INTERVIEW - Standing Rock protests, killing of activist, unite indigenous struggles

by Anna Pujol-Mazzini | @annapmzn | Thomson Reuters Foundation
Tuesday, 14 March 2017 14:56 GMT

Indigenous people of the Ixil region attend a hearing against former Guatemalan president Efrain Rios Montt in Guatemala city, Guatemala August 25, 2015. REUTERS/Jose Cabezas

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Dakota Access Pipeline protests in U.S. and murder of Honduran land rights activist Berta Caceres have united struggles indigenous peoples on the continent

By Anna Pujol-Mazzini

LONDON, March 14 (Thomson Reuters Foundation) - Protests against the Dakota Access Pipeline in the United States and the killing of prominent Honduran land rights campaigner Berta Caceres have united the struggles of indigenous peoples on the continent, a Guatemalan indigenous leader said on Tuesday.

Andrea Ixchiu, a Mayan activist and campaigner for indigenous land rights, said the pipeline protests allowed the public to speak out about injustices committed against indigenous communities in the United States.

"Standing Rock shows us the creativity of resistance," she told the Thomson Reuters Foundation in London, referring to the Indian reservation where thousands of people gathered to protest the installation of an oil pipeline last year.

Indigenous Mayan groups from Guatemala traveled to the Standing Rock protest camp on the North Dakota plains as a show of solidarity with Native Americans, she said.

Ixchiu was in London to promote a documentary she appears in which she hopes will raise awareness of the struggles faced by indigenous communities in Guatemala.

"500 Years" was released in January at the Sundance film festival in the United States and will be screened at the Human Rights Watch film festival on Tuesday.

Pamela Yates, who directed the film as part of a trilogy about indigenous resistance in Guatemala, said the Standing Rock protests were a moment in North America which "changed everything."

The documentary highlights the links between abuses against indigenous Maya communities during Guatemala's civil war and current land rights battles.

Former Guatemala dictator Efrain Rios Montt is on trial on charges of genocide and crimes against humanity committed during the civil war. He is accused of overseeing the slaughter of 1,771 members of the Maya Ixil indigenous population in the Quiche region of Guatemala in 1982 and 1983.

A U.N.-backed truth commission found that 626 indigenous villages were destroyed by the Guatemalan military during the 36-year war that ended in 1996.

Villagers now face the installation of multi-national projects, from hydroelectric dams to open pit mining sites, the film says.

Ten environmental activists were killed in Guatemala in 2015, the last year on record, six of them from indigenous communities.

Ixchiu, from the community of Totonicapan in the country's southwest, said as a land rights activist she had been kidnapped and threatened with death.

The killing of indigenous land rights campaigner Berta Caceres in Honduras in 2016 was a "seed for struggle", she said, highlighting the dangers activists face across the region.

Caceres was shot and killed after receiving death threats over her opposition to a hydroelectric dam project.

(Reporting by Anna Pujol-Mazzini @annapmzn, Editing by Ros Russell. Please credit the Thomson Reuters Foundation, the charitable arm of Thomson Reuters that covers humanitarian news, women's rights, trafficking, property rights, climate change and resilience. Visit

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