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Idle No More protesters marching in Victoria, BC, December 21, 2012. © r.a. paterson/Creative Commons License
Jan 2013

Idle No More – Canada's First Nations movement

In November 2012, Canada's First Nations began a new incentive to raise their voices together. With unprecedented speed the Idle No More movement gained momentum over the following weeks and months.• In November, four women from the province of Saskatchewan held a 'teach-in' about the possible effects of Bill C-45, a proposal by Canada's Prime Minister Stephen Harper, which would seriously weaken many environmental regulations.

On 4 December, a group of chiefs from the Assembly of First Nations (AFN), Canada's principal indigenous organization, were prevented from entering the Parliament buildings to lobby MPs over the bill.

On December 11, Theresa Spence, chief of the Attawapiskat First Nation in northern Ontario, declared a hunger strike, to focus public attention on First Nations issues, support the Idle No More movement, and highlight concerns about Bill C-45.

Around December 21, native people across Canada blockaded roads, bridges and railway lines. In British Columbia, protesters expressed their concerns about a proposed oil pipeline. In Ontario, border crossings to the USA were blocked.

On January 11, 2013, a delegation of First Nations leaders, co-ordinated by the AFN, held a meeting with Prime Minister Harper and various other ministers. The meeting was inconclusive, but negotiations go on.

The native writer Lisa Charleyboy phrases the objectives of Idle No More as follows: 'to build indigenous sovereignty, to repair the relationship between indigenous peoples of Canada (First Nations, Métis, and Inuit), the crown, and the government of Canada from a grassroots framework, and to protect the environment for all Canadians to enjoy for generations to come.'

source: Survival International

Guarani children working on the sugar cane fields. © Survival International
June 2012

Shell drops biofuels plan after Brazilian Indian protest

cane from land stolen from an indigenous tribe, thanks to a dynamic campaign by the Indians and Survival International. The company, Raizen, was established in 2010 as a joint venture of Shell and the Brazilian ethanol giant Cosan to produce biofuel from sugar cane. But some of its sugar cane is grown on land that belongs to the Guarani tribe, one of the most persecuted and impoverished in South America. Their leaders have been repeatedly killed by gunmen on behalf of the sugar cane growers and cattle ranchers who have taken over almost all their land. Now Raizen has agreed to stop buying sugar cane from land declared as indigenous by the Ministry of Justice.

sources: REDD+ monitor
Survival International

Custodian, thoughtful. © The African Biodiversity Network
April 2012

Custodians of sacred sites in Africa unite

The traditional custodians of sacred sites from four African countries (Ethiopia, Kenya, South Africa and Uganda) met on 28 April in Kenya to create a common guideline to help other custodians everywhere in Africa in their fight to protect their sacred places. Quote from the introduction of their statement:

'We are deeply concerned about our Earth because she is suffering from increasing destruction despite all the discussions, international meetings, facts and figures and warning signs from Earth.

'The future of our children and the children of all the species of Earth are threatened. When this last generation of elders dies, we will lose the memory of how to live respectfully on our planet, if we do not learn from them. Our generation living now has a responsibility like no other generation before us. Our capacity to stop the current addiction to money from destroying the very conditions of life and the health of our planet, will determine our children's future.

'We call on governments, corporations, law and policy makers, and civil society to recognize that Africa has Sacred Sites and custodians who are responsible for protecting them, in order to protect the wellbeing of the planet.'

At their meeting, the custodians compiled 14 'common customary laws of sacred sites' – you can download the paper here (140Kb)

source: The African Biodiversity Network

see also: Mapping sacred sites for their protection, Protecting sacred natural sites worldwide, Sacred Site to be recognised term

Martin Litton in his Cessna (2006). © Ricardo Dearatanha/Los Angeles Times
Feb 2012

Environmental warrior still fighting at 95

Martin Litton (born Feb 13, 1917) has been an activist for a long time. Back in the 1960s, he successfully fought the damming of the Colorado River through the Grand Canyon and helped kill a Disney resort planned near Sequoia National Park. He campaigned for the creation of Redwood National Park in the southern Sierra Nevada.

