What are the rights of indigenous people, and how can people in the United States become more aware of the political and environmental struggles facing those populations? That's the subject of a discussion taking place Thursday, Oct. 1 at Rothko Chapel titled Dispossessed and in Danger: The State of Indigenous Rights. The talk is part of a series of programming recognizing the biennial Óscar Romero Award, which honors grassroots efforts in human rights advocacy.
The 2015 Óscar Romero Awards honors Miriam Miranda and Berta Cáceres, Afro-Caribbean and indigenous rights activists in Honduras. The discussion will be led by Juliet Hooker, professor of government at the University of Texas, and Ana Paula Hernández, program officer for Latin America at the Fund for Global Human Rights. The talk will be moderated by Suzanne Benally, executive director of Cultural Survival.
Hernández said the Fund worked with Rothko Chapel to find “outstanding human rights defenders” in regions not as visible to people in the United States. “You hear much less about Honduras than other places in South and Central America,” she said.
Both award recipients and the organizations they lead have worked extensively with indigenous populations to combat environmental abuses by corporations on ancestral land and to hold corporations accountable regarding the rights of those people. Cáceres, who is general coordinator of Consejo Civil de Organizaciones Populares e Indígenas de Honduras, has opposed the construction of hydro-electric dams in the absence of informed consent for the communities involved.
“(Informed consent) is law in Honduras and it's a law that is constantly being broken,” Hernández said. “But through peaceful resistance, the Chinese company decided to pull four dam projects.”
Miranda is the executive director of Organización Fraternal Negra Hondureña, a group that works to protect the land, cultural and civil rights of 47 indigenous Garifuna communities. Her organization has opposed the construction of a large tourism project on Honduran beaches and the violent evacuation of populations with an ancestral right to that land.
Both women have done this work at great personal risk to themselves and their families, Hernández said. Miranda has been kidnapped following protests, and Cáceres's four children no longer live in Honduras due to threats to their safety.
“Many times these organizations have to spend an incredible amount of time and resources defending these members, which takes resources away from the other work they do,” Hernández said.
In fact, the namesake of the award was himself a victim of such violence. As Archbishop of San Salvador, Óscar Romero spoke out frequently against poverty, social injustice, government corruption and the exploitation of the poor. He was assassinated in 1980 while giving Mass. He was beautified by Pope Francis earlier this year.
In addition to the $20,000 given to the Oscar Romero recipients, the award comes with something else—recognition.
“It provides them with some very important support,” Hernández said. “It makes their stories more visible.”
Thursday, Oct.1. 7. Free. Rothko Chapel, 3900 Yupon, 713-524-9839. rothkochapel.org