Things That Matter

Well-Known Chilean Indigenous Leader Alberto Curamil Has Been Acquitted

After worldwide protest, Indigenous leader Alberto Curamil has been acquitted of charges related to his actions to stop the construction of a dam on a sacred river. Curamil, along with his co-defendant Álvaro Millalén, would have faced 50 years in prison for “raiding a compensation fund,” “gun theft,” and “illegal possession of weapons.” If it weren’t for the four international environmental and legal nonprofit groups who advocated for Curamil and Millalén, it’s likely that the case wouldn’t have received international pressure from the public. The judges assigned to the case unanimously decided to acquit both of all charges last Friday, but that’s not often the case.

The criminalization of environmental defenders, who are often Indigenous leaders, is on the rise in Latin America.

Alberto Curamil’s efforts have earned him this year’s Goldman Environmental Prize, often considered the “Green Nobel Peace Prize.”

CREDIT: @JAIMECUYANAO / TWITTER

Alberto Curamil is an indigenous Mapuche and Lonko (traditional leader) to his people. The Mapuche are the largest indigenous group in Chile, their name translating to “people of the land.” The Mapuche view the natural world around them, including rivers and forests, as kin to their brothers. The Mapuche have long been victimized and criminalized by the Chilean government. In the late 1800s, the Chilean army was tasked with invading their land to privatize and sell it to individual owners. The government forcibly stole the Mapuche land and would go on to privatize water in the entire country. 

In the last decade, Chile’s minister of energy announced a project that would include building 40 dams on the Mapuche’s rivers, two of which would be in the heart of their community. While the project would generate more energy for the country, it would irreparably harm the riparian ecosystems. Alberto Curamil, 45, has dedicated his life to protecting Mapuche rivers and preserving the Mapuche native language of Mapudungun. He formed a coalition with other community members, academics, environmental organizations and launched a massive public, media and legal campaign against the projects. For his work, he earned the 2019 Goldman Prize, also known as the “Green Nobel Peace Prize.” The government acknowledged his work with criminal charges that would effectively mean he’d die in prison.

Police accused Curamil of disorderly conduct and beat him while he was in custody.

CREDIT: @RAYBAE689 / TWITTER

According to the Goldman Prize organization, “police arrested Curamil and two other Mapuche leaders and accused them of disorderly conduct and causing public unrest for organizing protests. Police beat Curamil while in custody, badly bruising his face. Police also attacked his pregnant wife.” Still, his legal battle with the Chilean government proved fruitful. Two years after Curamil was arrested and beaten, his continued campaign yielded a victory: Chile’s Third Environmental Tribunal ruled that one of the two dams would be canceled because the government violated its own laws to consult with the Mapuche or environmental experts on its impacts.

Two years after the victory, police arrested Curamil once again in what many believe was a frame-job to take Curamil out of the picture while Chile approved another hydroelectric project on the same river.

CREDIT: @TWEETLIAM / TWITTER

Curamil was arrested in August 2018 after an “anonymous tip” connected Curamil, Álvaro Millalén, Alberto José Cáceres and Víctor Llanquileo Pilquimán with a $76 million peso robbery. Curamil has spent the last 15 months in Temuco prison awaiting trial. He wasn’t even able to attend his own awards ceremony to receive the Green Nobel Peace award. His daughter, Belén, 18, went to accept the award on behalf of her father, who she called a “political prisoner,” according to NBC News. Many believe the firearms “found” in his home were planted given that his DNA was not found on the weapons.

“I am very happy because we knew that both Alberto Curamil and Álvaro Millalén were innocent,” Curamil’s daughter, Belén, told press outside the courtroom that finally allowed Curamil to walk free, according to NBC News. “If they were imprisoned for so long, it is because they raised their voices and fought for our territory, for the freedom of our ‘mapu,’ the freedom of our rivers and the freedom of the Mapuche people.” Curamil’s advocacy for the environment as inadvertently spurred another advocacy in his daughter: to decriminalize environmental human rights defenders.

Belén has spent the last 15 months of her father’s imprisonment to speak out against the rising criminalization of indigenous leaders for defending their land. In September, she spoke in front of the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights on the topic.

READ: Indigenous Leaders And Environmental Groups Have Concerns Over President AMLO’s Tourist Train In The Yucatán

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Indigenous Purépecha Woman Gets Full Ride Scholarship To Attend Harvard

Things That Matter

Indigenous Purépecha Woman Gets Full Ride Scholarship To Attend Harvard

In just a few months, college freshmen will be descending on their campuses across the country. One of these students is Elizabeth Esteban who is the first person from her indigenous tribe in Mexico to be accepted to an Ivy League school.

