Welcome to Eureka Street

back to site


Land rights and climate change in Chile, Brazil

  • 19 March 2019


The High Court of Australia last week handed down 'the biggest native title ruling affecting Aboriginal ownership of the land in decades'. According to lawyers representing mining companies the ruling could 'trigger compensation applications from many of the hundreds of native title holder groups around Australia, which could amount to billions of dollars'.

The ruling recognises two losses with regard to land that are to be legally compensated — the economic loss and the 'loss of a spiritual connection to the land' — the latter being a core principle of Indigenous culture and a main component of Indigenous anti-colonial resistance.

The ruling has brought the connection between colonial violence and land exploitation to prominence, in a way that sheds light on historical processes which many governments prefer to ignore. It stands in sharp contrast to Chile and Brazil for example, where both the absence of recognition and planned removal of recognition will continue to limit legal options for indigenous populations, with flow-on effects for the environment.

Brazil's President Jair Bolsonaro remains a prominent example of excluding indigenous communities. At a time when scientists are insisting that indigenous communities are crucial to finding solutions for climate change, Brazil has changed mining regulations in order to open the Amazon to mining companies.

Speaking in Washington DC, Brazil's Mines and Energy Minister Bento Albuquerque made contradictory statements aimed at addressing business interests and environmental concerns. The Amazon, he declared, is important not only for environmental reasons, but also 'in terms of its riches', which 'have to be explored in a rational and sustainable way that does not harm the environment'.

Opening the Amazon to mining would require consultation with the indigenous communities, the authorisation of Brazil's national congress and the passing of legislation to regulate such exploitation. More than 37 per cent of Brazil's territory is marked as conservation areas or indigenous terrain.

Economic growth is being cited as the reason why Bolsonaro is seeking to open indigenous lands to mining. Attracting foreign companies is part of the Brazilian government's plans, which is why it is seeking to end dictatorship-era legislation which limits foreign investment in the country.


"A legacy of colonial dispossession and later violence in order to profit from natural resources has rendered land and communities vulnerable, while veering towards refusing recognition of indigenous rights and existence."


Albuquerque is already promoting circumventing the necessary requirements to gain approval for mining exploitation. Consultation with indigenous communities will not allow the possibility of