Why did the Australian aborigines never adopt agriculture?

by Kim Hill, Deep Green Resistance Australia

Why did the Australian aborigines never develop agriculture?

This question was posed in the process of designing an indigenous food garden, and I could hear the underlying assumptions of the enquirer in his tone. Our culture teaches that agriculture is a more desirable way to live than hunting and gathering, and agriculturalist is more intelligent and more highly evolved than a hunter gatherer.

These assumptions can only be made by someone indoctrinated by civilization. It’s a limited way to look at the world.

I was annoyed by question, and judged the person asking it as ignorant of history and other cultures, and unimaginative. Since many would fit this label, I figured I’m better off answering the question.

This only takes some basic logic and imagination, I have no background in anthropology or whatever it is that would qualify someone to claim authority on this subject. You could probably formulate an explanation by asking yourself: How and why would anyone develop agriculture?

First consider the practicalities of a transition from hunting and gathering to agriculture.

What plants would be domesticated? What animals? What tools would they use? How would they irrigate?

Why would anyone bother domesticating anything that is plentiful in the wild?

To domesticate a plant takes many generations (plant generations, and human generations) of selecting the strongest specimens, propagating them in one place, caring for them, protecting them from animals and people, from the rain and wind and sun, keeping the seeds safe. This would be incredibly difficult to do, it would take a lot of dedication, not just from one person but a whole tribe for generations. If your lifestyle is nomadic, because food is available in different places in different seasons, there is no reason to make the effort to domesticate a plant.

Agriculture is high-risk. There are a lot of things that could destroy a whole crop, and your whole food supply for the year, as well as your seed stock for the next. A storm, flood, fire, plague of insects, browsing mammals, neighbouring tribes, lack of rain, disease, and no doubt many other factors. A huge amount of work is invested in something that is likely to fail, which would then cause a whole community to starve, if there isn’t a back-up of plentiful food in the wild.

Agriculture is insecure. People in agricultural societies live in fear of crop failure, as this is their only source of food. The crops must be defended. The tools, food storage, water supply and houses must also be defended, and maintained. Defended from people, animals, and insects. Growing and storing all your food in one place would attract all of these. Defence requires weapons, and work.

Agriculture requires settlement. The tribe must stay in one place. They cannot leave, even briefly, as there is constant maintenance and defending to do. Settlements then need their own infrastructure: toilets, water supply, houses, trading routes as not all the food needs can be met from within the settlement. Diseases spread in settled areas.

Aboriginal people travel often, and for long periods of time. Agriculture is not compatible with this way of life.

Agriculture is a lot of work. The farmers must check on the crop regularly, destroy diseased plants, remove weeds, irrigate, replant, harvest, save seeds, and store the crop. Crops generally are harvested for only a few weeks or months in the year, and if they are a staple, must be stored safely and be accessible for the rest of the year.

Domesticated animals require fencing, or tethering, or taming. They would be selectively bred for docility, which is a weakness not a strength, so a domesticated animal would be less healthy than a wild animal.

The people too become domesticated and lose strength with the introduction of agriculture. The wild intelligence needed to hunt and gather would be lost, as would the relationships with the land and other beings.

Agriculture requires a belief in personal property, boundaries, and land ownership. Australian aborigines knew that the land owned the people, not the other way around, so would never have treated the land in this way.

Agriculture needs a social hierarchy, where some people must work for others, who have more power by having more wealth. The landowner would have the power to supply or withhold food. Living as tribal groups, aborigines probably wouldn’t have desired this social structure.

Cultivated food has less nutrition than wild food. Agriculturalists limit their diet to plants and animals that can easily be domesticated, so lose the diversity of tastes and nutrients that make for an ideal human diet. Fenced or caged animals can only eat what is fed to them, rather than forage on a variety of foods, according to their nutritional needs. Domesticated plants only access the nutrients from the soil in the field, which becomes more depleted with every season’s crop. Irrigation causes plants to not send out long roots to find water, so domesticated plants are weaker than wild plants.

Agriculture suggests a belief that the world is not good enough as it is, and humans need to change it. A land populated with gods, spirits or ancestors may not want to be damaged, dug, ploughed and irrigated.

Another thought is that agriculture may develop from a belief in scarcity – that there is not enough food and it is a resource that needs to be secured. Indigenous belief systems value food plants and animals as kin to be in relationship with, rather than resources to exploit.

Agriculture isn’t an all-or-nothing thing. Indigenous tribes engage with the landscape in ways that encourage growth of food plants. People gather seeds of food plants and scatter them in places they are likely to grow. Streams are diverted to encourage plant growth. Early explorers witnessed aboriginal groups planting and irrigating wild rice. Tribes in North Queensland were in contact with Torres Strait Islanders who practiced gardening, but chose not to take this up on a large scale themselves.

A few paragraphs from Tim Low’s Wild Food Plants of Australia:

The evidence from the Torres Strait begs the question of why aborigines did not adopt agriculture. Why should they? The farming life can be one of dull routine, a monotonous grind of back-breaking labour as new fields are cleared, weeds pulled and earth upturned. The farmer’s diet is usually less varied, and not always reliable, and the risk of infectious disease is higher…It is not surprising that throughout the world many cultures spurned agriculture.

Explorer Major Mitchell wrote in 1848: ‘Such health and exemption from disease; such intensity of existence, in short, must be far beyond the enjoyments of civilized men, with all that art can do for them; and the proof of this is to be found in the failure of all attempts to persuade these free denizens of uncivilized earth to forsake it for tilled soil.’

After all this, I’m amazed that anyone ever developed agriculture. The question of why Australian aborigines never developed agriculture is easily answered and not as interesting as the question it brings up for me: why did twentieth century westerners never develop hunter-gatherer lifestyles?


From Stories of Creative Ecology January 5, 2013

Battleground BC: Phase Two of the Resistance

By Zoe Blunt, Vancouver Island Community Forest Action Network

In every part of the province, industry is laying waste to huge areas of wilderness – unceded indigenous land – for mining, fracking, oil, and hydroelectric projects. This frenzy of extraction is funneling down to the port cities of the Pacific and west to China.