Litton is the guarding eye and voice of concern for the Giant Sequoia National Monument which encompasses 353,000 acres in California's Sierra Nevada. He and others had fought for decades to preserve these trees, and finally, in 2000, President Clinton created the monument. But unfortunately he assigned its management to the US Forest Service, which had prioritised timber production there for nearly a century – and just would not stop. During the first decade of this millennium, Litton used to fly over the area regularly, in his vintage Cessna 195, and discover 'spots' between 5 and 20 hectares big which were being or had been logged, despite environmental legislation.

The sequoias are still far from safe…

sources: Bettina Boxall, A matter of grove concern, Los Angeles Times, Dec 21, 2006
Jane Braxton Little, Environmental warrior Martin Litton is still fighting at 95, High Country News, Feb 20, 2012


sacred grove at Heggala Aiyappa, Western Ghats, India. © Claudia Rutte
Oct 2011

Mapping sacred sites for their protection

'Nature conservationists over the last decade have begun to recognize and document the potential of sacred natural sites for preserving biological diversity. Sacred sites in this context are natural or semi-natural areas protected in the name of spiritual or religious beliefs that also offer special advantages of community-based, long-term resource management.

'While most studies about sacred natural sites have focused on traditional cultures and animistic beliefs, there is growing evidence that such sites located in Western, Judeo-Christian contexts also convey distinct conservation advantages.'

…says Claudia Rutte, a behavioural ecologist based in Switzerland, who in 2010, together with Shonil Bhagwat, an ecologist based at Oxford University, UK, started SANASI (Sacred Natural Sites), a database-project aiming to provide scientific data on sacred natural sites for research and policy making. The database is also publicly available via the website Mapping the Sacred.

SANASI soon gained the support of the Alliance of Religions and Conservation (ARC) and the IUCN's Specialist Group on Cultural and Spiritual Values of Protected Areas (see World tree news Sept. 2003 and Oct. 2010) because it is not just an academic exercise. It is a further strengthening element in the networking of indigenous custodians of sacred natural sites all over the world. 'Sites', by the way, does not only mean relatively small places but can just as well refer to a large forest or an extensive mountain side.

On 25 October 2011, SANASI held its first symposium in Zurich, bringing together scientists that have been engaged with various forms of research on sacred natural sites. The goal of this symposium was to assess the field's state of knowledge, as well as to identify the most promising future research directions.

string: Protecting sacred natural sites worldwide, Sacred Site to be recognised term

Wangari Maathai. © Green Belt Movement
Sept 2011

Wangari Maathai has died

Wangari Muta Maathai (born 1 April 1940, the Kenyan environmental and political activist, died on 25 September 2011 of complications from ovarian cancer. In the 1970s, Maathai founded the Green Belt Movement, an environmental organization focused on the planting of trees, environmental conservation, and women's rights. So far, over 51 million trees have been planted, and over 30,000 women trained in trades such as forestry, food processing and bee-keeping. Many communities not only in Kenya have been motivated to both prevent further environmental destruction and restore that which has been damaged.

In 2004, Wangari Maathai received the Nobel Peace Prize.


Here's a tribute video

Related articles
cloud forest at the Santa María Volcano, or Gagxanul, a sacred natural site in Guatemala. © Bas Verschuuren
Oct 2010

Protecting sacred natural sites worldwide

'Sacred natural sites provide for the protection of biodiversity but also for the continuation of cultural practices,' says Bas Verschuuren, Co-chair of the Specialist Group on Cultural and Spiritual Values of Protected Areas, a sub-division of the IUCN (= International Union for Conservation of Nature, the world's largest and oldest conservation organisation), and Coordinator for the Sacred Natural Sites Initiative.

'As most of the threats that sacred natural sites face today, such as tourism, industrialization and urbanization, affect both cultural and biological values, they weaken the special relationship between people and nature that is so typical to these areas and so precious not only to many cultures around the world but also to humanity as a whole."

