Actor Leonardo DiCaprio took the stage at the Golden Globes to receive the award for Best Actor in a Drama for the film The Revanant, on Sunday night. The audience of fellow actors and Hollywood types applauded for what could be a precursor for Leo finally winning an Academy Award. In his speech, he thanked the people involved in the film and his friends. And as the music swelled, Leo ended with a dedication to one special group of people around the world.

"I want to share this award with all the first nation's people represented in this film and all the indigenous communities around the world," he said. "It is time that we recognize your history and that we protect your indigenous lands from corporate interests and people that are out there to exploit them. It is time we heard your voice and protected this planet for future generations."

He raises a series of important issues. All of them revolve around land rights. The heart of the problems faced by indigenous peoples can be, somewhat crudely, boiled down to land. That issue is particularly important with the encroaching negative effects of climate change. Problems range from degrading forests that are home to South America's indigenous to the slowing rain affecting the Maasai in Tanzania.

Fixing the problems will require taking steps to halt the pace of global warming and mitigate climate change. Hopefully the Paris agreement last month is a starting point for that solution. The next part involves securing and respecting land rights. For many indigenous groups, those rights are already gone or restricted. The US, for instance, experienced the forced expulsion of its indigenous, thanks to government and expanding settlements. 

And land is not just an issue facing indigenous persons. The corporate and "other" land grabs alluded to by Leo affect all people who do not own the rights to their own land. It is estimated that three-quarters of the world's poor live in areas where land is their most important asset and source of income. These subsistence farmers grow vegetables and raise livestock to put food on the table and pay for other needs, like education and healthcare.

Since many of those people do not actually own their land, governments and outsiders can swoop in, buy up the property and kick them out. These land grabs are widely criticized, yet they occur on a regular basis. Groups like Landesa, based out of Seattle, are fighting to protect land rights by ensuring that families have deeds, with legal backing, to their properties. Improving land rights is better for all families, but women in particular stand to gain the most.

Just check out the data:

Did you ever think that a piece of paper (land deed) could have such a major impact? Leo does. That is why he talked about the protection of land for ingenious people. And so do the numerous aid and rights groups that joined Landesa in calling for an indicator on land rights as a part of the Global Goals target to end extreme poverty.


Demand Equity

Why Leo was right to bring up land rights at the Golden Globes

By Tom Murphy