Law students fight poverty and global warming in Peru

December 17, 2011

This past May, Jocelyn Jenks and Angela Cifor, two second-year law students at Colorado Law, traveled to Ayaviri, Peru on behalf of the Center for Environmental and Energy Security (CEES) in order to help with the installation of 15 environmentally healthy and efficient cookstoves.

Because a full third of the world’s population (approximately 3 billion people) have no access to modern energy resources, a large majority of them rely on burning biomass (cow manure, crop residues or wood) for cooking, heating and lighting. Unfortunately, burning biomass within the home generates indoor air pollution, consisting of black carbon and other particulates, which results in 2 million premature deaths annually, primarily among women and children. Additionally, black carbon is the second largest cause of global warming, according to Nature Geoscience.

The cookstoves, designed by German cookstove developer GIZ, aim to reduce the negative side effects that come from using biomass as a primary fuel source. The cookstoves are constructed with a chimney which is designed to remove harmful smoke from the living space of those using the stove, thus improving the air quality inside the homes of Ayiviri residents. They are also constructed with a two level combustion chamber that allows for increased air flow through the fuel source as well as easy ash removal.

Perhaps most importantly, the cookstoves can be constructed with adobe, a material that the local communities of Ayaviri are very familiar with, thus allowing them the opportunity to learn to construct their own cookstoves in the future.

These first 15 cookstoves will be continually monitored by students from the University Catolica de San Pablo in order to determine the precise health and environmental benefits that they provide. Depending on these results, CEES will begin work on the next stage of the project, scheduled for summer 2012, which will focus on providing cookstoves to any community member who wants one. This could be anywhere from one to 250 units. CEES will work with Caritas to offer a sweat equity option, whereby residents can contribute a certain amount towards their cookstoves by working on other community development projects such as irrigation improvements, community gardens and animal husbandry.

The goal of the two-day conference was to discuss and craft a national strategy to achieve both national recognition of and an apology for the wrongs visited upon individuals and communities of Indian Country by the U.S. boarding school policy. The strategy would also seek reparations to provide the framework for healing the wounds from these historic and enduring wrongs.

“Intergenerational trauma was a huge theme of the conference,” said Jill Tompkins, Director of the American Indian Law Clinic at Colorado Law. “American Indian children forced into the boarding school system later on unintentionally imposed onto their children and their children’s children the scars of growing up without knowledge of their language and their culture, without affection and without a loving family support network. When they finally returned to their tribal communities, they did not know who they were or where they fit anymore.“

Many point to the proliferation of alcoholism, drug abuse, and suicide among Indians as evidence of the on-going effects of this period.

Although early in the planning stages, three key themes were expressed at the conference: acknowledgement, justice, and healing.

Important participants at the Symposium were Chief Wilton (Willie) Littlechild and Marie Wilson, Commissioners of Canada’s Truth and Reconciliation Commission (TRC). Canada modeled its Indian Residential School system on the U.S. model. Thousands of individual and community lawsuits were brought against the Canadian government for abuses, particularly sexual abuse, inflicted on Aboriginal people. The cases were eventually resolved in the Indian Residential School Settlement Agreement, the largest class action in Canadian history, in 2007.

The settlement provided for a payment to all former students who were held in federally supported residential schools and additional compensation for those who suffered sexual or serious physical abuse or other abuses. The Canadian government also made a contribution to the Aboriginal Healing Foundation to support commemoration projects and to establish the TRC. The TRC’s three-prong mission is: to inform Canadians of what happened in the schools, to honor the lives of former students and their families, and to create a permanent record of the Indian Residential School legacy. Although the settlement has made some progress in bringing healing to residential school survivors, Chief Littlechild told the U.S. Symposium attendees, “You have a chance to do things better.”  

To date, no U.S. Presidential apology or plan to provide redress for American Indian boarding school survivors has been proposed by the federal government. “The time to seek justice and healing for our ancestors and families who suffered the boarding school experience is long overdue. The establishment of the Boarding School Coalition and the development of a mutual shared vision for future action are critical steps forward,” said Tompkins.