshore islands and the city of Perth, which has a population of 1.7 million. The ruling, which was handed down on September 19, drew cheers from the 100 Noongar who were present and cries of outrage…

A Forest of Their Own

In recent years, indigenous people have been awarded title to their own lands in many countries as a result of a well-funded effort by international land conservation organizations. Now, many believe, indigenous peoples can finally determine their own destiny by governing their own lands. But what does the creation of indigenous reserves really mean to indigenous peoples? Is it actually going to…