Prime Minister Harper has stripped away legal options to stop this pillaging by signing a new resource trade agreement with China that trumps Canadian and local laws and indigenous rights. Not even a new government has the power to change this agreement for 31 years.

For mainstream environmental groups (and my lawyers, who were in the middle of a Supreme Court challenge to the trade agreement when Harper pre-empted them), it is a total rout. We are used to losing, but not like this.


The only light on the horizon is the rise of direct resistance. BC’s long history of large-scale grassroots action (and effective covert sabotage) is the foundation of this radical resurgence.

This time it’s different. This time we can write off the Big Greens. Tzeporah Berman, once the face of the Clayoquot Sound civil disobedience protests and now head of the Tar Sands Solutions Project, is publicly proposing that enviros capitulate in the hopes of a slightly greener pipeline apocalypse.

As usual, Berman and her kind are far behind the people they pretend to lead. Public opinion is hardening against pipelines and resource extraction.

But the question hangs over us like smoke from an approaching wildfire. How to stop it? The courts are hogtied. The law has no power. The people have no agency. This government simply brushes them aside and carries on. We get it. We’ve had our faces rubbed in it.

This is activist failure. The phase of the movement when most of the public is already on side, when we have filed all the lawsuits, taken to the streets in every city, overflowed every public hearing, and uttered every threat we can muster – and the end result is they are bulldozing this province from the tarsands straight to the coast.


This is the moment when we can expect activists, especially mainstream enviros, to become demoralized and quit or capitulate. Or delude themselves. Green groups are casting about for a strategy that will allow their donors to maintain false hope in a democratic solution. Some are still trying to raise money for legal challenges that can simply be overruled by the treaty with China.

But small cadres are preparing the second phase of the resistance. Indigenous groups are reclaiming territory and blocking development at remote river crossings, on strategic access roads, and in crucial mountain passes. Urban cells are locking down to gates, vandalizing corporate offices, and organizing street takeovers.

It’s a good start. But now we have to look at how to be effective against powerful adversaries with the full weight of the law and the police on their side. How will we protect the land and each other, when push comes to shove?

The new rules don’t change our strategy to bring down the enemy: kick them in the bottom line. The resource sector will wind tighter as competition to feed China intensifies. Profits are slim enough to start with – made up in volume – and investors are jittery already.

We urge our allies to heed the lessons of history. We don’t win by giving up. Tenacity, flexibility, and diversity of tactics turn back the invaders.

Celebrate the warriors. Raise that banner now, and we’ll find out soon enough who’s with us, and who’s looking to appease our new dictators.

Ahousaht Nation Makes Salmon Farm Pull Anchors

by  / Intercontinental Cry 

Ahousaht, BC Canada – On Monday morning at daybreak Cermaq has said it will be pulling anchor on its new salmon farm north of Tofino, British Columbia. The Province of BC granted Cermaq licenses and permits to operate a relocation fish farm at a site called Yaakswiis in July.

When Cermaq attempted to anchor the farm there 10 days ago, five Ahousaht men stepped onto the farm and told the Cermaq crew to leave. They vowed they would risk arrest rather than see another salmon farm in their territory.


The standoff began on September 9, as Cermaq was dropping its anchors in a remote region in Ahousaht territory. The Ahousaht don’t want more salmon farms because they have seen a decline in shellfish, salmon and herring since salmon farms appeared in their territory in about 1999.

There are currently already 16 Cermaq salmon farm sites in Ahousaht territory. Despite promises of employment and prosperity only 15 jobs have been created in the remote village of 1000 people; Ahousaht Nation itself has 2000 + members in total.

“It’s common sense,” said Ahousaht tourism business owner, Lennie John who was the first on scene when Cermaq tried to anchor the farm.


“We fish in these waters for food, we don’t go into Cermaq’s kitchen and leave a mess all over their floor.”

Food, people and support poured into the remote protest camp. People slept in tents tied down to prevent them from blowing away. A small boat was used to cook meals. They called it the Yaakswiis Ocean Action Camp.

The Yaakswiis warriors stated that the Cermaq salmon farm was not legal because the Ahousaht people had not been consulted, nor did they consent, a requirement written into the protocol Cermaq and MHSS (Maaqtusiis Hahouthee Stewardship Society) signed. Consent is also a requirement to fulfill the legal obligations the province has in regards to Ahousaht’s collectively held Aboriginal rights and title.

Additionally, Free Prior and Informed Consent is required by the UN Declaration of the Rights of Indigenous Peoples, therefore, they declared all Cermaq protocols, agreements and operations were nullified and illegal.

70b“We don’t want any more salmon farm sites in our territory and will be taking a much closer look at this industry,” Joe James Rampanen.

“We don’t want future generations to inherit a legacy of pollution, these waters feed us.”
“Just because three chiefs signed your agreement doesn’t mean you have consent from the whole Ahousaht Nation,” Marshall Thomas told the Cermaq crew.

Lennie John said he will be watching where this farm goes. “Cermaq, you are done here.”

Monday night there is a community celebration dinner in Ahousaht. The Ahousaht are looking forward to written confirmation from Cermaq and MHSS that no new fish farms will be sited, relocated or expanded for time immemorial in Ahousaht territory.

This article originally appeared at Gorilla Radio blog. Photos: Yaakswiis.  Republished with permission by Intercontinental Cry.

Interviews with displaced members of Colombia’s Wounaan Peoples

By  / Intercontinental Cry

Children of the Wounaan People easily find diversion in the abandoned basketball stadium of Buenaventura, the largest city on Colombia’s Pacific coast. Some chase pigeons that try to settle around the highest rows of seats, casually resting to look out over the surrounding rooftops to the islands of mangrove and forest that bar the view to the sea. Others jump skipping ropes as two siblings ride brightly-coloured toy ponies past the plastic sheeting beneath the bleachers that grant each family their privacy.

