A MATTER OF LIFE
Indigenous peoples everywhere struggle for land, human rights, and for their very existence
By Karen Van Loon
By Karen Van Loon
My first encounter with Indigenous peoples began while working as a nurse with the Cree and later the Inuit in Northern Canada. I enjoyed visiting the Cree in their winter camps and ice fishing for Arctic char with the Inuit. Life seemed simpler there, and the people's connection to the land was obvious. Then I would return to the reality of the health clinic, providing and arranging care for people with tuberculosis and other diseases more common in the global South than in Southern Canada.
Later as a Scarboro lay missioner in Brazil, I felt at home visiting rural Amazon communities of subsistence farmers and fishers. The intertwining of their lives with the Amazon river and surrounding land, as well as their desire to preserve the fish so that future generations of their people could survive reminded me of Aboriginal peoples in Canada. Living conditions in rural Amazonia and in the poorer neighbourhoods in the city of Itacoatiara also reminded me of my Northern Canada experience: lack of running water, outhouses, over crowded and often poor housing, inadequate garbage disposal, and so on.
Throughout the world Indigenous peoples are among the poorest and most disadvantaged. Many remain dispossessed of their lands and are threatened or even killed when they defend their lands and resources. In 2005 the Canadian government told the United Nations Human Rights Committee that the situation of Aboriginal peoples in Canada is "the most pressing human rights issue facing Canadians."
In this edition of Scarboro Missions we focus on the daily life and human rights struggles of Indigenous peoples. Last fall Scarboro's Justice and Peace Office began prioritizing work in this area as it became apparent that more Scarboro missioners were working among Indigenous peoples. This edition shares stories from Brazil, Ecuador, Guyana, Thailand and Canada.
There are many signs of hope. We celebrate with the Indigenous peoples in the state of Roraima, Brazil, as President Lula ratifies the Raposa/Serra do Sol Reserve in April 2005. Scarboro missioner Fr. Ron MacDonell describes the people's 30-year history of struggle for their traditional land and some of the ongoing violence on the part of those who oppose the ratification. The new coordinator of the Indigenous Council of Roraima has a message for the Indigenous peoples in Canada "not to lose hope; we are struggling together..."
Tom Walsh writes about Jambi Kiwa, an herbal tea and medicinal plant business run primarily by Indigenous peoples in Ecuador. They are using their ancestral knowledge to improve their economic and social situation.
Susan Keays describes the work of the Camillian Social Center in Thailand, which provides opportunity and hope for hill tribe children and their families.
As Bishop of Riobamba, Ecuador, Monseņor Leonidas Proaņo dedicated his life to the struggle for indigenous rights. His call for the Church to "contribute greatly to change, to transformation," echoes for us today as we try to understand the reality of discrimination, poverty and violence still prevalent in the daily lives of many Indigenous peoples.
The Church in Roraima worked in solidarity with the Indigenous peoples there, became a target of protests, and yet contributed greatly to change. For three decades the Canadian Christian Churches, through Project North, the Aboriginal Rights Coalition, and now KAIROS, have worked in solidarity with Aboriginal peoples in their struggle for land and resources, self-determination and other Aboriginal rights. KAIROS supports the struggles, described in this edition, of the Lubicon Cree and Indigenous peoples around the world for a UN Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples.
Finally, Sr. Priscilla Solomon, an Ojibway woman, shares her understanding of what it means to be a caretaker of the Earth, "intimately connected, dependent upon and sustained by the Earth." The teachings of Aboriginal spirituality about responsibility for future generations and recognition that everything is gift from the Creator, offer an important message for our world today. May more people join this journey of mutual sharing and solidarity action with Indigenous peoples.