‘We’re sorry,’ and other reversals from California to Colombia
1. United States
The Winnemem Wintu tribe purchased 1,080 acres of its ancestral land in Northern California with $2 million in donations, a win for the Indigenous “Land Back” movement. The land is near the tribe’s existing 42-acre village and Bear Mountain in Siskiyou County.
After construction of the Shasta Dam in the 1940s, Winnemem villages and burial grounds were flooded, further displacing the tribe. Chinook salmon, sacred to the Winnemem, declined as the dam disrupted their breeding patterns. To raise awareness for the endangered salmon and promote Indigenous stewardship, since 2016 the tribe has held an annual 300-mile prayer journey, worked on creating passages for salmon to avoid the dam, and collaborated with other Indigenous groups and U.S. agencies to scale up conservation efforts.
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In our progress roundup, an official apology or court decision can right a longstanding wrong that has persisted for decades or centuries. But sometimes, a look to the past also means recognizing that modern times call for ancient wisdom.
The Winnemem Wintu purchased the land through the tribe-run nonprofit Sawalmem, whose church status allows flexibility with land use. The tribe can now build sustainable housing and infrastructure such as solar panels and water runoff systems for its members. “Our purpose is to restore the land [to] the way it’s supposed to be, which means control burns, native plants, all the waterways totally restored,” Michael Preston, executive director of Sawalmem, said.
Colombia formally apologized for “false positive” extrajudicial killings by the military during its civil war. A special peace tribunal found that between 2002 and 2008, Colombian soldiers under pressure from superiors killed at least 6,402 civilians and passed them off as rebels killed in combat – creating false evidence that the government was winning the conflict. Though previous administrations have resisted calls to make amends, Defense Minister Iván Velásquez apologized for the murders at a ceremony attended by 19 victims’ relatives. The civilians who died were often from poor communities and lured by the promise of jobs before being executed.
“We’re standing here before the victims, before the Colombian society, before the international community, to say sorry,” Mr. Velásquez said.
Former President Juan Manuel Santos – who won the Nobel Peace Prize in 2016 for negotiating a cease-fire with Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (FARC) guerrillas after more than five decades of war – had apologized in 2021 in a closed-door hearing. But some politicians maintain that the killings were isolated and not a systemic problem within the military.
The peace tribunal investigating the “false positive” cases has charged at least three generals for the killings, and more than 700 members of security forces have given evidence so far. Relatives at the ceremony and human rights advocates say they will continue to press for justice.
Sources: BBC, The Associated Press, Al Jazeera
The bicibús (bicycle bus) is getting Barcelona’s children to school safely – and in style. Barcelona is the most car-dense city in the European Union, sometimes making cycling to school unsafe for children. But in a parent-led effort that began two years ago, dozens of children are now cycling to school in a caravan flanked by adults and one police car.
While the bike bus concept is not new, it has grown quickly in Spain’s second-largest city. There are 15 routes throughout Barcelona, in which 700 people a week have participated.
The initiative is popular with kids, and teachers say the children come to school more refreshed and energized. “What I like best about the bicibús is meeting girls and boys I don’t know from other schools,” said Lola, a 4-year-old.
The bicibús is part of a broader movement to make Barcelona safer for children, and advocates have presented a series of proposals to the city, including more cycling lanes and a lower maximum driving speed. Local sustainability transit leaders hosted a bike bus summit last spring for about 30 attendees from Germany, Britain, and the United States, who together committed to expanding the global bike bus network.
The Supreme Court of Mauritius decriminalized same-sex relations in two landmark decisions. A vestige of 19th-century colonialism, the criminal code against sodomy was found to be discriminatory and unconstitutional.
Justices pointed to similar international court decisions, from Belize to South Africa, that have struck down sodomy laws, and they said that “the Constitution is a living document and must be given a generous and purposive interpretation.”
Advocates have cheered the decision, which defies a tide of African states that have proposed or passed stringent anti-homosexuality laws, such as Uganda.
“There is still a lot to do,” said Jean-Daniel Wong, who manages the largest LGBTQ+ advocacy group in the country. “But ... we have faith in our public institutions.”
5. Sri Lanka
An ancient water management system is helping Sri Lanka’s farmers weather drought. Devised between the 4th and 13th centuries, the system of small human-made reservoirs and cascades had long allowed communities to capture rainwater runoff for future use and cope with prolonged dry spells. As drought and flood risk increase, the ellangawa is getting renewed attention – and rehabilitation.
A cascade system is formed by building embankments around natural depressions in the ground. Sluice gates and stone gauges control the flow of water, which passes from one “tank” to another through streams in rice paddy fields. Other ecological features, like tree belts planted alongside the tanks, can reduce evaporation and protect communities from flash flooding.
Roughly 14,000 tanks and 1,600 cascades are estimated to still be active throughout the dry zones of the island. In 2017, the Food and Agriculture Organization recognized the ellangawa as a Globally Important Agricultural Heritage System. A World Bank project begun in 2019 with the government is rehabilitating ellangawa in six provinces, emphasizing the importance of participatory planning for the entire cascade, which affects multiple farmers. Integrating other sustainable practices, such as precision agriculture, is also recommended for increasing productivity of farm land.
Sources: BBC, World Bank