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Pope Francis: Indigenous people have rights over their lands

Activists at Oceti Sakowin Camp on the edge of the Standing Rock Sioux Reservation, North Dakota (Getty)

Pope Francis insisted on Wednesday that indigenous groups must give prior consent to any economic activity affecting their ancestral lands.

The pontiff met with representatives of indigenous peoples attending a UN agricultural meeting and said the key issue facing them is how to reconcile the right to economic development with protecting their cultures and territories.

“In this regard, the right to prior and informed consent should always prevail,” he said. “Only then is it possible to guarantee peaceful cooperation between governing authorities and indigenous peoples, overcoming confrontation and conflict.”

History’s first Latin American Pope has been a consistent backer of indigenous rights and has frequently spoken out about the plight of indigenous people in resisting economic development that threatens their lands.

“For governments, this means recognising that indigenous communities are a part of the population to be appreciated and consulted, and whose full participation should be promoted at the local and national level,” Francis told the indigenous leaders Wednesday.

Pope Francis’ reference to prior consent is enshrined in the UN Declaration on the rights of indigenous peoples, which was adopted by the UN General Assembly in 2007 over the opposition of the US, Canada, Australia and New Zealand.