Displacement from their territory has exacted a cruel cost. Two children have died since their community of Unión Aguas Claras was forced to flee ten months ago: one year-old Neiber Cárdenas Pirza died while suffering diarrhoea and vomiting last December, then in June the community lost a two day-old baby.

According to one of the displaced Wounaan it is “all the chemicals” in their new life that are to blame, coupled with the inadequate diet provided by Colombian authorities that leave them vulnerable to sickness. The concrete structure of the basketball stadium is also less hygienic than the wooden homes in the territory they were forced to abandon, she said.

But to another Wounaan there lies a deeper cause:

It is not just the illnesses of the Occident that have made us so ill. It is because of spiritual sickness; because of the loss of our spirituality.

He claimed that the deadly sickness in June was foreseen by their shaman, who had been unable to predict whether it would kill an adult or a child.

The community was preparing for a ceremony the following day in which they would use their spirits to “see” how affairs stood in their territory that has lain abandoned for nine months.

The pressures against them had been manifesting for years, the Wounaan told IC, through the armed conflict, petrol exploration, and narco-trafficking.

“The area is very strategic: the river marks the frontier of the FARC and the paramilitaries, and is also the means by which the Army moves,” One Wounaan explained. “Now all of the Rio San Juan has become militarized.”

In 2008 there was a massacre of six indigenous people in our territory. By 2014 we realized that we couldn’t resist any longer; we couldn’t move in our territory for all the armed groups passing through, we had to stay in our houses.

By November 2014, the harassment was no longer confined to their wider territory. A Wounaan woman explained that, one day, “Six paramilitaries arrived and asked to sleep in the settlement but the community replied that they could not; we said that we reserve the right to say no to all armed groups.”

That evening the local head of the paramilitaries arrived to threaten the assembled community, warning them that their attitude could only work to turn over their territory to other armed groups. Fearful for their safety, the people of Unión Aguas Claras resolved to leave together. A total of 344 people–63 families–boarded boats before dawn and descended the San Juan River to where it joins the lower Calima River. From there, they reached the estuary and followed the coast to Buenaventura, where Colombian authorities placed them in a stadium that only recently became vacant. Shortly before the Wounaan’s arrival, it sheltered Afro-Colombian and campesino families displaced by clashes in Bajo Calima between the Armed Forces and BACRIM (“bandas criminales” – armed criminal bands mostly born out of officially disbanded right-wing paramilitary groups).

Not a single person from the community stayed back. Describing how the community fished and grew “yucca, bananas, pineapples… everything”, one Wounaan lamented, “Now there will be nothing left of our farms; back there in our territory everything will be destroyed.”

When they were in their territory, all the women would gather every two months to prepare and weave threads extracted from the Werregue Palm into baskets and handicrafts that they would sell. The community would hold meetings to arrange days of minga, collective communal work that could involve tidying the territory or arranging the sewing of seeds in their farms. They also said that they carefully guarded their culture, one person stating unequivocally that, “He who does not speak Wounaan is not a Wounaan.”

The Wounaan language is now spoken in many of Colombia’s biggest cities, including Bogota, Medellin and Cali, where many Wounaan end up after being cleared from their homelands in the Pacific regions of the Valle del Cauca and Choco departments. Throughout 2014, Colombia’s National Victims’ Unit recorded 97,453 cases of forced displacement, with the Pacific region among the most impacted.

Wellington Carneiro of Buenaventura’s UNHCR office says there have been “several displacements of indigenous Wounaan communities [including] Balsalito, Chachajo, Chamapuro, Buenavista, Tio Cirilio, and Agua Clara, and recently the Papayo community. In total more than 1000 people have been displaced from the Lower San Juan River.”

The identity of the groups fighting for control of the San Juan and Calima waterways is unclear. The local authorities in Buenaventura initially responded to the community’s arrival by claiming there had been no need for the Wounaan’s displacement, and their territory was safe for their return.

However, according to Carneiro,

The Lower San Juan river is strategic to armed groups due to the access to the sea and for the trafficking of weapons and drugs. Also, with the tighter security implemented around the port of Buenaventura, the routes through the San Juan delta became more attractive. There are several groups disputing the control of the area apart from the Colombian Navy. This…puts the population under the pressure of armed groups for information and through restrictions to their mobility and other threats in the context of a disputed military control over the area.

Colombia has been wracked by a conflict between two competing drug-trafficking networks – the rising Urabeños and the declining Rastrojos – who each seek to monopolize the transport of cocaine via the Pacific coast. Confronted by a stubborn Rastrojos presence in Cali and Buenaventura, the Calima and San Juan rivers have become more strategic as the San Juan is fed by the Capomá river that provides a route into the Colombian interior.

The area has also seen BACRIM and guerrilla groups diversify their enterprises through illegal mining, timber, and agriculture. According to one of the displaced Wounaan, such activities of illegal armed groups are only one aspect of a broader war against indigenous territories across Colombia. He also warned that this broader conflict will not cease with the possible signing of a peace accord between the government and FARC guerrillas.

We will continue to face war. It may be a war without lead against the indigenous – a psychological war, a cultural war, or possibly also a physical war… We know that the peace process will open the way for megaprojects that will bring international investments into our territory, therefore we know that true peace will not come. For indigenous peoples the violence will not end with the peace process. The peace process will not resolve anything for us.

The peace negotiations have been proceeding in Havana, Cuba, despite the intense opposition of former president Alvaro Uribe and his powerful Centro Democratico party. An agreement is expected to be announced in the coming months, to be followed by a reworking of the country’s 1991 Constitution.

Another Wounaan commented,

Uribe has proposed that constitutional reform should proceed and constitutional reform will likely follow a peace accord. Indigenous people are totally unprepared and un-mobilized to participate in the process of rewriting the Constitution: we need to organize ourselves to shape this process.

The aims of the Centro Democratico are clear in the Septima Dia broadcasts of Caracol, which are so aggressive against indigenous people, because Centro Democratico wants to exterminate the indigenous movement.

