Points of Progress: Esselen Tribe reclaims land, and more

Places where the world saw progress, for the Aug. 31, 2020 Monitor Weekly.

1. United States

The Esselen Tribe of Monterey County has reclaimed ancestral lands in Northern California after closing a $4.5 million deal with Western Rivers Conservancy. The small tribe lived on the Big Sur coast and the Santa Lucia Mountains for thousands of years before Spanish explorers set up missions in the 1700s. For centuries, they’ve been landless.

Doug Steakley/Western Rivers Conservancy/AP
Lupines cover the Adler Ranch in Big Sur on the California coast, which was recently reclaimed by the Esselen Tribe of Monterey County.

The conservancy acquired 1,200 acres in Big Sur with the hope of finding an environmentally conscious steward. The property’s giant redwoods and river make it a key breeding site for two vulnerable species: the California condor and the south-central California coast steelhead. “We are going to conserve it and pass it on to our children and grandchildren,” Tom Little Bear Nason, tribal chairman, told The Mercury News. “Getting this land back gives privacy to do our ceremonies. It gives us space and the ability to continue our culture without further interruption.” (CNN, The Mercury News)

Why We Wrote This

This is more than feel-good news – it's where the world is making concrete progress. A roundup of positive stories to inspire you.

2. El Salvador

In a landmark case for transgender Salvadorans, three police officers have been found guilty of the 2019 murder of Camila Diaz. The court sentenced each officer to 20 years in prison for aggravated homicide, marking El Salvador’s first conviction for the murder of a transgender person. About 600 LGBTQ people have been killed in the conservative country since 1993, according to advocates, but the cases rarely go to trial and had never ended in a conviction.

Jose Cabezas/Reuters
Three former police officers charged with the aggravated homicide of Camila Diaz stand during a hearing in San Salvador, El Salvador, on March 5, 2020.

Although the prosecutor’s office did not classify the attack as a hate crime, activists consider the ruling a major development for the country. “It sends a strong signal that anti-trans and more generally anti-LGBT violence is not going to be tolerated in the country,” said Cristian Gonzalez, a researcher at Human Rights Watch. (Thomson Reuters Foundation)

3. Costa Rica

Costa Rica is the first tropical forest country to stop and reverse its deforestation problem. In the late 1980s, as much as half of Costa Rica’s forests had been cut by loggers. Unlike its neighbors, the small Central American country has regrown most of the land. It did so by pairing a ban on deforestation with payments for ecosystem services, financed mainly by a fossil fuel tax. The program pays farmers to protect watersheds and biodiversity or capture carbon dioxide. Over the past 20 years, the government has paid $500 million to landowners, and it’s how many farmers in Costa Rica make an income. “We have learned that the pocket is the quickest way to get to the heart,” says Carlos Manuel Rodríguez, minister for environment and energy. (CNN)

4. Kenya

A Kenyan village led by environmental activist Phyllis Omido won a $12 million civil lawsuit accusing a lead-acid battery recycling plant of exposing the nearby community to lead poisoning. The money will be paid by government agencies found to be negligent and the directors of the since-shuttered smelting plant. Ms. Omido worked at Metal Refinery EPZ in 2009, but left after the company failed to acknowledge the troubling findings of an environmental impact assessment. Despite pressure – or outright threats – from co-workers, authorities, and family to drop the cause, she kept campaigning on behalf of families impacted by toxic waste smelting. At least 10 smelters have closed in Kenya as a result of Ms. Omido’s grassroots activism, and in addition to the $12 million payout, the judge has ordered the government to clean the affected community, Owino Uhuru, within four months. (BBC, CNN)

5. Botswana

Dozens of traditional leaders in Botswana will learn how to combat gender violence in their communities through a collaboration among Botswana’s government, the tribal administration, and the United Nations Development Program. In a country where nearly 70% of women have experienced physical or sexual abuse, experts say it’s essential to get buy-in from traditional leaders, who can then help other men unlearn bad habits and become better advocates for women. Chiefs like Puso Gaborone of the Batlokwa tribe will receive training on conflict resolution, addressing marital disputes, and reporting violent behavior. “No elements of traditional culture condone violence,” said Mr. Gaborone. “Dikgosi [chiefs] are essential stakeholders in addressing issues of violence in communities, and in bringing perpetrators to book.” (Thomson Reuters Foundation)

6. Thailand

Rare footage of three tigers roaming through a western Thailand forest is offering conservationists hope that the endangered species is making progress. This is the first sighting by the area’s camera traps in four years. There are an estimated 160 wild Indochinese tigers left in Thailand, where they face the threat of poaching, and the total global population may only be around 350, according to the World Wildlife Fund. There are about 3,900 tigers left in the wild, including the more widely known Bengal and Siberian tigers. “The next important step for us is that we have to try and make the connecting routes of each forest area accommodating for them, in order for the tigers to roam safely,” said Kritsana Kaewplang, country director for conservation group Panthera in Thailand. (Reuters)

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