Verschuuren is also lead editor of a new book, Sacred Natural Sites: Conserving nature and culture, which is being launched by IUCN at the Convention on Biological Diversity conference in Nagoya, Japan. The launch is part of an event organised by ETC-COMPAS and IUCN and is dedicated to promoting sacred natural sites and their crucial role in conserving nature and culture.

Guidelines Cover

Furthermore, the IUCN Specialist Group together with UNESCO is publishing Sacred Natural Sites: Guidelines for Protected Area Managers, an action plan brochure in various language editions. So far, it can be downloaded in English, Spanish, Russian, French, Estonian, Japanese or Korean (translators wanted for other languages).

Buddhist monks in northwest Cambodia ordaining a tree. © Equator Initiative
Oct 2010

Buddhist monks ordain trees as monks

In response to widespread logging, the monks of the Samraong Pagoda acquired legal protection for 18,261 hectares (45,000 acres) of evergreen forest in northwest Cambodia. They established patrol teams, demarcated the forest's boundaries, and raised environmental awareness among local communities. The monks have developed unique approaches to law enforcement based on Buddhist principles, demonstrating the power of linking conservation with traditional customs and beliefs. [1]

In Buddhist thought and teaching (based particularly on the Lotus Sutra) the Buddha can take any form to bring about the release of any aspect of nature from suffering – including taking the shape of a tree. Based upon this and in response to the illegal destruction of trees in Cambodia and Thailand, Buddhist monks working in partnership with the Alliance of Religions and Conservation (ARC), have ordained trees as monks. Wrapped in robes these trees are totally protected and the forest within which they stand becomes a sacred and protected area. [2]

The monks of the Samraong Pagoda received the 2010 Equator Prize for outstanding community efforts to conserve biodiversity. The award is sponsored by the UN Development Programme (UNDP).

Monk's Community Forest is now Cambodia's largest community forest. While logging and hunting are prohibited, villagers may use traditional fishing methods, collect fallen timber for construction, and harvest non-timber forest products like bamboo, wild ginger, fruit and mushrooms. Illegal logging of the forest has been reduced significantly.

Watch video and download full report here.

Kondh children swinging in the trees. © Survival International
Aug 2010

Indian Tribe in victory over mining giant

The Dongria Kondh tribe has won an historic battle to save their lands and forests from big-scale bauxite mining on Niyamgiri Mountain in eastern India. Their resistance became a test of whether a small marginalised tribe could stand up against a multinational with its army of lawyers, lobbyists and PR firms. The intruder, who has already built a huge aluminium refinery below the sacred mountain, is the British company Vedanta Resources, worth $8bn.

The Dongria Kondh have been supported by tribal rights campaign group Survival International (founded 1969 in London) who in turn had support from celebrities like Michael Palin, Joanna Lumley, Colin Firth and James Cameron – hence the press began to speak of the 'real Avatar tribe'. (Sadly, there are many of them!)

But the victory of the Dongria Kondh is in danger as India's Supreme Court is reviewing the case.

To keep up to date check the Survival International page.

the old oak at Crewkerne. © Ben Hartshorn
July 2009

People power saves oak tree

The venerable old Lucombe oak (Quercus x hispanica, a cross between the Cork Oak, Q. suber, and the Turkey Oak, Q. cerris; cultivated in 1762 by William Lucombe) in Henhayes Crewkerne, Somerset, was found to have a fungus infection (or perhaps just be in the way of a new sports center development?), deemed a hazard and due to be felled by the local council. The council's insurers appeared to be bullying the councilors into taking drastic action and threatening to sue any individual who stood in the way.

But the citizens of Crewkerne did not obey and began the Save the Oak! Save Henhayes! campaign and flew in arboreal experts from Germany with more precise scientific equipment – which proved that the tree had a future! The campaigners collected over 2,000 names supporting a petition and the council agreed to preservation rather than destruction, at least for the following three years.

The campaign showed, so their spokesman, Green politician B. Hartshorn, said, that 'we need to value and protect our green spaces and the species that inhabit them. … We have a magnificent oak tree to enjoy.'

Update Feb 2013: The tree still stands.

sources: BBC News
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