July 5th, 2011 - 9:08am
The frustration and grief are evident on the face of the man who has bent over to cry at the news. The photo is of Chief Raoni of Brazil receiving word that a massive hydro-electric dam will be built on the river that ties his community to the land. The photo is circling the Internet, encompassing the exhaustion felt when a David finally succumbs to Goliath and there is nothing left to do but grieve for what you have lost.
The fight to stop the third largest hydro-electric dam was no small battle in Brazil. It provoked the submission of over 600 000 signatures, tens of the thousands of emails directly to President Dilma Roussef and a campaign by the indigenous tribes of the Xingu River. The dam threatens the existence of the Kayapo people. Living on the Xingu river the tribes rely on the fish, groundwater and transportation provided by the soon-to-be flooded river. This story is not new, but it's a stark reminder of the devastating choices being made and that for some the battle over the environment is about their very existence.
Whether there is a failure to recognize this way of life, a lack of understanding or a complete outright dismissal of this culture, the fact is Aboriginal communities are having their land and their way of life taken away through not only a disregard for their existence, but the failure to make the environment a priority. This happens when governments fail to recognize Aboriginal groups as full participants in consultation processes, or when their issues are pandered to, ignored and then trampled on. So it is interesting to see one particular appointment in Jack Layton's shadow cabinet this past week. Linda Duncan, one of the few experienced MPs in Layton's caucus, was moved from her previous role as environment critic to working on the portfolio for Aboriginal Affairs and Northern Development. It's a sign the NDP may be considering plans to bring Aboriginal issues to fuller debate in the House of Commons and in front of all Canadians. With Duncan's experience as critic and her background as not only an environmental lawyer, but the author of the Legal Guide to Aboriginal Drinking Water, Duncan brings a necessary perspective in the House, defending Aboriginal needs from a legal and environmental framework combined. Here's hoping it will start a stronger discussion, over Aboriginal land rights and environmental needs with Aboriginal people as full participants. V