Numerous indigenous communities around the world, including several Right Livelihood Award Laureates, are facing a daily struggle to protect their livelihoods, culture and the environment. To show our solidarity and support, we say #WeAreIndigenous.

In celebration of International Day of the World’s Indigenous Peoples, we are profiling some of the Right Livelihood Award Laureates who are fighting for indigenous peoples’ rights around the world: defending the Inuit way of life in the rapidly melting Arctic; safeguarding some of the last remaining uncontacted Amazonian tribes against illegal logging and mining; promoting responsible development for indigenous communities in Asia; and standing up against nuclear threats in the US and French Polynesia. Here are their inspiring stories.

Survival International received the Right Livelihood Award in 1989 “……for working with tribal peoples to secure their rights, livelihood and self-determination.”

Survival was founded in 1969 to ensure that the interests of tribal peoples are properly presented in all decisions affecting their future, to secure for tribal peoples the ownership and use of adequate land and other resources, and to seek recognition of their rights over traditional land. The organisation also educates the public about tribal peoples. Survival has seen some successes with the situation of tribal people improving in parts of South America and elsewhere. This has enabled the organisation to focus more on new cases in areas where there are grave threats such as illegal logging, gold mining, cattle ranching and government repression (e.g. Botswana). Survival International’s attention is increasingly on tribal people who have the least contact with outsiders, and who have the most to lose.

Read more here.

Sheila Watt-Cloutier, Canada, received the Right Livelihood Award in 2015 “…for her lifelong work to protect the Inuit of the Arctic and defend their right to maintain their livelihoods and culture, which are acutely threatened by climate change.”

Sheila is one of the most outstanding advocates for the economic, social and cultural rights of the Inuit of the Arctic. As an elected representative of her people, administrator and advocate, Watt-Cloutier significantly contributed to an overhaul of the education system in Nunavik in Northern Quebec to make it more effective in meeting the needs of Inuit communities. She was an influential force behind the adoption of the Stockholm Convention to ban persistent organic pollutants, which accumulate strongly in Arctic food chains. Through her advocacy, she has shifted the discourse around climate change by establishing how unchecked greenhouse gas emissions violate the collective human rights of the Inuit.

Watch a video about her work in the Arctic and read more here.

Erwin Kräutler, Austria/Brazil received the Right Livelihood Award in 2010 “…for a lifetime of work for the human and environmental rights of indigenous peoples and for his tireless efforts to save the Amazon forest from destruction.”

Erwin Kräutler, a Catholic Bishop motivated by liberation theology, is one of Brazil’s most important defenders of and advocates for the rights of indigenous peoples. Already in the 1980s, he helped secure the inclusion of indigenous peoples’ rights into the Brazilian constitution. He has played an important role in opposing one of South America’s largest and most controversial energy projects: the Belo Monte dam. After 35 years of service as Bishop, Erwin Kräutler has retired from his post as prelate of Xingu in Brazil in 2016. His work for the rights of indigenous peoples and the environment have both aided and empowered the inhabitants of the region. He continues to work with the Conselho Indigenista Missionário (CIMI) as a volunteer and splits his time between Europe and Brazil.

Watch a video about his work in Brazil and read more here.

Consolidation of the Amazon Region (COAMA) received the Right Livelihood Award in 1999 “…for showing how indigenous people can improve their livelihood, sustain their culture and conserve their rainforests.”

The Consolidation of the Amazon Region (COAMA) is a group of Colombian NGOs struggling for the recognition of indigenous rights and their crucial role in the conservation of the world’s tropical rainforests. Basing their work on intercultural analysis, the COAMA team established a relationship of mutual respect and reciprocity with about 250 indigenous communities of 22 differential cultural groups, enabling them to determine their own development path. While safeguarding the rainforest, this work also led to the creation of micro projects in health, education, cultural and ecological recuperation and market product projects.

Read more here.

Helena Norberg-Hodge received the Right Livelihood Award in 1986 “…for preserving the traditional culture and values of Ladakh against the onslaught of tourism and development.”

Ladakh, or ‘Little Tibet’, is one of the last remaining traditional cultures on earth. For over a thousand years the Ladakhi people prospered, creating a rich, harmonious and sustainable culture from the sparse resources of their region. In 1975, traditional self-reliance and cultural pride were suddenly replaced by feelings of inferiority, dissatisfaction and competition when the area was opened to ‘development’. Outside economic pressures began undermining the local economy, and ills that were previously unknown – pollution, crime, unemployment, family breakdown, rapid urbanisation and ethnic conflict – began to take hold. Helena Norberg-Hodge founded the Ladakh Project in 1978 as a way of countering destructive trends of conventional development in this Himalayan part of India. She went on to coin the term the ‘economics of happiness’ in 1994, decades before the idea of valuing wellbeing over GDP growth became fashionable.

