Photo: Thomas Haugen under a Creative Commons license.
It seems that even though "Avatar" is finally out of theaters, its environmental message and memorable imagery have taken root. Protest groups have used the movie's themes to raise awareness of causes that range from Israeli policy to the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq. The latest group to paint themselves blue and strap on tails is Survival, an international group dedicated to preserving the rights of tribal peoples.
Survivor is protesting British mining company Vedanta's plan to dig an open pit mine for aluminum ore on the Niyamgiri mountain in eastern India, on which the local Dongria Kondh depend as a vital source of food, water and medicine, and which they worship as a god. The mountain is used by the Dongria Kondh to grow their crops, including beans, bananas, lentils, and is home to surprisingly diverse wildlife- monkeys, tigers, bears, and wild boar. Survival posted a video of some Dongria Kondh explaining the mountain's importance to them:
Video Credit: Survival
Pitted against a peaceful indigenous tribe that is totally dependent on the mountain it wants to tear apart for the sake of bauxite, Vedanta isn't improving its reputation. The fight over the proposed Niyamgiri mine has been going on for about a year, and Vedanta seems to be losing ground. In February, under pressure from Hindu leaders and activists, The Church of England withdrew its investments in Vedanta.
According to the Daily Telegraph, the Church's Ethical Investment Advisory Group reported:
After six months of engagement, we are not satisfied that Vedanta has shown, or is likely in future to show, the level of respect for human rights and local communities that we expect of companies in whom the Church investing bodies hold shares.
And things aren't looking up for Vedanta. With the arrival of two Na'vi at a Survival protest outside Vedanta's Annual General Meeting in London, the forces opposed to the mine have reached out to James Cameron, on the grounds that the plot of "Avatar" closely resembles the plight of the 8,000 Dongria Kondh. They've already got a few celebrities on their side, including Monty Python's Michael Palin. With the ten feet tall Na'vi now against them, it's hard to see Vedanta emerging from this fight victorious.