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Cover Story

Indigenous Resistance

Wixarixa woman with baby

Wixarixa woman and baby

Indigenous: a word commonly used to describe people who live in nature somewhere far away from us, people who have somehow missed the boat of modernization. We envision “Indians” in feathered headdresses or forest people who live in jungles wearing only loincloths, or bush people living in mud huts. We may imagine such people as part of the decor for exotic tourist destinations, but if we try to imagine ourselves living like them, most of us will find it difficult.

As hard as it may be for some of us to imagine, we only have to go back a few hundred years in human history to find a time when virtually the whole humanity fit the description of indigenous. Our recent tendency to consider “indigenous” populations to be interesting because they are “diverse” and “different” needs to be reexamined. If people called indigenous are simply living the same way humans always have, as expressions of nature, living in harmony with nature, then it is us, the modern people, who are now different. But what makes us different? What makes the lifestyles of our Ancestors unthinkable to us? If our Ancestors lived in harmony with nature and understood themselves to be expressions of nature, by saying we’re different is just to say that we have disconnected ourselves from our place of origin. The only difference exists in our minds and our mentalities.

Mapuche-Elder-Explaining-Traditional-Flag-cc

A Mapuche Elder explains the meaning of their traditional flag.

In reality, indigenous simply means to be native to a particular place. When thinking what it means to be an original inhabitant, we may consider “Native Americans” to be indigenous to “America” and not Europeans or Africans. We tend to forget that we humans migrate. Which indigenous person can say that their Ancestors did not migrate to their current home at some point in time? No matter where we may be, we all originate from the continent now called Africa. In that case, calling people across the world indigenous to Australia, India, South America or any other place doesn’t make sense. It can only make sense if we are saying they are indigenous to the Earth itself. But by that definition, what will be the difference between an “indigenous” person and a “non-indigenous” person?

If to be indigenous is to be native to a particular place, by saying we are not indigenous, we are claiming that we have no place of origin, no place to call home, no place that we have inherited from our Ancestors that we are responsible for protecting. How can this be? Is it not true that Earth is home to us all? Is it not true that Earth is what provides us with everything we need to survive? Do we not see that by poisoning the Earth we are poisoning ourselves at the same time? Let’s admit that to not claim the identity of indigenous is an insanity of the most dangerous form!

Members of the Mapuches Indians Movement ride their horses as a Chilean Mapuche stands guard during the burial ceremony of Jaime Facundo Mendoza Collio, who was killed during clashes with riot police, near Temuco city, some 680 km (422 miles) south of Santiago, August 16, 2009. Collio, 24, died on August 12, 2009 after being shot during clashes with police in a land dispute in southern Chile, local media reported. REUTERS/Jose Luis Saavedra (CHILE POLITICS CONFLICT)

Members of the Mapuches Indians Movement ride their horses as a Chilean Mapuche stands guard during the burial ceremony of Jaime Facundo Mendoza Collio, who was killed during clashes with riot police in a land dispute in southern Chile.

It is by convincing us to alienate ourselves from the rest of humanity and even nature itself that our politicians have enlisted us in their army to continue their conquest of Earth. Like invading aliens, we act without regard or consideration for the well being of nature, but unlike extraterrestrials, we depend on Earth for our survival. Regardless of this fact, we continue to be the willing agents of destruction on Earth. Every resource required to sustain the modern lifestyle which allows us to disconnect ourselves from nature also requires us to rape the planet and enslave humanity to obtain them. When we consider the environmental catastrophes resulting from the extraction of oil, metals, wood, and water; from the production of nuclear power and hydroelectricity; from mass-scale agriculture and commercial fishing to name a few, how can we justify our refusal to live as simply as our Ancestors did? How can we justify our refusal to see ourselves as part of the problem?

While we continue to fuel this modern system as it unleashes hell on Earth, there are people all over the world who still recognize their responsibility to protect their lands and their culture. They are fighting to protect their lands, people and culture from exploitation by modern imperialists. Throughout modern history, there have been countless examples of the dangers involved in such resistance movements which continue even now. In the past month, two activists, Berta Caceres (mother of four) and Nelson Garcia were assassinated in Honduras. Despite these dangers and many other pressures faced by those fighting to protect the Earth, global resistance movements for indigenous peoples’ rights to govern themselves and their land are gaining ground.

Chief Raoni Letter

Chief Raoni Metuktire of the Kayapu people presents a letter in France protesting the Belo Monte Dam

RESISTANCE IS POSSIBLE

The activists murdered in Honduras were fighting to stop the construction of a hydroelectric dam among other things. These dams are well known for their catastrophic effects on local environments. The dams block the flow of water of the river leading to flooding upstream of the dam and reduced flow downstream. While the flooding renders large areas upstream uninhabitable, as it effectively becomes a big lake, the area downstream is starved of water resulting in a huge die off on either side of the dam. This is what is being promoted as clean, renewable energy to power the modern machine. Two groups have recently had some success in fighting against these attacks.

