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U.S. shutdown cut deep for Native Americans
by Reuters, Indian Country Today
Jan. 2019
The Pawnee Nation of Oklahoma used a GoFundMe page and its own money to feed its many members who were furloughed or worked without pay during the U.S. government shutdown.
On their reservation in Eagle Butte, South Dakota, the Cheyenne River Sioux used third-party funds and dipped into tribal funds to provide food assistance.
The 35-day partial government shutdown affected 800,000 federal workers, but Native Americans were especially vulnerable because they rely mostly on federal contracts for services and jobs in the Bureau of Indian affairs for incomes.
Ivan Looking Horse, a spiritual leader at the Cheyenne River Sioux reservation in Eagle Butte, South Dakota, said they had prepared for an even longer shutdown in the midst of a harsh South Dakota winter along the Cheyenne River.
"We are the First Nations'' people. We know how to survive," he said after President Donald Trump announced an end to the 35-day partial government shutdown.
Federal workers caught a reprieve after Trump agreed to reopen the government until Feb. 15, without getting the $5.7 billion he had demanded for a border wall. Over the next 18 days lawmakers in the ideologically divided Congress will try to craft a border security bill acceptable to Trump.
For American Indian tribes and federal workers, that amounts to a period in limbo while they wait to see if a deal will be reached by the Feb. 15 deadline - or if another government shutdown will again take their paychecks hostage.
Looking Horse was cautiously optimistic. "I think they''ll come to a conclusion," he said. "This country is based on democracy and consensus and good things will come out."
Native Americans elsewhere were not so sure.
A Bureau of Indian Affairs (BIA) worker in the Navajo Nation, which spans parts of Arizona, Utah and New Mexico, said the agency would work fast to obtain federal grants for contracts to run basic services like road maintenance and land management.
"Everyone is going to be working like mad for the next 2-1/2 weeks in case he shuts it down again," said the employee, who did not want to be identified.
BIA spokeswoman Nedra Darling said in an email, "Indian Affairs is excited to resume our work towards fulfilling our trust responsibility and treaty obligations for the 573 federally recognized tribes."
While stress from the shutdown - including missed home and car payments, food handouts and burning through savings - affected all federal workers and contractors, it cut much deeper for American Indians.
Generations ago, tribes negotiated hundreds of treaties with the U.S. government guaranteeing funds for things like education, public safety, basic infrastructure and health in exchange for vast amounts of their land.
The services are administered directly by federal agencies or through the tribes and contractors by means of grants.
With BIA offices closed by the shutdown, families receiving federal royalty payments for oil and gas drilling and grazing on former tribal lands did not receive checks that can be their main source of income.
About 9,000 Indian Health Service employees, delivering health care to about 2.2 million Native Americans and Alaska Natives, worked without pay, according to the Health and Human Services Department''s shutdown plan.
"When our funding gets cuts, all these people are getting put on hold for the healthcare they need," said Terri Parton, president of the Anadarko, Oklahoma-based Wichita and Affiliated Tribes.
Like the Cheyenne River Sioux in South Dakota, the Wichita dipped into tribal funds to prop up social services.
After enduring government shutdowns in the 1990s, the Cherokee Nation changed its operating model from the government''s running many of its facilities to administering services themselves with federal money, said Chuck Hoskin, secretary of state for the Cherokee Nation.
The latest stoppage, the 10th with furloughs since 1976, has further eroded Native American confidence in the federal government, tribal leaders say.
At the Pawnee Nation in Oklahoma, the GoFundMe drive was launched to provide baskets of groceries to federal workers, even those who were not tribe members, struggling to put food on the table, said Jim Gray, executive director of the nation. In 16 days - the drive is no longer accepting donations - it raised $6,343, out of a goal of $10,000.
"We had to give up 99 percent of our land to hang onto this 1 percent and then in turn they were supposed to provide these kinds of services as part of that treaty agreement," Gray said.
Jan 18, 2019 (Reuters)
Indigenous people from across the globe gathered in the U.S. capital on Friday for a march drawing attention to social and environmental injustices against indigenous communities worldwide, in what organizers said was a first-ever event.
Up to 2.5 billion people depend on indigenous and community lands, which make up more than half of all land globally, but they legally own just 10 percent. Campaigners say native groups are struggling with encroachment by governments and logging, mining and agribusiness companies.
"We are here in support of the aims of indigenous peoples across the world – that is, for our safety, health, the protection of our families and our water, for the protection of our lives," Rufus Kelly, of the Nottoway Tribe in Virginia, said.
"And we want to make sure that people know we have not gone anywhere – that we are still here. We''re not extinct. We''re right here among you, and we want to share that with you."
Parallel events took place in other U.S. cities and abroad, said Jesse Phelps of the Lakota People''s Law Project, saying the D.C. march was a "big step toward the unification and amplification" of indigenous voices.
