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From the Wet’suwet’en to West Papuans: Continuing indigenous peoples’ struggles

Posted on 22 February 2019

Photos from http://unistoten.camp/ and https://www.freewestpapua.org/

Indigenous peoples from around the world continue their strong assertions of their right to self-determination, as 2019 witnesses their enduring struggles for rights and sovereignty amid threats from state armed forces, right-wing elites and transnational corporations (TNCs). Sustained actions by empowered people’s organisations and movements, such as indigenous peoples’ movements and organisations, are essential in transforming societies for development that is led not by the elite, nor corporations, but by the people.

The Wet'suwet'en struggle

The Wet'suwet'en nationin the Canadian province of British Columbia have been asserting their right to their ancestral territories for decades, as these continue to be threatened by corporate interests.Among the various pipeline projects they oppose is the current 670-kilometre Coastal GasLink Pipeline project, led by energy transnational corporation TransCanada. [i]

The USD 4.8 billion pipeline, part of the bigger USD 40 billion fracked gas project, [ii] aims to transport natural gas for later export. [iii] But if built, this would pose environmental risks [iv] and deprive communities of their ancestral territory and their access to lands, bodies of water and resources. The project is backed by the Canadian national government, the government of British Columbia and other TNCs such as PetroChina, Royal Dutch Shell, Petronas, Mitsubishi Corporation and the Korean Gas Corporation.

After a court injunction granting supposed Coastal GasLink access to the land, militarised Canada’s national police force breached a camp constructed by the indigenous peoples and arrested at least 12. [v] The Unist'ot'en camp, named after one of the Wet’suwet’en clans, [vi] was constructedtowards an “indigenous re-occupation of Wet’suwet’en land” [vii] and blocks the path of the planned pipeline. [viii] The arrests and the ongoing Wet’suwet’en strugglefor their land garnered the support of more than 70 marches for solidarity in Canada, Europe and the United States.

Brazil’s indigenous peoples under Bolsonaro

In Brazil, as Jair Bolsonaro began his first days in office as president, indigenous peoples’ rights came under threat. The far-right president issued executive decrees in January which, among others,forged closer relations with the United States government, [ix] transferred power over indigenous lands from the Fundação Nacional do Índio (FUNAI) to the Agriculture Ministry, [x] as well as orders that are expected to block any new lands for indigenous peoples.

FUNAI is constitutionally mandated to decide on matters relating to indigenous peoples’ control and protection of ancestral lands. [xi] The transfer of powers to the Agriculture Ministry came at a time when it is headed by Tereza Cristina Dias, former leader of the agribusiness lobby group in Brazil’s congress. [xii] Amid the looming threat of business expansion to indigenous domains, Bolsonaro has previously called land activists as “terrorists” [xiii] and has enjoyedthe support of the agribusiness sector [xiv] and big farm lobby groups. [xv]

In response, indigenous peoples’ groupslaunched protests in at least 22 states to assert their rights for their ancestral lands and their futures. [xvi] They have also decried the role of the country’s environmental policy in the recent collapse of a dam in southeast Brazil, [xvii] while directly affected groups have asserted their resistance to protect