When I was a kid, Earth Day was a time when the school gathered everyone together to talk about the importance of things like recycling, water conservation, littering, and being as green as possible. The very first Earth Day was on April 22, 1970 and was created by Senator Gaylord Nelson after he saw the destructive effects of the 1969 oil spills in Santa Barbara. It has since become a national day that focuses on teaching the public about the environment. It led to the creation of the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) and contributed to the passage of the Water Quality Improvement Act, the Endangered Species Act, as well as several other environmental laws.
I remember teachers telling us “The animals are endangered! We need to conserve water and stop cutting down the forests!” Without acknowledging where those issues arose. I know now that these are not just passive problems that came out of nowhere. It’s called neocolonialism because although we might not consider those countries colonies anymore, the global superpowers are still profiting off of them while giving very little back to the regions. All of these problems are made even worse with the massive loosening of environmental protections and laws and current deals being made to protect the (often illegal) presence of these companies on land that doesn’t belong to them and in ecosystems that should be protected. We talk about endangered Elephants and Tigers but almost never about the people whose way of life is rapidly going extinct and who have been fighting against ecological abuse for centuries. If we’re going to raise awareness for environmental protection we should include the stories and human rights abuses against the rightful owners and protectors of those resources. Here are six indigenous fights for land, resources, and survival that we should be talking about this Earth Day.
In the Peruvian providence of Espinar, indigenous locals are fighting for rights to their land and against the environmental contamination caused by Glencore, a multinational company you’ve probably never heard of that was ranked 10 on Fortune 500’s list of largest companies in the world in 2015. It’s a company that has been investigated several times for things like illegal dealings with rogue states like apartheid South Africa, Communist Russia, Iran, and Iraq under the rule of Saddam Hussein. They also stand accused of paying the US $3.2-million in bribes in order to buy oil sanctioned by the United Nations — just so you know who we’re dealing with. In Peru, they’re extracting Copper and endangering the health and lives of the people, their land, their water, and their livestock. This month military forces have descended on protesting indigenous people with deadly force for opposing Glencore’s presence and ecological abuse. According to Saphichay.org, on April, 19th Shipibo leader Maestra Olivia Arévalo was shot 5 times in the heart and killed for her community work defending the cultural rights of the Shioibo Konibo. How can you help? Donate to Saphichey.org here.
La Guajira, Colombia
photo: Nicolò Filippo Rosso
The indigenous Wayuu people of Colombia are being driven off their land by what is known as the Cerrejón Mine, which belongs in equal parts to BHP Billiton, Anglo American, and Glencore. The Wayuu are a population of roughly 300,000 and have lived in the department of La Guajira for 3000 years. The mining company— with either the blessing or indifference of the Colombian government— damned the river that was the sole source of water for the Wayuu leaving them a three-hour walk from freshwater. As a result, their crops have dried, animals have died, and in 2015 it was reported that more than 4,700 Wayuu have died as a result. Locals report skin diseases, cancer, and respiratory problems in children from the giant open coal pit that covers the region with fumes and dust. The mining company has also been accused of hiring paramilitary death squads that have committed an estimated 2,600 selective assassinations, 500 massacre killings, 240 disappearances, and 59,000 forced displacements, figures the report says are conservative due to the low rate of reported incidents. Although La Guajira mine generates billions of dollars annually, the region is still one of Colombia’s poorest. How can you help? Support initiatives that reduce the global dependence on coal, support green initiatives, support alternative fuels, and technologies.
San Rafael Las Flores, Guatemala
Mayor of Nueva Santa Rosa speaks to #Guatemalan Constitutional Court @ #MarchForLife. "You must make your decision with the People in mind, a People that you can't deny because they are here today" referring to discrimination of Xinca People by granting of #Escobal mining license pic.twitter.com/niHetGz4pB
— NISGUA (@NISGUA_Guate) April 9, 2018
On April 9th, 2,000 Xinka marched down the streets as part of the “March for Life” in Guatemala City demanding the permanent closure of the Escobal Silver mine owned by Tahoe Resources. The Canadian mining company continues to expand and operate throughout Guatemala despite overwhelming opposition from nearly all municipalities. The project threatens the land, water, and local agriculture. Tahoe Resources employees have been accused of killing peaceful protesters and targeting anti-mining activists. Locals who oppose extraction projects are routinely beaten, arrested, and incarcerated for resisting. Xinca protestors were joined and supported by representatives from the Maya Ch’orti’, Ixil, Quiche, and Garifuna Peoples. How can you help? Raise awareness! Support the Network In Solidarity With The People Of Guatemala here.
Standing Rock Reservation, North Dakota
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There is nothing more urgent than ensuring DAPL’s construction does not commence once the new president is sworn in. @USACEHQ must file their intent to conduct an EIS. Time is running out. • Let’s help @USACEHQ fulfill their promise by reminding them that *WE ARE WATCHING*. To help us – make the call today. #linkinbio • #DefendtheSacred #WaterisLife #StandwithStandingRock
Even after the camps were broken up and the hundreds of protesters dispersed, the Lakota Sioux are still dealing with the consequences and repercussions in their fight for land, the protection of their sacred sites, and clean water. The pipeline was projected to run under part of Lake Oahe near the Standing Rock Indian Reservation. The Standing Rock tribe considers the pipeline’s intended direction a threat to the region’s clean water and to ancient burial grounds. The pipeline has already leaked and the water protectors, as they call themselves, continue to push to be involved in a court-ordered environmental review of the Dakota Access oil but their pleas to be consulted have been rejected or outright ignored. How can you help? Keep the conversation going! You can support their cause here, the Water Protectors Legal Collective here, and defunddapl.org here.
Lago Agrio, Ecuador
This story should be making headlines because it’s unprecedented! Tribes from the Lago Agrio are fighting Chevron in court over environmental damages. There are hundreds of abandoned, unlined waste pits and Chevron is also accused of contaminating water sources by dumping billions of gallons of oil waste. As a result, natives have lost their homes, their farms, there is a cancer epidemic, and children being born with birth defects. Last week the Amazon Defense Coalition of Ecuador (FDA), sat in Canadian court trying to recover the $9.5 billion ($12 billion with interest) that an Ecuadorian court determined Chevron should pay for their role in contamination due to oil extraction. How can you help? Boycott Chevron and get involved in the fight for clean water in the Amazon here.
If you look up Hawai’i and how it became a colony (because it is a colony) you’ll see the word “annexed,” which means “append or add as an extra or subordinate part.” In reality, American presence in Hawai’i was imposed by military force. Hawai’i was annexed in 1900 and officially became a state in 1959. It was of particular interest for sugar cane, pineapples, other agriculture and tourism. Hawai’ian’s have had their native language banned, their lands seized, and they’ve had to endure the exploitation and commodification of their culture. They actually lived under martial law for 2 years after Pearl Harbor, it was the longest period of prolonged military control in American history. Today Native Hawai’ians are still fighting back by re-learning their language, they are fighting statehood, pollution, deforestation, and construction on sacred sites. How can you help? If you travel to Hawai’i support local businesses and you can support the Sierra Club of Hawai’i here.