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Our work with Indian peoples has for years drawn connections between indigenous land rights, environmental protection and human rights. In most indigenous cultures, separating these issues makes no sense. Our Mission Statement points out the intersection of these threats to indigenous peoples: "Indian nations and tribes and other indigenous communities throughout the world are afﬂicted by poverty, poor health and discrimination. Subjected to grave human rights abuses, many Native communities are under siege. Indian land and natural resources are often expropriated or degraded, and sometimes destroyed. When indigenous peoples are deprived of their ways of life and their ties to the earth, they suffer, and many have disappeared completely."
Our projects with the Six Nations on their land claims in upstate New York, with the Yukon Inter-Tribal Watershed Council in Alaska and the Yukon Territory, with the Assiniboine and Gros Ventre Tribes of the Fort Belknap Reservation in Montana have all been designed to address the over-arching issues of land, environment and human rights. And more recently, the Center has begun a new project with the support of the Indian Land Tenure Foundation to create a new framework of law relating to Indian lands and resources. This new framework of legal principles will be put forward to replace the present system of discriminatory, racist, and unjust legal rules relating to Indian lands.
The Indian Law Resource Center has a long history of work with indigenous peoples in Brazil, going back to 1979 when we brought the first indigenous rights case to Inter-American Commission on Human Rights arguing for demarcation of Yanomami land in the Amazon rainforest. The case and many years of advocacy in the Organization of American States and United Nations was part of a forceful and successful international campaign that led to the creation of a 23+ million acre Yanomami indigenous territory and expulsion of gold miners from the region.
On October 9, the Center hosted a panel discussion to highlight Indigenous Peoples’ land rights and the impacts of development activities financed by the World Bank. The event, “Indigenous Peoples’ Lands and Development: World Bank Interventions and Lessons Learned”, was held at the World Bank headquarters in Washington, DC.
A massive wind farm project, partially funded by the Inter-American Development Bank (IDB), is under investigation by the IDB’s Panel of Investigators for negatively impacting seven indigenous communities in Oaxaca, Mexico. The Center is providing legal assistance to the communities to ensure that there is an independent investigation of the project and that their concerns are properly addressed by the IDB’s Board of Directors.
In February 2005, the Mohawk Nation Council of Chiefs (a traditional Haudenosaunee government), the St. Regis Mohawk Tribe , and the Mohawk Council of Akwesasne signed an agreement with Governor George Pataki to resolve their historic claim to lands in Northern New York.
Multilateral development banks (MDBs) and some national development banks play a central role in the approval of large-scale development projects, such as dams and forestry initiatives, which have had devastating effects on indigenous peoples and other local communities. The Center works to ensure that these financial institutions respect the environment and human rights of indigenous peoples in all their development activities.