Indigenous groups claimed a victory at the UN climate talks in Bonn on Nov. 15 as governments acknowledged for the first time that they can play a leadership role in protecting forests and keeping global temperatures within safe levels. Participating governments ("Parties") agreed to create a platform to promote the voices and inclusion of indigenous peoples in the UN climate process, formally known as the Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCC). The "Local Communities and Indigenous Peoples Platform" (PDF) states that "Parties should, when taking action to address climate change, respect, promote and consider their respective obligations on the rights of indigenous peoples and local communities," while "Emphasizing the role of local communities and indigenous peoples in achieving the targets and goals set in the Convention, the Paris Agreement and the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development, and recognizing their vulnerability to climate change."
Japan's northernmost main island of Hokkaido seems, unfortunately, poised to jump into the headlines as East Asia's next flashpoint for Great Power confrontation. When North Korea fired a missile over Japan last month, it was this northern island that the rocket passed over. Buried deep in the New York Times account of the incident is the fact that in addition to the routine annual US-South Korean military exercises then underway along the DMZ, "The United States has also been conducting joint exercises with Japanese forces for the past two weeks." And specifically (the Times didn't note) on Hokkaido. The Diplomat informs us that the exercises were dubbed Northern Viper and involved Japan Self-Defense Forces troops and US Marines operating out of Misawa Air Base, the northernmost US base in Japan, just across Tsugaru Strait from Hokkaido on the northern tip of Honshu. The USMC boasts that the exercises were unprecedented, marking the first joint US-Japanese maneuvers on Hokkaido.
The Supreme Court of Canada ruled unanimously July 26 in favor of the Inuit community of Clyde River, Nunavut, which has for the past three years fought to stop seismic testing in their Arctic waters. The Court found that the Inuit were not properly consulted on the oil exploration project off Baffin Island. The decision nullified a five-year seismic testing permit issued by the National Energy Board (NEB) in 2014. The justices wrote that the NEB's consultation process with the community was "significantly flawed," paying little respect to the aboriginal rights of the Inuit and their reliance on local marine mammals for subsistence.
The UN Special Rapporteur on the rights of indigenous peoples, Victoria Tauli-Corpuz, on March 3 called for the US to adopt a consistent approach to indigenous land rights in pipeline projects. The Special Rapporteur voiced concerns about how indigenous peoples were not fully consulted on the Dakota Access Pipeline (DAPL). She said that after a fact-finding trip to the US, she was disturbed by reports "regarding the criminalization of indigenous peoples asserting their right to protest in the now-world famous struggle of several tribes" in opposition to the DAPL. While the protests "have been almost completely non-violent and peaceful, there has been a militarized, at times violent, escalation of force by local law enforcement and private security forces."
On Aug. 1, Indigenous People's Day, President Tsai Ing-wen issued a formal apology to Taiwan's aboriginal peoples for centuries of oppression, and outlined her policies for reconciliation. In a ceremony attended by leaders of aboriginal communities from throughout the island, she said: "For the past 400 years, each regime that came to Taiwan has brutally violated indigenous people's existing rights through military might and land looting." She pledged that her government will give indigenous communities greater autonomy, improve their land rights, and work to preserve native languages.
Canada's Federal Court of Appeal overturned approval of Enbridge energy company's controversial Northern Gateway pipeline that would link Alberta's oil sands to British Columbia's north coast. In the 2-1 ruling June 30, the three-judge panel found that Ottawa failed to properly consult the First Nations affected by the project. That the federal government's consultation efforts "fell well short of the mark," the ruling stated. "We find that Canada offered only a brief, hurried and inadequate opportunity...to exchange and discuss information and to dialogue." President of British Columbia's Haida Nation, Peter Lantin, said: "It's a great day for Haida Gwaii and the coast of BC. We're all celebrating a victory for the oceans and our way of life."
Colombia's Constitutional Court on June 11 overturned a government decree from 2012 that would allow mining in nine areas of the country, together making up 20% of the national territory—a collective area approximately the size of Minnesota. The designated "Strategic Mining Areas" were decalred by the National Mining Agency in decrees 180241 and 0045 of February and June 2012, respectively, affecting lands in some 20 departments, from the Pacific coast to the interior Amazon. The challenge was brought by the NGO Tierra Digna on behalf of several indigenous and campesino groups within these areas, who said to the decrees violated their right to prior consultation. The ruling virtually ends the government's declared ambition to make mining the “motor” of the Colombian economy. (El Tiempo, June 13; Colombia Reports, June 12; El Espectador, June 11)
Peru's president-elect Pedro Pablo Kuczynski has unveiled a platform that calls for privatizing and "individualizing" communal lands to facilitate mineral and agribusiness development. On June 10, PPK's "virtual" minister for Economy and Finance, Alfredo Thorne, told Lima's Radio Capital: "A big part of the properties where the mines are located are today communal property. These properties must be individualized, to give the individual the power to use his land, or to sell it to a mining company or sell it for agriculture." He said he is already working on a map of Peru's properties, to begin "interchanging communal titles to individual titles."