Justin with Leigh Cameron (Chief of Staff, World Vision Australia).
The point when I knew that working with Indigenous Peoples was what I wanted to do was in Southern Mexico in 1997 when I was part of an international team of peace workers sent in to assist with the investigation into the massacre of 45 Mayan men, women and children in the highland community of Acteal.
During the investigation I learned that those who were killed had known that the paramilitaries were coming to kill them but instead of getting out while they still had the chance, they made the incredible decision to stay and pray for peace. They made that fateful decision, in part because they wanted to bring attention to the war being waged against the region’s indigenous peoples. It was because of these experiences, together with a growing understanding of what was happening back home in Australia that my passion and commitment to the rights of indigenous peoples began to develop.
From there I worked for five years with Oxfam Australia to develop and manage an indigenous peoples program in Latin America, set up an NGO called Peace and Diversity Australia that continues to support the survivors of the Mexican massacre of Acteal, helped set up and run the Maya Living Free Healing Centre, Victoria’s first Aboriginal Healing Centre and was for a few years, the CEO of Songlines Aboriginal Music Corporation. Currently I am the Senior Portfolio Advisor of World Vision’s Latin America Program where I am working to develop a greater focus on our work with indigenous peoples in the region.
The struggle of the world’s indigenous peoples to defend their worldview, culture and way of life is, I believe, one that concerns us all. In addition to the challenges we face around climate change, what is also of great concern is the loss of the world’s bio-diversity, including agricultural seed diversity. The evidence suggests that one of the most effective solutions to the challenges of climate change and biodiversity loss is to support the world’s indigenous peoples in their efforts to preserve their culture, world view and determine their own form of development. Central to all of this is access to land.
World Vision is undertaking some innovative work in both Australia and Latin America to partner with indigenous peoples and organisations. In Bolivia, we have been supporting some great work around indigenous self-governance and the participation of indigenous women and youth in these processes. In Peru we have been implementing a permaculture project that works with indigenous families to improve household incomes, food security, living conditions and health and education outcomes for children. We have also been working with indigenous communities on reforestation projects that generate income for the implementation of community development plans. And more recently we began implementing an ecological cook-stoves project in Peru that will see 6,000 cook-stoves in the homes of indigenous families, thus reducing smoke and improving health outcomes, while also reducing the use of firewood required thus reducing deforestation and carbon emissions.
In a few days I will be travelling to Peru and spending eight weeks there to explore how we can integrate these different projects into one overall program that supports indigenous peoples and communities in their efforts to practise self-determination, provide a dignified life for their families, preserve their culture and defend Pacha Mama – Mother Earth. I will continue to keep this blog going during this time.