Srisailam Dam

Srisailam hydro-electric dam in India

In Brazil, the Belo Monte dam has been built on the Xingu river, one of the major tributaries to the Amazon river. This single dam would flood thousands of acres of land, displacing approximately 20,000 people and affect at least about 20 communities that depend on that river for fish. Local communities have been spreading awareness about the situation and have brought international pressure on Brazil to investigate the failure of the companies involved to fulfill the promises made to the communities being affected in addition to reports of human rights violations during the dam’s construction. Chief Raoni of the Kayapo people has been working with British singer, Sting, to spread awareness and gain support in Europe and worldwide. Although the construction has been completed, operation of the dam has not been approved to begin due to these efforts.

baram dam protestIn the Baram region in Malaysia, on the other side of the world, hundreds of people blockaded the roads leading to a site where the government was planning to illegally seize their land to build a dam. The local communities had taken their fight to court but also took matters into their own hands. After two years of upholding this blockade and preventing anyone access to the dam site, the government has officially cancelled their plans to construct the dam.

In Guatemala, Semuc Champey, a sacred site of the Q’eqchi Mayans has been occupied by the government since being declared a protected area and the area was opened to tourism (for more on the effect of wildlife protected areas on indigenous communities, read the Public Enemy #1 series in Sunnyside volumes 12.1, 14.1 and 14.2). Beginning in 2013, the Q’eqchi were denied access and were even required to pay an entrance fee to visit their own sacred land. Since then, the situation has escalated and there have been massive protests. In December 2015, the people of these communities retook the site, evicted the Guatemalan national police and have maintained control over it while still allowing access to tourists. However, two Q’eqchi leaders were recently arrested through trickery and the communities are facing continued threats of invasion from the government.

Wixirika at First Majestic Silver cc

Leaders of the Wirikuta Defense Front at the First Majestic Silver headquarters to ask them to abandon their mining project in their sacred lands

In Mexico, Wirikuta, a sacred site of the Wixarika people has been targeted by mining companies (for more on Wirikuta, read Preserving Wirikuta in Sunnyside volume 10.3). The Wixirika, also know as the Huichol, organized themselves to resist the mining companies and the Mexican government which had promised these companies access to the land. The Wirikuta Defense Front, a coalition of Traditional Wixarika leaders and civil society group has gained worldwide support. In 2012, they hosted Wirikuta Fest, a concert in a stadium in Mexico City to raise funds to support their efforts. Wirikuta Fest featured high-profile, Mexican bands and singers, including Caifanes, Calle 13, Café Tacuba, Enrique Bunbury, Julieta Venegas and Venado Azul performing in front of a standing room only crowd. The concert raised over $700,000.

The profits from the concert went to fund the legal team which has successfully halted any new mining activities in Wirikuta while the case is in court, spreading awareness about their fight and building alliances with other organizations and indigenous communities. A major aspect of their work has been funding projects to support the communities living in Wirikuta who are being targeted with propaganda from the mining companies trying to convince them of the benefit of jobs with the mining companies to gain their support. The reality as it has been proven in similar cases throughout history that the ecological destruction also would likely make the environment uninhabitable by poisoning the entire underground water supply, among other things.

The Wirikuta Defense Front is supporting these communities with a DVD they produced highlighting the dangers of mining. They have implemented many projects to increase access to water in this area that has been heavily hit by drought for the past few years. They have supported local farming projects, business enterprises, healing centers, community centers and more. The documentary Huichols: The Last Peyote Guardians has also helped bring international attention to their struggle. So far, one major mining company has promised not to pursue mining in Wirikuta. Leaders of the Wirikuta Defense Front visited the offices of another (First Majestic Silver) to request they do the same. Currently the mining projects are still on hold.

These are a few of the countless stories of current indigenous resistance, many of which we will never hear. Again, the question to ask is what does it mean to be indigenous? If to be indigenous means to be native to this land, this Earth, where do we stand in this fight? Berta Caceres and Nelson Garcia risked and ultimately sacrificed their lives even knowing that at least 109 activists had been killed in Honduras fighting mining, logging and similar projects since 2010. What sacrifices are you willing to make to secure a future for this world and your children who will will inherit it?

Your support, however you can give it, goes a long way. Whether you are helping spread this information or donating your time, efforts, knowledge or resources to one or more of these movements, please understand that this struggle is serious and every decision we make is either another step towards the preservation or the destruction of this Earth. While there are many ways to support, the most important form of support and resistance is to learn to live as indigenous people and share traditional knowledge and values as human beings who know our place in the world and our responsibility for protecting it.

Big thanks to Intercontinental Cry (intercontinentalcry.org) for continuing to publish news on indigenous resistance.

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