Earlier this year, Caracol, one of Colombia’s leading private TV channels, broadcast a series under its Septima Dia weekly format on Colombia’s Indigenous Peoples, called Disharmonization: the Arrow of the Conflict. The controversial series attacked indigenous justice systems and claimed that indigenous authorities took massacre compensation from their intended recipients, an allegation that was debunked. The series also insinuated that indigenous institutions were supportive of FARC guerrillas, something that Colombian journalist Cesar Gaviria described as but one falsehood in a series “plagued by investigative and journalistic failures”.

Indigenous Nasa activists seeking to recover the La Emperatriz sugar plantation “from its rightful owners” were among those targeted by the series which also served as a platform for Centro Democratico’s Paloma Valencia, who advocates dividing the department of Cauca into two: “One for the indigenous for them to do their strikes, their demonstrations, and their invasions. And one directed towards development where we can have roads, promote investment and where there are dignified jobs for the Caucanos.”

Henry Caballero Fula of the Peace Commission of the Regional Indigenous Council of Cauca (CRIC) has written that the four aims of the Septima Dia broadcasts were to spread the views that:

Indigenous autonomy is something negative; it only helps to corruptly enrich some members, while harming the community in general and the non-indigenous sectors.

It was a mistake for the right to prior consultation to be integrated into the Colombian Constitution since it harms national development.

The indigenous justice system is another mistake in the Colombian Constitution: it is applied against the community and is the base of impunity and immunity for indigenous criminals.

Indigenous people receive many benefits and these are generating breakdown and corruption.

The trajectory of such arguments in Colombia’s current political climate are a pressing danger to Indigenous Peoples, according to the displaced Wounaan who are politically active through the Regional Indigenous Organization of Valle del Cauca (ORIVAC).

On Sept. 15, Feliciano Valencia of Cauca’s Nasa people, one of the most visible indigenous leaders in Colombia, who had addressed delegates of the displaced Wounaan at an ORIVAC conference, was abruptly arrested and imprisoned on charges that were previously dismissed in 2011. The charges stemmed from a 2008 controversy in which an undercover soldier–who had been exposed infiltrating a peaceful protest–was held subject to indigenous justice mechanisms. The CRIC argues that indigenous jurisdiction forms part of the 1991 Constitution, and that the imprisonment of Valencia is a “coup by the state against our Constitutional rights, and revokes the peace treaty that the Constitution of ’91 represents in our history.”

These developments hadn’t yet occurred when IC spoke to the Wounaan in Buenaventura, however, one person concluded that “Indigenous people face an emergency situation throughout the country, not just in the Rio San Juan.”

The Wounaan are now changing their strategy over how to return to their territory, turning away from the municipal and departmental authorities and towards the Ministry of the Interior, the Ombudsman, and the international community.

The municipal authorities are not cooperating with the indigenous people; they always tell lies – they always say they will do something ‘mañana.’ We present our willingness to return but we need guarantees of security and dignity in our territory. Because the local level has not achieved anything we go to the national and international level, including to NGOs and the UN.

The UNHCR’s Wellington Carneiro cautions that the government ministries in Bogota lack a presence in the region and don’t have “a clear picture on the problems of the Wounaan,” however, “there is also a very negative stigmatization of the indigenous communities by the local authorities.”

Photo: Robin Llewellyn
Photo: Robin Llewellyn

One of the Wounaan observed that local officials “always come and talk, and then afterwards [do] nothing.” She said that her emphasis was on maintaining and developing the cultural and political activities of the group: “We need to strengthen our community so we can defend our territory”.

End of Gender: Revolution, Not Reform

Gender is not an individual choice, it is not a natural state, and it is not just an idea. Don’t settle for reform – strive for revolution, and the abolition of gender.

by Rachel Ivey, Deep green Resistance

(Video captions available in English and Portuguese.  Contact us if you would like to translate this or other Deep Green Resistance videos to another language.)

I was really lucky to be able to give a draft of this presentation to the women’s gathering that happened before the Deep Green Resistance conference, so most of the women here have seen it already.  I was really lucky to be able to benefit from their experiences and their feedback after I showed it to them first.

My name is Rachel and I was a teenage liberal.  A little more about me for people who don’t already know me very well:  I’m 23. I graduated with a women’s studies minor from a pretty typical women’s studies program at a mainstream university.  Which I’ll go on to say doesn’t really mean very much, but if it’s important to you, I do have some kind of sanctioned background.

I wasn’t only a teenage liberal; I was a 20 year old liberal on the topic of gender.  And then I was a 21 year old liberal on the topic of gender.  Then my liberalism started to fall apart.  It wasn’t all at once.  I don’t think minds change overnight.  I don’t think learning happens overnight.  It took me a while to weed out that liberalism from my activist practice and I think the liberal view of gender was the last thing I had to kind of exorcise from my brain in terms of liberalism.  It sticks hard.  That’s one of the reasons why I feel this presentation and the way we’ve framed it and what Jessica and Lexy have said is so important.  I think we understand the idea behind this presentation is that we understand why liberalism, especially in terms of gender, is so compelling.  I still can understand that.  And that’s one of the reasons that I’m excited we did it this way.

Through my work with DGR—but also before that—I was a feminist activist before I was an environmental activist.  DGR is actually the first environmentally activist group that I’ve ever been affiliated with. Before that it was all feminism and women’s reproductive rights.  I said that to say that I’ve had a lot of conversations about gender.  And I’ve had them from the liberal perspective and I’ve had them from the radical perspective since I’ve gone on to spend a lot of time doing public speaking for DGR.

Over all that time of having conversations about gender I feel like I’ve developed a kind of standardized approach to beginning those conversations.  They don’t always go in the same direction; every one’s different.  But I can begin them the same way.  So if I feel like I need to bring up the topic of gender, or if someone else is tending towards the topic of gender, I stop them right there and I have one question that I’ve got to have answered, and that is “What is your definition of gender?”.  Because if I don’t understand your definition of gender and you don’t understand my definition of gender,  you can bet your bottom dollar that conversation is not going to be productive.  Because if you’re using two different definitions of gender you’re not even speaking the same language when it comes to feminism. That’s the core of it.  It took me a while to figure that out.  And I think I’m still figuring it out because I’m still having those conversations. But this is where I’ve gotten so far.