The march stems from a months-long 2016-17 protest between the U.S. government and the Standing Rock Sioux Tribe over plans for an oil pipeline to cross Sioux lands in North Dakota, said co-organizer Nathalie Farfan, noting that one of Donald Trump''s first moves as president was to approve construction on the project.
"Standing Rock was a traumatic situation, but that was also the first time we saw allies come from all over to help out," Farfan said.
That type of solidarity-building has been taking place across the globe, according to Victoria Tauli-Corpuz, the United Nations top expert on the rights of indigenous peoples, who said she "fully supports" Friday''s marches.
"Indigenous peoples in almost all parts of the world are still suffering from racism and discrimination and gross violations of their human rights, but their persistence in strengthening their movements and communities enabled some of them to succeed in protecting their lands and territories from environmental destruction".

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Indonesia to let UN workers into West Papua as violence continues
by Guardian News, ABC Asia Pacific News
30 Jan. 2019
Indonesia to let UN workers into West Papua as violence continues, writes Helen Davidson for The Guardian.
Indonesia has agreed in principle to allow the UN office of the human rights commissioner into West Papua amid continuing violence in the region.
The long-running low-level insurgency violently escalated late last year, after West Papuan guerrillas attacked a construction site in Nduga, killing at least 17 people they claimed were Indonesian military but who Jakarta insists were civilian workers.
In response Indonesia launched a military crackdown in the region, leading to a number of deaths and thousands of people allegedly being displaced after they fled into the jungle.
The office of the high commissioner for human rights, Michelle Bachelet, told the Guardian she had been engaging with Indonesian authorities on the issue of West Papua and “the prevailing human rights situation” and had requested access to the area.
“Indonesia has in-principle agreed to grant the office access to Papua and we are waiting for confirmation of the arrangements,” said a spokeswoman, Ravina Shamdasandi.
Shamdasani has previously said the attack by the guerrillas was unacceptable violence but the Indonesian government was not addressing the root causes of the separatist conflict.
West Papuan leaders were informed of the development at a Geneva meeting between the commissioner and Vanuatu representatives on Friday, during which the exiled West Papuan leader Benny Wenda handed over a petition signed by 1.8 million of his people.
The UN spokeswoman said the meeting had not been arranged for the purpose of receiving the petition but was in the context of Vanuatu’s universal periodic review session before the UN human rights council.
The petition, smuggled out of the region in 2017, calls for a UN investigation into allegations of human rights abuses and for an internationally supervised vote on independence.
“In 2017 nearly 2 million of you risked arrest, torture and assassination to raise your voices through this historical petition,” Wenda said after the meeting.
“Today, with official state-level support from the Vanuatu government, we, the people of West Papua, have presented it to the UN high commissioner for human rights. We are working day and night to approach the UN general assembly in New York.”
The petition was banned in West Papua and blocked online at the time activists collected signatures. Papers were “smuggled from one end of Papua to the other”, Wenda told the Guardian at the time.
In September 2017 Wenda sought to deliver the petition to the UN’s decolonisation committee but was rebuffed, with the committee saying West Papua was outside its mandate.
The committee’s chair, Rafael Ramírez, said at the time the mandate extended only to the 17 states identified by the UN as “non self-governing territories”.
West Papua was removed from the list in 1963 when it was annexed by Indonesia, an act many Papuans consider to be illegal and which was the start of a long-running separatist insurgency.
The petition included new requests for UN investigations into the violence in Nduga, including allegations that Indonesian forces used chemical weapons against civilians – a charge Indonesia denies.
Billy Wibisono, the first secretary of political affairs at Indonesia’s embassy in Canberra, said the allegations were baseless, “misleading and false news”.
“Armed separatists in Papua have conducted heinous crimes including murder of innocent civilians,” he said in a letter to the Saturday Paper, which published the allegations.
“As a compliant member of the Organisation for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons, Indonesia possesses no chemical agents as listed in schedule 1 of the Chemical Weapons Convention; while the schedules 2 and 3 chemical agents are used for strictly peaceful purposes. Such have been confirmed by 19 OPCW inspections since 2004. Hence, no Indonesian apparatus has ever been in possession or utilised any chemical weapons.”
On Monday an Indonesian military spokesman, Muhammad Aidi, said one soldier was dead after separatists in Nduga opened fire on an aircraft.
Aidi said another soldier had been injured in the attack on the light plane, which had just taken off from Kenyam airport, carrying military personnel and local government members including the chief of Nduga district.
Amid the crackdown, which followed mass arrests of pro-independence protesters in early December, Indonesian authorities have also raided and destroyed a number of headquarters of the domestic movement, the West Papua National Committee.
At least three people – including the activist Yanto Awerkion, who was imprisoned for his involvement with the petition – are facing “rebellion” charges after holding a prayer meeting they had notified authorities about.
Jan. 2019
Why nearly 2 million people are demanding an independence vote for West Papua province, by Tasha Wibawa. (ABC Asia Pacific News)
Earlier this week, a petition signed by more than 1.8 million people calling for an independence referendum in Indonesia''s West Papua province was delivered to United Nations human rights chief Michelle Bachelet.
