Hearing the cry of the earth and the poor as one cry, and heeding next steps

August 25, 2018

By Libby Comeaux, Editor, Loretto Earth Network

Just before the Forum on Indigenous Issues met in New York, Pope Francis held the preparatory meeting for his October 2019 Synod on the Amazon region. For two solid days in April 2018, he listened to the suffering of the “lungs of the planet” and its people. Brought to the UN by REPAM (a Jesuit NGO) and hosted by Benincasa, some of them travelled to the UN Permanent Forum on Indigenous Issues (UNPFII) April 16-27. They added their stories to this year’s theme: Indigenous Peoples’ collective rights to lands, territories, and “resources.”  Their stories were hard to hear and added to the volumes of detail curated by the Permanent Forum, whose draft report of the conference notes “the high levels of global violence and threats directed at indigenous women human rights defenders” and “calls for an immediate halt to the criminalization, incarceration, intimidation, coercion, death threats and assassination of all indigenous human and environmental rights defenders.”

“The cry of Earth and the cry of the poor are one cry,” Pope Francis wrote in Laudato Sí. We heard the cry and saw the faces you see pictured here.  We heard the suffering of 50,000 Guarani in Matto Grosso do Sul Pope Francis Pledges Support for the Lungs of the Planet and Amazonian Defenders whose cries to the government of Brazil go unheeded. “Without our land we have nothing; our children are dying,” said Leila, the first woman to lead the tribe as chief. Intruding farmers are forcing them from their homes. Armed militias massacre her people. Guarani suffer ten times
Brazil’s murder rate. “The day that I die and stop speaking, … someone else will come and speak with you for my people.”

Adriando defends against intruders seeking timber, minerals, and land for farming in another part of Brazil. They damage the forests by erecting hydro plants, roads, and railways to expand
business into Indigenous Peoples’ territories. They flooded his people’s lands, isolating the community for a full month. The workers who came to build the hydro plant never left; they cut down trees, divided up lands, and prospected. Since 1992, these lands have been officially demarcated for his people, yet the government of Brazil refuses to expel the intruders.

Both Leila and Adriando ask our help addressing the government of Brazil: “Respect traditional people and our lands – and eject those who are invading our lands!” Adelvia relayed the  devastation the Chinese gold and silver mine, El Mirador, wreaks on the fragile ecosystem. Despite the Ecuadorian Constitutional requirement, there was no consultation, no opportunity
for Indigenous Peoples to give their Free Prior and Informed Consent. The government resorts to statements that the Indigenous Peoples were given land and money in reparations, which
she says are untrue.

Altilano is a leader in sustainable agriculture, a defender of Mayan land. He leads a school “where the trees are sown, where we sow the seeds of the future. We respect that ancient trees are the future.” He spoke against the ongoing privatization and pollution of the water. “They want to privatize the wind.”

From lands near UN headquarters, Sachem Hawk Storm spoke, “All the stories you tell are like our own. Our forests were once just as beautiful as yours.”

The quest for collective land rights at the UNPFII We have written at length in LEN News about the Rights of Mother Earth, but for Indigenous Peoples across the planet, the quest is for Collective Land Rights – meaning the rights of colonized peoples to exercise sovereignty over their persons, their communities, and the lands they have occupied since ancestral times. And now, in too many  cases, the lands to which they were forced as undesirable have become valuable to extraction industries, so once again, they are being forcibly removed or required to endure massive disruption, disease, and threatened extinction. Search “2018 UNPFII” to read the Permanent Forum’s report that details the numerous crises worldwide.

In addition to Pope Francis’ support for the Amazon reported above, a southeast Australian state has made reparations in the form of lands and money. The New South Wales Aboriginal Land Council, democratically elected by all local Aborigines from their residents, to hold in trust and manage the reparations land and money. In 2011, then Special Rapporteur James Anay called this structure the best solution on the planet so far, to restore Indigenous Peoples’
collective land rights.