Today I’m going to frame this within the personal shift that I experienced with regard to my definition of gender—like I said, I was a teenage liberal—but I also want to talk about the larger implications, for our activism and for our political practice, of these two differing ideas of gender. Because ideas have material consequences when we act on them.

You would think that a group advocating the forcible dismantling of civilization would find that to be the most controversial topic you bring up.  But no.  It’s gender. Every single time.

Gender is contentious enough that it’s the only reason as far as I know that we’ve had DGR chapters defect from the organization.  We’ve been denied an audience at speaking events and venues because of the view we take on gender.

And Lierre, who’s unflinchingly vocal on the topic, has received threats of violence and death threats because she does not hold back on her view of gender.

I’m really glad to be able to give some explanation to a topic that has been widely misunderstood and mischaracterized both by the wider activist community and within DGR itself.  If there are misunderstandings about what I say today I’m really happy to answer questions, as are other members of the women’s caucus who are here.  I think that’s extremely important.

I want to be clear though.  I’m not presenting this topic for debate.  Not in the slightest.  This isn’t only my opinion; this represents DGR’s policy and it has actually happened that people have joined DGR with the intention specifically of shifting our view of gender or challenging the women’s caucus and women in leadership on their radical view of gender.  And it failed miserably. It will again if it’s tried again because this is the core of DGR.  This is the reason I joined DGR.  This is the reason the women I look up to are in DGR.  And if it changed we would all leave. And then where would you be?  I wanted to get that out of the way first.

Characterizing these two definitions of gender is very simple on the surface but I don’t want to stay on the surface.  I could say one is liberal, one is radical, but what does that mean?

Today I want to unpack these two definitions of gender according to what those implications of liberalism and radicalism actually mean in terms of the material effect that we’re likely to have on women’s lives.

But I also want to talk about some of the “light bulb” moments—the personal experiences that I’ve had—that shifted my view on gender.  It wasn’t just reading a book.  Things happen that shape your opinion and I think describing those things is the best way I know of to explain to you why I feel the way I do.

We have this word “gender” and there are two definitions of it out there. I’ve kind of distilled these from conversations I’ve had.  Really there’s not a lot of variation.  Either someone tells me one of these or they tell me the other one.  They don’t mix elements, and that’s interesting to me, that it really is one or the other. It’s very polarizing.

The first definition of gender

In the first definition, gender, often called “gender identity” is a personal, individual quality possessed by each person.  Gender identity is a subjective perception by an individual of their position on a spectrum between masculine and feminine, which are both neutral attributes politically in this first definition.  Gender is performed outwardly through choice of markers or symbols like demeanor, body language, aesthetic choices like hair, clothing, presence or absence of makeup, and pronoun.  These outward markers are what govern whether an individual regards you as male or female upon meeting you or interacting with you.

End of Gender 1

Each person has an innate gender identity, characterized with the words “masculine”,“feminine”, or in between which is independent of their biological sex.  Each person is born with a biological sex (male, female, intersex) which is also apolitical in this definition.  Sex and gender are not necessarily connected.

What is oppressive about it, according to people who adhere to this definition?

The fact that it’s a binary system in the dominant culture.  The fact that upon birth you are socialized as either masculine or feminine.  Generally, that’s seen as the primary gender oppression in this definition of gender.  That system punishes anyone who doesn’t conform to either one of those binary options.  It follows that this oppresses both women and men.  It oppresses whoever is put into either one of those boxes, no matter why they’re put into it or what happens to them.

So how can we resist?

“Genderqueer” women and men reject the binary system, identify as “gender outlaws” and demand recognition for a range of gender identities, with masculine on one end and feminine on the other.  In this definition, it’s turned from a binary to a spectrum.  The two ends of the binary just get stretched out and we can see some more options in between.

This is the first definition.

The second definition of gender

The second definition: Gender is a hierarchical system which maintains the subordination of females as a class to males through force.  Gender is a material system of power which uses violence and psychological coercion to exploit female labor, sex, reproduction, emotional support, etc, for the benefit of males.


Gender is not natural or voluntary, since a person is not naturally subordinate and no one chooses to be subordinated.  Biological sex is a physical feature of each person, and those deemed female upon birth are socialized by the culture into femininity.

In this definition, femininity is defined as ritualized displays of submission to males.

So why is this oppressive?

Because it oppresses a class of people.  And because there are oppressors.  Power is wielded by groups of people. It’s experienced by individuals, yes.  But it’s wielded by groups of people over other groups of people.  And gender is no different.

And how can we resist? Women organize to overthrow male power and thus the entire gender system.

Instead of stretching out those binaries so there’s a spectrum in between, this definition advocates for the abolition of that system of domination and oppression.  Instead of ideally there being more than two different gender identifications, in this definition there would be none.

Because without patriarchy there would be no need for gender.

Liberal vs. Radical

Anyone want to guess which of these I’m going to characterize as liberal?

I ask this as a serious question, because when I read them, if I step back and let go of the fact that I do have a clear conviction with regard to this, the first thing that jumps out at me about the first one is that it emphasizes individualism.  That’s the first thing I’m going to talk about, and I’m going to spend a while on it because I think that’s the core of liberalism with environmentalism and it’s the core of liberalism in gender too.

Again, we have this word gender, and you’ll notice that this looks kind of like a Venn diagram, but the circles don’t overlap at all.


That’s because I don’t think these two definitions of gender have anything to do with each other.  I think they use the same word to describe two contradictory definitions and I will explain why.  I’ll start with the liberal view.  I picked a quote for each of these that I think sums it up very well.

With this one, the quote is:

“Gender is a choice, or gender is a role, or gender is a construction that one puts on as one puts on clothes in the morning, that there is a ‘one’ who is prior to this gender, a one who goes to the wardrobe of gender and decides with deliberation which gender it will be today.”