Elizabeth Esteban is going to Harvard and it is a major deal.

Esteban is a member of the Purépecha tribe, an indigenous community from Michoacán, Mexico. Esteban is the first member of her tribe to be accepted into an Ivy League university, where indigenous representation remains small. Esteban’s parents work as farm laborers in the eastern Coachella Valley in California.

“Well I felt proud and excited, every sort of emotion because I never would have believed that a person like me, would be accepted to a prestigious university,” Esteban told NBC News.

Not only was Esteban accepted into Harvard, a prestigious university, she also received a full-ride scholarship. Esteban’s family is part of a community of hundreds of Purépecha people who relocated to the easter Coachella Valley in search of work and a better life.

Esteban plans to study political science.

Dr. Ruiz Speaks with State of the Union Guest, Elizabeth from Desert Mirage High School.

Join me for a live conversation with my guest for tonight's State of the Union, Elizabeth from Desert Mirage High School!

Posted by Congressman Raul Ruiz, MD on Tuesday, February 4, 2020

Esteban wants to make a difference in her community. As an indigenous woman, Esteban wants to break barriers that are set on women in her community. She told NBC News that her community expects for women to stay home and be stay-at-home mothers.

The incoming Harvard freshmen was discouraged from applying to Harvard at one point because of her community’s unreliable internet connection. Esteban lives in a mobile home with her family in Mecca and struggled to complete course work. The internet went down in the middle of her Harvard interview and it almost prevented her from applying to the university.

“Well, I felt proud and excited, every sort of emotion because I never would have believed that a person like me, would be accepted to a prestigious university,” Esteban told NBC News about being accepted to Harvard on a full scholarship.

READ: California, Harvard, MIT File Lawsuits To Challenge Government’s International Student Visa Announcement

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Mexico City Could Soon Change Its Name To Better Embrace Its Indigenous Identity

Things That Matter

Mexico City Could Soon Change Its Name To Better Embrace Its Indigenous Identity

Mexico City is the oldest surviving capital city in all of the Americas. It also is one of only two that actually served as capitals of their Indigenous communities – the other being Quito, Ecuador. But much of that incredible history is washed over in history books, tourism advertisements, and the everyday hustle and bustle of a city of 21 million people.

Recently, city residents voted on a non-binding resolution that could see the city’s name changed back to it’s pre-Hispanic origin to help shine a light on its rich Indigenous history.

Mexico City could soon be renamed in honor of its pre-Hispanic identity.

A recent poll shows that 54% of chilangos (as residents of Mexico City are called) are in favor of changing the city’s official name from Ciudad de México to México-Tenochtitlán. In contrast, 42% of respondents said they didn’t support a name change while 4% said they they didn’t know.

Conducted earlier this month as Mexico City gears up to mark the 500th anniversary of the fall of the Aztec empire capital with a series of cultural events, the poll also asked respondents if they identified more as Mexicas, as Aztec people were also known, Spanish or mestizo (mixed indigenous and Spanish blood).

Mestizo was the most popular response, with 55% of respondents saying they identified as such while 37% saw themselves more as Mexicas. Only 4% identified as Spaniards and the same percentage said they didn’t know with whom they identified most.

The poll also touched on the city’s history.

The ancient city of Tenochtitlán.

The same poll also asked people if they thought that the 500th anniversary of the Spanish conquest of Tenochtitlán by Spanish conquistadoresshould be commemorated or forgotten, 80% chose the former option while just 16% opted for the latter.

Three-quarters of respondents said they preferred areas of the the capital where colonial-era architecture predominates, such as the historic center, while 24% said that they favored zones with modern architecture.

There are also numerous examples of pre-Hispanic architecture in Mexico City including the Templo Mayor, Tlatelolco and Cuicuilco archaeological sites.

Tenochtitlán was one of the world’s most advanced cities when the Spanish arrived.

Tenochtitlán, which means “place where prickly pears abound” in Náhuatl, was founded by the Mexica people in 1325 on an island located on Lake Texcoco. The legend goes that they decided to build a city on the island because they saw the omen they were seeking: an eagle devouring a snake while perched on a nopal.

At its peak, it was the largest city in the pre-Columbian Americas. It subsequently became a cabecera of the Viceroyalty of New Spain. Today, the ruins of Tenochtitlán are in the historic center of the Mexican capital. The World Heritage Site of Xochimilco contains what remains of the geography (water, boats, floating gardens) of the Mexica capital.

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