Benny Wenda, chairman of the United Liberation Movement for West Papua (ULMWP), said he hoped the UN would send a fact-finding mission to the province to substantiate allegations of human rights violations.
"Today is a historic day for me and for my people," Mr Wenda said after the meeting in Geneva. "I handed over what I call the bones of the people of West Papua, because so many people have been killed."
Local media reported Indonesia''s Minister for Defence, Ryamizard Ryacudu, told Parliament: "They''re not allowed independence. Full stop."
The embattled Indonesian province has had a decades-long independence struggle, with its identity torn between several conflicting stakeholders.
West Papua and Papua, often referred to collectively as West Papua, are the easternmost provinces of Indonesia and their acquisition has been the cause of controversy for more than 60 years.
West Papua shares its borders and cultural ethnicity with Papua New Guinea, but while PNG was colonised by the British, prior to German and Australian administration, West Papua was colonised by the Dutch, setting it on a different course.
According to the Indonesian Centre of Statistics and the World Bank, West Papua''s regional GDP per capita is significantly higher than the national average, mainly due to mining.
However, it is also the most impoverished region in the country with the highest mortality rates in children and expectant mothers, as well as the poorest literacy rates.
Control of West Papua was agreed to be transferred to Indonesia from the Dutch with the assistance of the United States government as a part of a US Cold War strategy to distance Indonesia from Soviet influence in 1962.
Prior to this, Australia had also supported the West Papuan bid for Independence, but backtracked due to a Cold War security logic to minimise ''the arc of instability''.
The Netherlands and Indonesia signed the New York Agreement, which would place Indonesia under UN Temporary Executive Authority until a referendum that would allow all adult West Papuans to decide on the fate of their independence, called the Act of Free Choice.
But in 1967, the Indonesian government signed a 30-year lease with US gold and copper mining company Freeport-McMoran to start mining in the resource-rich region, prior to the referendum.
Two years later, according to historians, a number of men were handpicked to vote under the monitor of the Indonesian military and voted unanimously to remain under Indonesian rule. It has since been dubbed the "Act of No Choice" by activists.
Indonesia and its representatives at the UN have since repeatedly rejected claims of human rights abuses in the region and demands for another referendum, saying the allegations have been spread by "Papuan separatist movements".
"The provinces of Papua and West Papua … will always be a part of a unified Indonesia," Indonesian diplomat Ainan Nuran told the UN security council in 2017.
Clashes have occasionally broken out. In December, Indonesian police claimed independence supporters killed 19 people working at an Indonesian-owned construction company.
On Monday, the Indonesian military said separatists opened fire on an aircraft carrying military personal and local goverment officials, killing one soldier.
But verifying any information is difficult because of restrictions on press freedom and the remoteness of the location.
In 2015, Indonesian President Joko Widodo announced he would open the region to foreign journalists following decades of media blockades and bureaucratic red tape, but a series of statements by foreign journalists suggests otherwise.
A 2004 report from Yale Law School said the Indonesian government had "acted with necessary intent to … perpetrate genocide against the people of West Papua", a claim the Indonesian government has strongly denied.
Activists have been imprisoned for displaying the West Papuan pro-independence Morning Star flag, and say they face discrimination and are subject to violent attacks for expressions of political views.
There have also been a number of military crackdowns that have been referred to by Human Rights Watch as "high priority" human rights abuse cases.
The number of insurgencies in the region has declined as the Papuan indigenous population halved due to government policies of transmigration.
The late West Papuan academic and activist John Otto Ondawame described the situation as "cultural genocide".
Transmigration refers to the government resettling Indonesians from high-population regions to low-population areas, which was formally ended by Mr Widodo in 2015.
The program was deemed controversial by analysts as it involved permanently moving people from densely populated areas of Java to sparsely population regions such as Papua.
It has been criticised as causing fears of the "Javanisation", or "Islamisation" of Papua, resulting in strengthened separatist movements and violence in the region. It''s hard to say.
In 2017, Mr Wenda said he had presented a similar petition with the signatures of 1.8 million people demanding a vote on independence to the UN Special Committee on Decolonisation, although it became unclear whether the decolonisation committee actually received the documents.
This time, Mr Wenda was accompanying a ni-Vanuatu delegation in Geneva and reportedly presented the document to the UN''s human rights wing rather than the decolonisation committee.
Mr Wenda told the ABC he was hopeful the new petition delivered to a different branch of the UN would have an impact.
"We hope that she will deliver the petition to the secretary-general to review [the referendum] of 1969, and give the people of West Papua [the opportunity] to choose its own destiny," he said.
But the head of the Presidential Palace in Indonesia told local journalists this week, "The UN will respect Indonesia''s sovereignty".
In the past, the ULMWP, along with other international activists, have called on the UN to review the 1969 referendum and investigate human rights abuses in the region. These requests have been repeatedly rejected by the UN and Indonesia has continued its administrative powers over the region.


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