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MEXICO CITY, Nov 11 2016 (IPS) - Canadian activist Clayton Thomas-Muller crossed the border between his country and the United States to join the Native American movement against the construction of an oil pipeline, which has become a model to follow in struggles by indigenous people against megaprojects, that share many common elements.
“It’s an amazing movement. Its number one factor is the spiritual founding of cosmology. There are indigenous people all around the world that share the cosmology of water. There is a feeling on sacred land. This is the biggest indigenous movement since pre-colonial times,” the delegate for the Indigenous Environmental Network told IPS.
Thomas-Muller, of the Cree people, stressed that the oil pipeline “is one of the major cases of environmental risk in the United States” fought by indigenous people.
“We see many parallels in the local indigenous struggles. When indigenous people arise and call upon the power of their cosmology and their world view and add them up to social movements, they light people up as we’ve never seen,” he told IPS by phone from the Sioux encampment that he joined on Nov. 6.
“This struggle is everywhere, the whole world is with Standing Rock,” he said.
Standing Rock Sioux is the tribe that heads the opposition to the 1,890-km Dakota Access Pipeline (DAPL) in the state of North Dakota, along the Canadian border.
The 3.7 billion dollar pipeline, which is being built by the US company Dakota Access, is to transport 470,000 barrels of crude oil daily from the Bakken shale formation.
The opposition to the pipeline by the Sioux, or Dakota, Indians has brought construction to a halt since September, in a battle that has gained thousands of supporters since April, including people from different Native American tribes, environmental activists and celebrity advocates, not only from the U.S. but from around the world.
Their opposition is based on the damages that they say the pipeline would cause to sacred sites, indigenous land and water bodies. They complain that the government did not negotiate with them access to a territory over which they have complete jurisdiction.
Some 600 flags of indigenous peoples from around the world wave over the camp on the banks of the Missouri River where the movement has been resisting the crackdown that has intensified since October. Of the U.S. population of 325 million, about 2.63 million are indigenous people, belonging to 150 different tribes.
The movement has served as an example for similar battles in Latin America, according to indigenous leaders.
In the northern Mexican state of Sonora, the Yaqui people are also fighting a private pipeline threatening their lands.
“We were not asked or informed. We want to be consulted, we want our rights to be respected. We are defending our territory, our environment,” Yaqui activist Plutarco Flores told IPS.
In a consultation held in accordance with their uses and customs in May 2015, the Yaqui people – one of Mexico’s 54 native groups – voted against the gas pipeline that would run across their land. But the government failed to recognise their decision. In response, the Yaqui filed an appeal for legal protection in April, which halted construction.
Of the 850-km pipeline, 90 km run through Yaqui territory – and through people’s backyards. In October, a violent clash between opponents and supporters of the pipeline left one indigenous person dead and 14 injured.
For Flores, the indigenous struggle against megaprojects has become “a paradigm” and protests like the one at Standing Rock “inspire and reassure us because of our shared cultural patterns.”
Also in Mexico, in the northern state of Sinaloa, the Rarámuri native people have since January 2015 halted the construction of a gas pipeline across their lands and the bordering U.S. state of Texas, demanding free prior and informed consultation, as required by law.
Unlike the U.S., Latin American countries are signatories to International Labour Organisation (ILO) Convention 169 on Indigenous and Tribal Peoples, which protects their rights and makes this kind of consultation obligatory in the case of projects that affect their territories.
But in many cases, according to indigenous leaders consulted by IPS, this right has not been incorporated in national laws, or is simply not complied with, when projects involving oil, mining, hydroelectric or infrastructure activities affect their ancestral lands.
Both the United Nations Permanent Forum on Indigenous Issues and the Special Rapporteur on Indigenous People’s Rights, Victoria Tauli-Corpuz, requested in September that the U.S. government consult the communities affected by the oil pipeline.
“The fact that they’re not being consulted means a violation to their rights. The arrests that have taken place are too a violation of the right of free assembly,” Tauli-Corpuz told IPS Nov. 9, at the end of a visit to Mexico.
During her three days in the country, the special rapporteur participated in a conference on indigenous peoples’ right to free, prior and informed consultation, promoted by the the Office of the United Nations High Commissioner on Human Rights and the Inter American Commission on Human Rights.
Tauli-Corpuz also met with representatives of 20 indigenous Mexican communities affected by gas pipelines, hydropower plants, highways and mines. The Mexican government announced that in 2017 it would officially invite the special rapporteur to assess the situation of indigenous people in Mexico.
The U.N. official said a recurring complaint she has heard on her trips to Brazil, Colombia, Honduras, Panama and Peru is the lack of free, prior consultation that is obligatory under Convention 169.
In Costa Rica, the Maleku people, one of the Central American country’s eight indigenous groups, who total 104,000 people, are worried about the expansion of the San Rafael de Guatuso aqueduct, in the north of the country.
“A fake consultation was carried out. Also, the people do not want water meters, because they would have to pay more for water,” Tatiana Mojica, the Maleku people’s legal representative, who is thinking about filing an appeal for legal protection against the project, told IPS during the colloquium.
Since September, Sarayaku indigenous people from Ecuador, Emberá-Wounaan from Panamá, and Tacana from Bolivia have visited the Sioux camp to protest the oil pipeline.
Thomas-Muller said “We have the opportunity to stop it. I’m optimistic that we will be victorious here. These movements are the hammer that will fall over oil infrastructure owned by the banks and big corporations. We want political will to make an appearance,” he said.
A major Nov. 15 protest is being organised to demand that the government refuse a permit for the North Dakota pipeline.
“This struggle will go through all the steps that it has to. We will make sure that the Sonora pipeline is not built,” said Flores.
Meanwhile, Mojica said “we are uniting to fight against megaprojects that affect us. We are making ourselves heard.”
Tauli-Corpuz said “Opposition to pipelines is a common feature of indigenous people. It’s a magnet that attracts solidarity from all over the world.”
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