The Indigenous Struggle for Land Rights

Decades after the end of the war for colonization, the indigenous population is still suffering from its consequences. Though they are the land’s initial inhibitors, the indigenous population is struggling to maintain the legal land rights for their homes and the homes of their ancestors. Thus, indigenous communities from all around the world are still fighting for their rights to lands because of agribusiness, extractive industries, development, conservation, and tourism. 

A global challenge

According to Elliott Harris, the UN’s Chief Economist, “Ensuring the collective rights of indigenous peoples to lands, territories, and resources is not only for their well-being but also for addressing some of the most pressing global challenges such as climate change and environmental degradation”.

Indigenous population considers 22% of the global land surface their home. Furthermore, the lands they inhabit make up 80% of the planet’s biodiversity. These lands are also rich in  mineral and forest resources, non-salty water resources, fossil fuels, and sources of renewable energy. Therefore, the world usually calls them the custodians of Earth’s precious resources. However, despite this proclamation, the UN DESA reports that “they are frequently denied their rights to lands, territories, and resources”.

On the bright side, the world is starting to recognize their struggle as countries unite in the fight against climate change. 

Moreover, on 12 March,  UN Chief Economist and Assistant Secretary-General for Economic Development, Elliott Harris, announced that “Ensuring the collective rights of indigenous peoples to lands, territories, and resources is not only for their well-being but also for addressing some of the most pressing global challenges, such as climate change and environmental degradation”.

“Advancing those rights is an effective way to protect waterways and biological diversity. Achieving the Sustainable Development Goals overall is not possible without fulfilling the rights of indigenous peoples to their lands, territories, and resources,” Mr. Harris said.

Unrecognized rights

The problem remains the same it has been for the past centuries. Governments are either limiting or outright unrecognizing the indigenous population’s rights to their land, territories, and resources. Even in countries with legal laws backing their rights, the implementation process is usually stalled or inconsistent.  

Moreover, taking action into their own hands isn’t even an option. Many indigenous rights activists face horrible reconciliation whenever they try to defend their rights, such as criminalization, harassment, assault, and killings. 

“The sources of conflict are many, from resource extraction, logging, land for renewable energy sources and agribusiness to conflict between indigenous pastoralists, nomadic herders and farmers over shrinking grazing lands due to war, and the effects of climate change as well as the establishment of conservation areas” Anne Nuorgam, Chairperson of the UN Permanent Forum on Indigenous Issues said in a statement read at the launch. 

“The lack of respect for the principle and the meaning of free, prior and informed consent by both governments and the private sector continues unabated.”

The indigenous communities effort

Even though the world is now finally taking action, the indigenous communities weren’t just sitting idly as they lose their ancestral lands, their primary source of income, and social identity. Many of the indigenous population are turning to the law and Human Rights courts to file violations in case of illegal trespassing. Furthermore, with the lack of government support, they are patrolling and monitoring their land to evict any intruders. Also, since indigenous lands are often not on any official government maps, indigenous communities are mapping them via hand-held Global Positioning Systems (GPS) and other tools. Moreover, many of these communities are officially registering their customary land rights into a government cadaster. Thus, they are obtaining formal land titles and certificates to integrate formally into the legal system. Finally, many are staging protests and even meeting directly with government leaders to help them with these issues.

In brief, the indigenous communities are to this day struggling to maintain the right to their homes. The problem even increased during the pandemic as the encroachment rate rose during this period. Therefore, governments must establish laws to protect these communities. Moreover, the world must understand that the problem doesn’t just concern a single community but the whole globe. As Janene Yazzie, a member of the Native American Diné tribe and IPMG focal person said “A rights-based approach to landscape development means restoring our understanding of these sacred responsibilities to the environment.”


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