Charity seeks Cameron's help, cites 'Avatar'

Says tribe facing mining company is in a Na'vi-like struggle

NEW DELHI -- U.K.-based charity Survival International has appealed to James Cameron on behalf of the Dongria Kondh tribe in India's Orissa state whose story, according to Survival, "is uncannily similar to that of the Na'vi in 'Avatar.' "

In an ad released Monday with the title "Appeal to James Cameron -- Avatar is fantasy ... and real," Survival said, "The Dongria Kondh tribe in India are struggling to defend their land against a mining company hell-bent on destroying their sacred mountain. Please help the Dongria."

The ad also provides a link to a 10-minute film "Mine: Story of a Sacred Mountain" narrated by India-born British actress Joanna Lumley ("Absolutely Fabulous") that exposes the Dongria's plight. "We've watched your film -- now watch ours," the ad stated.

Survival explained how the Dongria, who live in the Niyamgiri Hills in Orissa state located on India's east coast, are battling against U.K.-based Vedanta Resources, which is "determined to mine their sacred mountain's rich seam of bauxite (aluminium ore)," it said in a statement. Vedanta is majority-owned by Indian billionaire Anil Agarwal.

According to Survival -- which claims to be the only international organization supporting tribal peoples worldwide -- other Kondh groups are already suffering from a bauxite refinery, built and operated by Vedanta, at the base of the Niyamgiri Hills.

"Just as the Na'vi describe the forest of Pandora as 'their everything,' for the Dongria Kondh, life and land have always been deeply connected. The fundamental story of 'Avatar' – if you take away the multi-coloured lemurs, the long-trunked horses and warring androids -- is being played out today in the hills of Niyamgiri," Survival's director Stephen Corry said.

Corry added, "Like the Na'vi of 'Avatar,' the Dongria Kondh are also at risk, as their lands are set to be mined by Vedanta Resources who will stop at nothing to achieve their aims. The mine will destroy the forests on which the Dongria Kondh depend and wreck the lives of thousands of other Kondh tribal people living in the area. I do hope that James Cameron will join the Dongria's struggle to save their sacred mountain and secure their future."

Vedanta has not released any statement.

Survival International recently persuaded the Church of England to sell its investment in Vedanta Resources "for ethical reasons" even though its investment in Vedanta was only for £2.5 million (about $4 million), but its sale last week generated enough media attention for the campaign.

In 2007, a pension fund backed by the Norwegian government also sold its $13 million investment based on recommendations from the funds' ethics council, which stated that "allegations leveled at (Vedanta) regarding environmental damage and complicity in human rights violations, including abuse and forced eviction of tribal people, are well founded."

Similarly, another Vedanta investor, Scotland-based Martin Currie Investments sold its £2.3 million stake last year, as did British Petroleum's pension fund, which reduced its holdings in Vedanta due to "concerns about the way the company operates."