Watch her interview and read more here.

Mary and Carrie Dann received the Right Livelihood Award in 1993 “…for exemplary courage and perseverance in asserting the rights of indigenous people to their land.”

The sisters Mary and Carrie Dann were traditional Western Shoshone women and the major leaders in their people’s political and legal battle to retain their ancestral lands. They firmly campaigned to assert the rights of their indigenous people. They committed themselves to retain their ancestral lands, threatened, among others, by nuclear tests carried out by the US. The sisters Dann also dedicated themselves to preserve the traditional way of life of the Shoshone people, fighting against repeated attempts by the Bureau of Land Management to impound their livestock. Mary Dann died in 2005 but Carrie continues their fight.

Watch a video about their work in Western Shoshone region and read more here.

Evaristo Nugkuag Ikanan received the Right Livelihood Award in 1986 “…for organising to protect the rights of the Indians of the Amazon basin.”

Evaristo is a leader of the Aguaruna people of Peru and has devoted himself to organising the indigenous people of the Amazon Basin in order to uphold their human, civil, economic and political rights. He is one of the founders of the Aguaruna and Huambisa Council (CAH), which represented 45,000 inhabitants of 140 communities in the tropical forest region in the late 70’s. He has set himself the task of implementing an alternative human development strategy for the Aguaruna and Huambisa people. Among other initiatives is one of bioprospección indígena, which makes use of the Amazonian forest (without felling it) to improve the human quality of life through natural, organic and spiritual approaches to health, medicine, agriculture, nutrition and industrial uses.

Read more here.

Sahabat Alam Malaysia – Sarawak (SAM) received the Right Livelihood Award in 1988 “…for their exemplary struggle to save the tropical forests of Sarawak.”

The Sarawak office of Sahabat Alam Malaysia (SAM – the Friends of the Earth organisation in Malaysia) has been involved since 1986 with the native people of Sarawak in a desperate struggle against logging in the province. In 1983 this logging was proceeding at the rate of 75 acres per hour, enabling Sarawak to provide 39 per cent of Malaysia’s tropical timber exports, which amount to over 50 per cent of the world’s total. The logging is systematically destroying the culture and livelihoods of the area’s native inhabitants, including the Kelabit, Kayan and Penan peoples.

SAM’s fight continues under the threats of conventional development projects, such as dams scarring vulnerable rainforest.

Read more here.

Hanumappa Sudarshan received the Right Livelihood Award in 1994 “…for showing how tribal culture can contribute to a process that secures the basic rights and fundamental needs of indigenous people and conserves their environment.”

H. Sudarshan is a doctor who turned his back on the possibility of lucrative urban practice in favour of working with poor communities in India. He arrived in the late 70’s in the Biligiri Rangana (B.R.) Hills to work among the Soliga. There he founded the Vivekananda Girijana Kalyana Kendra (VGKK), a tribal development program which proved to be highly sustainable by fostering self-organisation among the people. The Soliga tribals have for centuries lived in the B.R. Hills of Karnataka State, for most of that time leading ‘a life of abundance and peace, surviving by hunting and shifting cultivation’, worshipping God in nature and living in harmony with it. From about the 1950s, however, their forests started to be cleared for industry and modern agriculture, their land expropriated by others, and the Soliga sank into a condition of the utmost poverty and exploitation. Most of their alienated land has now been restored to them, and VGKK has now expanded its tribal development programmes to the tribal people in Arunachal Pradesh, Andaman Islands & Andhra Pradesh.

Read more here.

Marie-Thérèse and Bengt Danielsson received the Right Livelihood Award in 1994 “…for exposing the tragic results of and advocating an end to French nuclear colonialism.”

Marie-Thérèse and Bengt Danielsson were a married couple expert of Tahitian culture and society. In addition to their anthropological and scientific work, which drove them to write on and to index the traditional culture, the Danielssons ceaselessly sought to expose and campaign against French nuclear colonialism, with its widely destructive social and environmental impacts, especially the disastrous medical ill-effects of the radiations coming from the nuclear testing base at Moruroa. At the end of their lives, their common goal was to help the Polynesians to find the right way to a fair and rational independence and, at the same time, to obtain complete information on the harm caused by the French nuclear tests over 30 years.

Read more here.

Raul Montenegro received the Right Livelihood Award in 2004 “…for his outstanding work with local communities and indigenous people to protect the environment and natural resources.”

Raúl Montenegro is the principal founder of FUNAM (Environment Defence Foundation). He has played a crucial role in anti-nuclear advocacy and activism, or natural reserves establishment. But he has also been very active in the Misiones province of Argentina working with indigenous communities that fought to get back their lands and their property documents. Having succeeded, they are now trying to open a narrow path to have faster access to hospital –in case they needed it –  but many actors oppose this.

Read more here.

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    Kajsa Övergaard
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