Indigenous people say to Science Museum: ‘Listen to us!’

A group of Indigenous people have sent a letter to the Science Museum Group (SMG) calling on its leadership to listen to Indigenous peoples’ concerns about its new sponsorship deal with Adani Green Energy, whose parent company Adani Group is a major operator of coal mines and coal-fired power stations in India, Indonesia and Australia.

The letter states:

‘Indigenous communities in all these countries are bearing the brunt of Adani’s destructive coal expansion activities, experiencing land-grabs, repression, the destruction of sacred lands, pollution of air, land and water and, of course, the worsening impacts of climate change exacerbated by burning coal.’

The letter has been prompted by SMG director Ian Blatchford’s recent dismissal of Indigenous concerns and experiences on BBC Radio 4’s Front Row, following the announcement that Adani Green Energy would be sponsoring the Science Museum’s new energy gallery, opening in 2023. 

The letter is signed by:

  • representatives of Indigenous communities resisting Adani’s coal operations in India and Australia: Phillip Kujur, Adivasi Activist Forum for Indigenous Rights, Jharkhand, India and Adrian Burragubba, spokesperson for the Wangan and Jagalingou Family Council and senior cultural custodian, Australia
  • a representative of Indigenous communities across the Pacific at the forefront of climate impacts: Joseph Zane Sikulu, Pacific Climate Warriors
  • an organisation in Indonesia directly supporting Indigenous communities on Bunyu island which is being heavily mined by Adani: Siti Maimunah, Jatam, Indonesia

The letter states: 

‘To defend Adani’s controversial business operations in this way, and to dismiss the concerns of Indigenous peoples, is completely unacceptable for any publicly funded institution, and particularly concerning coming from a museum of science. When Indigenous peoples approach the museum with deeply held concerns that their rights are being violated by one of its partners, they must be respected, listened to and acted upon, not dismissed as exaggerated and untrue.’

It goes on to call on the museum:

‘to respect Indigenous rights and listen to Indigenous peoples on this issue – we are the experts on what is happening on our lands. And, based on the experiences of Indigenous peoples around the world, we call on you to end your relationship with Adani, and with all companies actively extracting fossil fuels.’ 

Phillip Kujur from the Adivasi Activist Forum for Indigenous Rights Jharkhand in India says in the letter: 

‘Adani is destroying our indigenous agricultural lands by setting up their power plant in Godda, Jharkhand, India, for which coal is being planned to be brought from Australia. Our rights are being violated for setting up this plant. Adani has also acquired through auction new coal blocks in Gondulpara, Jharkhand, where there is strong resistance from the people against mining. Adani is a threat to our indigenous identity, existence and ways of life.’ 

Adrian Burragubba is spokesperson for the Wangan and Jagalingou Family Council and senior cultural custodian. His concerns about Adani’s Carmichael mine, being built on Wangan and Jagalingou traditional land, were dismissed by Ian Blatchford on Front Row. He says in the letter:

‘The Science Museum should be respecting the fundamental human rights of Indigenous peoples. Instead, director Ian Blatchford has dismissed us and chosen to support Adani, a company that is destroying our land and violating our rights. Every step of the way, Adani has used lies and deception to persecute my people, interfere in our decision making processes, and undermine our rights to self-determination…Adani’s corporate behaviour is in clear violation of human rights, not only of Indigenous people in Australia, but Indigenous people all around the world. Adani works to shut Indigenous people up, to criminalise us, and bankrupt us.’ 

The letter follows the museum’s controversial announcement in October that Adani Green Energy – a subsidiary of Adani Group which is heavily involved in coal production – will sponsor its new ‘Energy Revolution’ Gallery. Since then two of the SMG’s trustees have resigned from the Board of Trustees over its stance on fossil fuel sponsorship and, as one of them, Dr Hannah Fry explained in The Times, its unwillingness to engage with “reasonable voices calling for change”

Last month, 60 leading scientists and museum contributors – including former chair of the IPCC Sir Bob Watson, former Co-Director of the Grantham Institute Prof Joanna Haigh, and Chair of Biochemistry of Solar Energy at Imperial and Fellow of the Royal Society Prof Alfred William Rutherford  – committed ‘not to work with’ the Science Museum Group (SMG) until it announces a moratorium on accepting fossil fuel funding. 

On the same day, Channel 4 News revealed that the Science Museum’s sponsorship contract with Adani Green Energy includes a “gagging clause” identical to one signed with the oil giant Shell earlier this year, which triggered a major backlash among the scientific community. Documents released following a Freedom of Information Act request (FOIA) also suggest that the new sponsorship deal was negotiated with the parent company the Adani Group – which is heavily involved in coal expansion on Indigenous lands in India, Indonesia and Australia – which also provided specific guidance to the museum’s Director on how to counter criticism of its Carmichael mine.

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