And that is Judith Butler, who I spent a lot of time reading in school.  She is a very prominent Queer Theorist, and she gets quoted a lot.  I think her ideas sum up very well the liberal definition of gender so I am going to refer to her quite a bit.  This quote really embodies individualism for me.

So we start with individualism: On the liberal side, gender is seen as a personal individual quality, and therefore politically neutral.

The individual is held up as so sacred in our “pull yourself up by your bootstraps” kind of dominant culture that it’s not politically correct to criticize or investigate anyone’s gender.

That leads to a lot of arguments, because if you try to analyze it politically people get offended on an individual basis. That’s not what I’m trying to do.

I’m trying to draw connections between how we see gender individually and the class issues that affect material reality.

With liberal environmentalism we see this individualism as the supposed ability of individuals to effect change just by changing themselves.  “I’m going to buy something different, I’m going to wear hemp clothing, I’m going to reduce my carbon footprint and that’s going to help get rid of this system, or change this system, that’s causing environmental destruction in the first place.”

The logical conclusion of that is withdrawalism.  If we just move ourselves out of that system entirely then we’re not contributing to it at all.  The problem with that is that just because you’re supposedly not contributing to it, doesn’t mean you’re contributing to the dismantling of it.

The same thing seems to be happening with gender.

A term that Judith Butler coined is the “gender outlaw”, which is a really attractive idea when you’re a teenage liberal, because it supposedly puts that power in your own hands.  If I just stop conforming, personally, to these systems or to these attributes that are connected to these systems, then the system will wither and die without me, right?  Or at least I can personally escape the effects of it if I just don’t enact it in my own life.

Again, a “gender outlaw” is someone who abandons the gender stereotypes and the gender symbols that are traditional for their biological sex, and adopts those that are assigned to the other sex.

I do want to be very clear that I don’t really care how someone dresses.  I don’t really care how they cut their hair or whether they wear makeup.  Personally it doesn’t really affect me; I don’t think it’s political.  But I do have a problem with people postulating that it is a political act of resistance in and of itself.

Dressing as, or appearing as, the traditional gender stereotype of the opposite sex is no more effective than living in a hut in the woods somewhere and expecting civilization to go down by itself.  It doesn’t make any political difference on its own.

But I don’t have any criticism of people individually.

In the liberal view, gender oppression is defined as social restrictions on individual capacity to express their true gender.  So it’s not one class oppressing the other; it’s that individuals can’t express themselves.  They’re prevented from doing that, and that’s seen as the primary gender oppression.

When I was a liberal, this was really attractive because it left it all up to me. If I wanted to escape gender, I could do it.  But it wasn’t all up to me. And the idea that it is all up to me is as insulting as it is preposterous.  Because no one, including me, would ever choose a role that involves constant sexual harassment, the ubiquitous threat and in my case occasional enactment of male violence, and the certainty growing up, the conviction that you were meant for
exploitation, erasure, silence, but never personhood. I don’t think any of us think that anyone would choose that.

I’m not sure why, to most of the left, that’s different when it comes to gender.  But it seems to be.

I want to emphasize here that I’ve so far avoided being beaten, sold, or killed by men, so as women go I’m pretty lucky. The fact that I can still identify class oppression in my own life really tells you something, since I’ve been that lucky.

So I got to college and read things like Judith Butler.  The idea that I could change my outlook on life, change my own perceptions, to escape what feminine socialization was doing to me, was really too tempting to resist. I understand why younger women, younger men — younger people — are really attracted to that.

But I was wrong. And I was wrong because gender is not an individual choice and there was not something wrong with me.

Gender is class oppression of females.

I want to stop here and talk about gender as class oppression of females. I want to start talking about it with individuality.

I’ll repeat something I said earlier: in order to be an outlaw, there has to be a law. In the case of gender outlaws, that law is patriarchy, that system of values and that law is the class oppression of females.  In order for gender outlawism and people describing themselves as trans to make sense, there has to be a majority in order for that minority to exist.

And that majority is “cis” women, of which I count myself among them. Or more accurately I don’t. That term is oppressive to females on multiple levels because it describes female people that have capitulated, in this view, to enacting feminism.

We’re taking the easy way out, girls!

We’re enacting the role we’re supposed to enact, and we’re privileged because of that. Because being socialized into a role of femininity encodes subordination so deep in your identity that you don’t call it that, you call it your nature, you call it your religion, you call it your culture.

I don’t thank that’s a privilege. And I find it ridiculous that I have to describe the fact that it’s not a privilege.

We’ll go over gender according to radical feminists, and I’ll talk about class issues as opposed to individualism in a second, but first I have this quote:

 “It’s become popular in some activist circles to embrace notions from postmodernism, and that includes the idea that gender is somehow a binary.  Gender is not a binary. It is a hierarchy.  It is global in its reach, it is sadistic in its practice, and it is murderous in its completion.  Just like race, and just like class.

Gender demarcates the geopolitical boundaries of patriarchy—which is to say, it divides us in half. That half is not horizontal—it is vertical.  And in case you missed this part, men are always on top.”


I can envision the anti-DGR, anti-radical feminism party line being “Well of course you’d quote Lierre Keith. Of course you would.”  You know, I would. And part of that is because she’s my friend and because I appreciate her. But it is also because she was the first person I heard say something like this, and that is why it had such an effect on me.  This encapsulates the class issues that come into radical feminism.

Group/Class: for radicals, gender itself is oppression. I’ll repeat that:  Without oppression, there can not be gender. They are one and the same when it comes to sex oppression of females.


For radical feminists, gender is the chain, and patriarchy is the ball, and it’s cuffed to the ankle of every female person born.

That socialization is not escapable, even if you move to that hut in the woods.

If you have a TV, it’s there.  If you know men that have been socialized into this culture, it’s there.  If you have a mother who was socialized as feminine, it’s there.  And that’s what makes it a class issue.

I could not escape gender by changing myself because changing my appearance did not change the fact that I was socialized into the sex class called “women” against my will.

The fear and desperation that comes from that is not something someone would choose, and it was not my fault.  But even after I realized that, it took me a few years to hold my head up when I walked, and most days I still have to put conscious effort toward it.

