International day of the world’s indigenous peoples represents an opportunity to reflect on the contribution made by indigenous communities around the globe. While the common narrative surrounding indigenous people often focuses on their vulnerability, PBI's experience working with grassroots community groups at the forefront of the struggle for land and environmental rights in Central and Latin America highlights that they are also important agents of change.

Mexico: Indigenous communities fight back over wind farms

indigenous people fight back against wind farms in Isthmus of Tehuantepec, Mexico

PBI Mexico has a team in the state of Oaxaca who have been observing and accompanying a consultation process being carried out with indigenous communities in Isthmus of Tehuantepec where many large-scale wind farms are located and more are planned.

More than 60% of the population of Oaxaca identify themselves as indigenous. There are communities of Zapotecos, Huaves, Mixes, Chontales and Zoques living in the Isthmus of Tehuantepec. The lack of protection for indigenous communities has generated worrying situations of social conflict and alarming levels of violence against indigenous community members, who are constant targets of harassment, death threats, and physical aggressions.

 

Honduras: The killing of Berta Cáceres ‘is the tip of the iceberg’

Indigenous people's rights campaigner, Berta Caceres in Honduras

In Honduras, the murder of Berta Caceres shocked the world in March 2016. She was the indigenous Lenca coordinator of the Civil Council of Popular and Indigenous Organizations of Honduras (COPINH) and was a nationally and internationally recognised defender of indigenous peoples’ rights.

As PBI has documented, Caceres had been the victim of harassment, persecution, intimidation, stigmatisation and discrimination both by state and non-state actors because of the work that she did. However, as Donald Hernández of CEHPRODEC has pointed out, the killing of Berta Caceres is “the tip of the iceberg” in terms of repression against indigenous peoples of Honduras.

 

Colombia: Indigenous women leaders speak out

indigenous people Noman communit in Colombia

This year PBI Colombia produced a report on women leaders which included an interview with Marcia Mejia Chrimia, a leader of her Wounaan Nonam community of Santa Rosa de Guayacan. The role of the woman among the indigenous Wounaan people is very important as to a large extent it is women who protect, know and transmit ancestral knowledge within the community.

Marcia Mejia has been actively involved in trying to reclaim the rights of indigenous people in her community. She encourages other women to get involved in leadership, but the potential dangers, like the threats, discourage many of them.  Maria is also afraid of the risks  that it implies, but until people in Colombia know what is really happening in the rural communities, she will not give up.

 

Guatemala: Overcoming the criminalization of indigenous leaders in Huehuetenango

Indigenous leaders from Huehuetenango at a hearing on July 14 2016. Photo: Nelton Rivera

Guatemala is home to 21 Maya indigenous groups and the Maya are estimated to make up 51% of the population. Many indigenous groups struggle to protect their collective rights in the face of ever increasing activity from the extractives industry and hydroelectric dam construction. In Barillas, northern Huehuetenango, indigenous Maya community leaders have been killed, threatened and criminalized because of their opposition to numerous dams planned in the region.

In total seven community leaders were arrested and spent years in pre-trial detention. The imprisoned community leaders were finally released last month on 22 July. The community struggle in northern Huehuetenango, has become an emblematic case because in her final ruling the judge recognized the attempted criminalization that had taken place.

PBI Guatemala provides protective accompaniment to the lawyers representing the community leaders and were present as international observers in the case on the 22 of July.