Faith groups call for land rights and equity

By agency reporter
August 16, 2016

Land rights, equity in development resource flows and life-enhancing epistemologies were among the themes emphasised by faith-based organisations at the World Social Forum (WSF) in Montreal, Canada on 9-14 August 2016

“Land creates an ecology of life…it is about relationships,” reflected Bishop Mark MacDonald, World Council of Churches president for North America and the National Indigenous Bishop of the Anglican Church of Canada. He spoke during an event titled Listen to the Land, organised by the Oikotree movement. “However, the way land is understood in western thought is completely hostile to the indigenous understanding of land.”

For indigenous peoples, the concept of land stewardship is recognised, he explained, in contrast to the concept of land ownership and dominion.

Nora Carmi, formerly project coordinator of Kairos Palestine, spoke about Israel and Palestine. “In the case of Palestine, the Israeli occupation, particularly illegal settlements, have not only dispossessed Palestinians of their homeland, it has adversely impacted soils and water sources in the occupied territories,” said Carmi. “Our soils and waters have been poisoned, our olive trees are cut down, and people are dying of cancers and other illnesses.”

Dr Rogate Mshana, director of the Ecolife Center in Tanzania, spoke about land-grabbing and other land-related injustices. “Land is increasingly subject to the dominant growth-obsessed, profit-oriented paradigm of production, consumption, distribution and investment, intensifying land grabbing in Africa and many parts of the world”, he said, “but the Sustainable Development Goals are silent on land-grabbing.”

The 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development, adopted by the United Nations General Assembly, is composed of 17 Sustainable Development Goals and 169 targets to eliminate extreme poverty, fight inequality and tackle climate change over the next 15 years.

Speaking at another Oikotree event, titled 'Who will bell the cat?', Stanley William from the Integrated Rural Development of Weaker Sections in India and the National Council of Churches in India, observed that development funding and resource flows increasingly follow the same logic of growth and profit. “The result is that finance and other resources continue to be funnelled from the global south to the global north.”

In response to these economic, social and ecological realities that deny life for the marginalised, “we need a different theological and cultural reflection on land and life”, said the Rev Dr Susan Davies, a theologian, at the Oikotree workshop on 'Life-enhancing learning together'.

The Rev Dr Seong-won Park, Moderator of the Oikotree movement, talked about how to build a sustainable future. “Unlearning life-destroying world views and re-learning life-affirming approaches based on indigenous concepts such as Sumak Kawsay ('good living'), Ubuntu ('I am because you are') and Sangsaeng ('mutual living') are critical for building a just and sustainable future”, said Park. “These concepts help us to comprehend that we are all interconnected in the web of life.”

The Oikotree movement is a faith-based network of movements and organisations striving for justice in the economy and the earth, initiated by the Workd Council of Churches (WCC), World Communion of Reformed Churches and Council for World Mission.

“As part of the pilgrimage of justice and peace, churches ought to accompany the struggles of movements for land and life. The World Social Forum – convened as an alternative to the World Economic Forum – is an important venue in which to do so”, said Athena Peralta, WCC programme executive for Economic and Ecological Justice.

*Read Listen to the Land here

* The World Council of Churches promotes Christian unity in faith, witness and service for a just and peaceful world. An ecumenical fellowship of churches founded in 1948, by the end of 2012 the WCC had 345 member churches representing more than 500 million Christians from Protestant, Orthodox, Anglican and other traditions in over 110 countries. The WCC works cooperatively with the Roman Catholic Church.

* World Council of Churches http://www.oikoumene.org/en

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