When people postulate that gender is individual, that my individual identity involves walking like I’m about to be kicked, or holding my head down when I speak, that’s offensive. And you can’t put it any other way.  Because no one chooses that identity; no one is innately subordinate.

It’s not a coincidence that 91% of those who are raped are female, and 99% of the perpetrators are male.  It’s not a coincidence that the shoes make it hard to run away.

It’s taboo to acknowledge that females are socialized from birth onward into a subordinate sex class for whom exploitation by males is so ingrained into the social norms that we can’t recognize it any more. That it’s become a “choice”, that it’s become our “identity.”

It’s taboo within mainstream liberal feminism to address the fact that males are socialized from birth onward into a privileged sex class that feeds on violation and subordination of not only women, but as all of you can recognize, of the oceans, of the earth, of life itself.

People who are critical of DGR’s feminist stance often seem unaware that Lierre isn’t the only radical feminist in the organization —far from it.  Because she is a woman who doesn’t hedge her words, doesn’t hold her tongue, and really doesn’t accept liberal bullshit, she’s become a lightning rod for the type of flack that radical feminism tends to get.  I find that unfair, first of all. And a lot of that flack comes from a private email she sent that got spread all over the internet. When people criticize DGR based on the text of that email, they seem to expect us to be so ashamed of it or so offended by it ourselves, that we won’t even address it. So I’d actually like to read it out loud.

“Well, I’ve personally been fighting about this since 1982.  I think ‘transphobia’ is a ridiculous word. I have no strange fear of people who claim to be ‘trans.’  I deeply disagree with them, as do most radical feminists.

Try this on.  I am a rich person stuck in a poor person’s body.  I’ve always enjoyed champagne rather than beer, and always knew I belonged in first class not economy, and it just feels right when people wait on me.  My insurance company should give me a million dollars to cure my Economic Dysphoria.

Or how about this.  I am really Native American.  How do I know?  I’ve always felt a special connection to animals, and started building tee pees in the backyard as soon as I was old enough.  I insisted on wearing moccasins to school even though the other kids made fun of me and my parents punished me for it.  I read everything I could on native people, started going to pow wows and sweat lodges as soon as I was old enough, and I knew that was the real me. And if you bio-Indians don’t accept us trans-Indians, then you are just as genocidal and oppressive as the Europeans.

Gender is no different. It is a class condition created by a brutal arrangement of power.”


I’d like to follow that comparison a little further to make it a little clearer.  I’ve asked, at first out of genuine curiosity when people would bring this up: “Why, if gender is something that socialization doesn’t matter, it’s voluntary, you can be trans-gendered or in the more specific case, a trans-woman?  Why is that acceptable when deciding that I’m trans-black is not?” I just want to follow it through. What would it mean if I were trans-black, if I decided that was true?  Would it mean that I wore clothes that are traditionally and streotypically believed to be worn by African Americans?  Would it mean that I identify more strongly with African culture than I do with white culture?

No. And I don’t think I really have to explain why. Because that’s offensive.

I don’t have the cultural background that makes that true; I have not endured the oppression and abuse that goes along with being a marginalized racial class.

So for me to claim that I’m more strongly identified with that is actually just reinforcing those stereotypes.  And I honestly don’t really see what’s different about gender.  If we accept that gender is a class condition, not an individual condition, that analogy makes sense.

People told me about these analogies before I read them, and once I actually read them, I was underwhelmed because I didn’t really see what was not straight-forward about calling gender a class position.

Next I’d like to talk about idealism.

On the liberal side, gender is idealist.

This is a quote from Jennifer Baumgardner, who I used to idolize.  I went and saw her speak.  She’s a very nice woman.  She does a lot of really good work.  But she says that:

“Consciousness is everything.  Even now, acknowledging inequality begs one to do something about it and that is a daunting, albeit righteous, responsibility.”


The idea that consciousness is everything, just like with environmentalism, leads to an activist practice that’s focused on changing people’s minds as though oppression were a mistake that could be corrected if we could just explain to men that they should stop exploiting us.

It begs us to do something about it because we’re the ones affected by it.  But the realization that they’re benefiting from the oppression of others leads the oppressor class to dig in their heels, not to do something about it.

I like to use the example of rape culture, to get away from idealism, because rape is not an idea.  Again, there’s a reason why 91% of rape victims are female, and 99% of the perpetrators are male.  If she’s lucky, the survivor of rape will be one of the 2% whose case actually goes to trial. 97% of rapists never see a day in jail. These are not ideas; they are reality.

EndofGender9When we’re talking about rape culture and idealism, we have to talk about Slut Walk.  I give you one guess who this intrepid young feminist is.  Do the curls give me away?  I’m not sorry that I participated in this, I actually organized the one at my school, because I think that, just like me, the women who participate in this genuinely want to end rape culture because what woman wouldn’t? The fallacy, the one I fell into (I was 21 in this picture) was that changing people’s ideas about rape culture would actually change rape culture. It says “END RAPE CULTURE” in marker.

The fallacy here is not the desire to end rape culture.  The fallacy is that marching around with “END RAPE CULTURE” on my back was actually going to end rape culture.  Again, it’s based on the idea that we can change people’s ideas about what gender means: if we just redefine the term “slut” then it won’t be an oppressive term to women any more.

But we forget that the lines of oppression are not demarcated by the oppressed.  They are chosen by the oppressor, and they can only be changed through force, not through catchy chants. Which is a shame, because I’m really good at catchy chants.

For radicals, gender is maintained through force. Gender is a material system of power which uses violence and psychological coercion to exploit female labor, sex, reproduction, and emotional support, for the benefit of men.


Rape culture, right along with female poverty, lack of education, the trafficking of our bodies—it’s maintained through material structures.  Not through people’s ideas.

Gender is a system of power that uses violence and psychological coercion to maintain the oppression of females.  Not to just control our ideas about it, but to control actual physical reality.

