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Around the world, Indigenous Peoples face an increased and widespread criminalization in exercising their rights, including when protesting against the very violations of their rights. According to Global Witness, in 2022, 177 people were murdered for defending human rights, their lands, and our environment. More than one-third, 36 percent, of the defenders murdered were Indigenous, despite Indigenous people making up only 6.2 percent of the world’s population. Latin America is one of the most dangerous regions to be an Indigenous rights and environmental defender.


By Brandi Morin (Cree/Iroquois)  In the heart of the Arizona high desert lies a battle for the soul of the land. The ancient, sacred grounds of Apache Native territory are under threat from a looming giant — a massive copper mine that promises riches for the locals, and a pathway to the so-called green transition.  But, as is often the case, it comes at a cost. 


In 2003, thanks to a summer scholarship provided by the American Field Service, I was sent during my second year of high school to Bolivia. One of the key field trips that summer was to the city of Potosí, a city that sits at one of the highest elevations in the world and more specifically, the city’s famed Cerro Rico mountain. Cerro Rico translates to the Rich Mountain, having earned this name when enormous quantities of silver were found there during the time of the Spanish conquest in 1545.


One legacy of colonialism is that our territories are constantly under threat. Chile was built on the usurping and dispossession of Indigenous territories, which reduced our population. As Indigenous Peoples, we have always been repressed and dispossessed in a systemic way. Being a defender of the land corresponds to following a path of struggle of our ancestors, a struggle that dates back centuries to revitalize our own culture and territory.


By Brandi Morin (Cree/Iroquois) The land guardian knows the intricate layout of his territory inside out. Mike Forbister (Ojibwe), like his father and grandfather before him, has memorized every vein of the complex English-Wabigoon River systems and navigates every nearby backroad and old hunting trail with ease. Together, with his colleague, Robby Williamson Jr. (Ojibwe), they spend their days monitoring the territory of their homelands at Grassy Narrows First Nation in Northwestern Ontario, Canada.


We, Minahasan, view everything that nature provides as historical sites that must be protected by all means. Minahasa is the name of the union of nine Tribes that inhabit the northernmost tip of the Minahasa peninsula on the island of Celebes, Sulawesi, Indonesia. We are currently facing many threats to our territories.


Simson Kapembe (SAN) We are known as hunters and gatherers. We lived a nomadic way of life, gathering bush food to feed our families. We use different types of bush trees as traditional medicine to cure our family.


On the southern slopes of the Urals, located within the territory of today’s Russian Federation, lies the land of Bashkortostan, a country historically renowned for its national heroes, defenders of the land. From this beautiful and hospitable land hails Fail Alsynov (Bashkir), a land defender and cultural activist of the Bashkir Peoples.


From my experience, I have found that environmental defenders continuously face many enemies who, according to the stakes, can and will go to great lengths to derail or completely stop environmentalists from carrying out their work. Right from the heart of governments whose powerful official reach has the capacity to facilitate powerful surveillance to powerful corporations that are motivated purely by profit and far less by morals, opponents will go to great lengths to advance and protect their profit interests.


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