The rights of indigenous peoples are inextricably linked with the environmental preservation of their homelands. There are countless examples in Latin America of native cultures defending natural areas, often putting their lives on the line to do so.
Brazil’s Matsés and the inhabitants of Peru’s Javari Valley are just two examples of indigenous peoples currently fighting against the industrial development of their lands at the hands of the state and big business.
They are not just fighting for the preservation of nature, but also for their own survival.
On one of the world’s most remote, mysterious and fascinating islands, indigenous inhabitants have hatched a plan that combines ecological protection, law enforcement and rapprochement with a mainland political power.
The indigenous people in question also have the distinction of nearly destroying their own island’s ecology several hundred years ago.
A history of repression
Easter Island is home to the Rapa Nui, the easternmost Polynesian culture, whose members have been repeatedly subjected to Chile’s sometimes-violent rule. Representatives of the Rapa Nui people see Chile’s exploitation of Easter Island ancestral sites — notably the famous Moai giant head sculptures — as little more than a means of generating tourist money for the Chilean state.
A press release by the US-based Indian Law Resource Center outlines the unjust treatment of Rapa Nui leaders at the hands of the Chilean military:
The Rapa Nui island, commonly known as Easter Island, is in the southeastern Pacific Ocean and is called a special territory of Chile, annexed in 1933 without the consent of the Rapa Nui people. Most of the 36 Rapa Nui clans have been engaged in a collective effort to recover their ancestral lands, protect sacred sites, and exercise their right of self-determination.
A historical chance for co-operation?
But not all of the interests of the Rapa Nui are at odds with those of Chile. After all, environmental protection and ecological sustainability ultimately benefit all but the smallest minority of the Earth’s population. This is especially clear when it comes to the disappearance of fish stocks.
Industrial fishing in the waters surrounding Easter Island — much of it illegal — has polluted the ocean and severely depleted fish stocks. The islander’s fishing boats are no match for the large industrial fishing vessels. Illegal fishing is threatening the Rapa Nui’s way of life.
The Rapa Nui’s solution, with the support of the Chilean government, is the creation of a vast marine park. The reserve would encompass 278,000 square miles of ocean, making it the biggest of its kind in the world.
Only islanders, who number around 7,000 (over half of which are indigenous) would be allowed to fish up to 50 miles offshore and through a corridor to the small, unpopulated Salas y Gómez island, which lies 243 miles east-northeast of Easter Island. All other fishing vessels would be banned from operating within 200 miles of either island.
Crucial to the success of the plan is that the Chilean Navy would enforce the ban.
An opportunity to right old wrongs
The Rapa Nui are no strangers to the grave consequences of human induced ecological disasters. It was their own deforestation of the island in pre-Colombian times that nearly destroyed Easter island’s ecology and its people’s traditional civilization.
Native Easter Islander and former national free diving champion Mike Rapu elaborates:
Now more than ever, we are aware that as a community we can use natural resources to extinction, which we did with the land and the forest. Based on that experience, we have to tell the world we have learned that lesson.
(source: the Guardian)