Next on the liberal side we have voluntarism, and this again gets back to the heart of the controversy of DGR around feminism. That is, our policy surrounding women’s spaces, and how that relates to people who describe themselves as “trans.”


I again feel sad that I have to put this as a disclaimer, but through my time speaking in public for DGR, we’ve been asked whether we’re a “transphobic” organization. Do we hate trans people?  I can only speak for myself when I say that I do not hate trans people as a group of people; I don’t hate the individual trans people that I know.

My personal feelings towards individuals has nothing to do with my political analysis  of what that definition of gender means for all of us, and for people as a class.

In the liberal view, gender expression — I took this off the HRC website —  is seen as a voluntarily chosen set of external characteristics and behaviors that are socially defined as either masculine or feminine, such as dress, grooming, mannerisms, speech patterns, or social interactions.  What follows from this is that if gender is voluntary, then people who are oppressed by gender are choosing to be oppressed.

I come back again to the fact that no one chooses to be oppressed.  If we accept this definition of gender, we accept that people who are oppressed for being born female, are choosing to be in that position and that if they wanted to, they could reject that and move away from it by their own personal choices and do something else.

I think back to a person I met who identified themselves to me as a transwoman.  Again, this person was very sweet; I was very glad to meet them; I don’t mean this as a personal attack. But something they said really stuck with me as a demonstration, when they said “I don’t have the male privilege that I was raised with any more.”

I had to think about that for a while to think about what I thought about that, and whether that was true.  And I realized that it wasn’t. Because being raised with male privilege is the privilege.

Being raised with the knowledge that you are fully human and you deserve rights and that your body is not fair game and that the court system considers you human is the privilege.  And that doesn’t just go away.

So an alternative name for this presentation is “I’m not afraid of your penis but I’m terrified of your socialization.” because I think that people think when I say things like this that I consider males innately terrifying, that they’ll never get out of it.  I’ve seen men get out of that system of behavior.

But getting out of being socialized into masculinity, which is based on violation and domination, does not make you female. It makes you a revolutionary, because that is what is actually going to change the culture.

This next quote is a quote from Kourtney Mitchell.  He wrote an essay on white privilege and backlash.

“It is important to understand what it means to view racial oppression in the context of class analysis.  Whiteness is a class experience, and not based in biological reality. But that does not mean one can just decide to stop being white, just like I cannot decide to stop being a man as long as the dominant culture classes me as a man.  As long as you are classed as white, you will continue to benefit from white privilege.  This is what allies need to remember.”


If you put this in the context of gender oppression, it is just as true.  This is what allies need to remember, that whatever your intentions are, whatever your external presentation is, you’re going to have that socialization and therefore that privilege and that identification by the dominant culture as long as you live.

Just like as long as I live I will have to think about my posture so I’m not hiding.  I will have to speak extra loud most of the time in order to counteract the social forces that tell me not to speak at all.  None of that is going to change just because I want it to.  None of that is voluntary like it is on the liberal side.

Now I want to talk about a kind of conflict that I’ve seen within liberal feminism.

I don’t think oppression is natural or voluntary.  But on the liberal side, oppression is both natural and voluntary.  This is because gender is seen as both natural, something innate that we’re born with, and something that we choose from the wardrobe of gender every day, like clothes.  It’s hard to argue from a radical perspective, because liberals have the market cornered on the naturalism and voluntarism.  They can argue it from both sides, and switch in the blink of an eye, and I am having a really hard time figuring out how to point out that this is a basic conflict of logic.

If something is innate, it can not be voluntary.

My brown hair is innate, therefore it’s not voluntary.  The same goes for gender.  It can’t be both, and in my view it’s neither.

Next is constructivism.  Instead of being natural, in the radical view gender is constructed.  It is artificial.  It is imposed on humans who would enact humanity if given the choice.  But instead, this constructed identity of subordination and domination is impressed upon us.

This quote is from Andrea Dworkin:

“Woman is not born; she is made.  In the making, her humanity is destroyed.  She becomes symbol of this, symbol of that; mother of the earth, slut of the universe; but she never becomes herself because she is forbidden to do so.”


For females this is the reality of the construction of gender, that it is not escapable.  Just because it’s constructed doesn’t mean that it can be deconstructed at will.  It doesn’t mean that it can be deconstructed individually.  In order to deconstruct it, it will take organization, which is something that has not happened on a mass scale yet and that’s why patriarchy still exists.

The thing that brought this home to me was my relationship with a student I used to have. We went over basic sex ed, we went over self esteem, and media literacy.  A lot of the time we just talked about these things, talked about our experiences of gender and of being a teenager in this culture.

I met a girl who had been subject to incest, trafficking, rape, more horrific incidences than I could comprehend.  She may have been the most horrifically abused person that I had ever met in that context. Part of the time that I knew her…

She already had short hair, she cut it a little shorter, she asked me to use the pronoun “he” which I also did.  I didn’t really think very deeply about that at the time.  At the time if you had asked me “Why did she do that?”  I would have said it’s her innate gender identity. She was born wanting to do that.  Now that she’s away from her parents, and in this institution, she feels like she can, without repercussion, and this is a good thing, because she can enact what is actually her.  But I don’t believe that any more.

One of the reasons I don’t believe that is because one of the days in class, I asked all of my students to draw a picture. I knew what I thought they deserved, but I wanted to know what they thought they deserved, what they wanted their lives to be like when they got out, what their lives would be like if they had gotten what they wanted and what they needed throughout their lives.

They drew a lot of different things, but I kept the girl’s drawing for a really long time. In one corner she drew what was clearly a girl’s face. It had pink lipstick, a pink bow in the hair, and tears running down the face, and it had a big X through it.  And underneath it she wrote words she thought described being a girl. She wrote “pain”, she wrote “fear”, she wrote “rape”, she wrote words in that vein.  In the other corner she drew a human face — in fact it looked a lot like her.  It had short, brown hair, no makeup or accessories, and the face was smiling. And underneath it she wrote “confident”, she wrote “happy”, she wrote “safe.”  And underneath that she wrote me a paragraph, and it started with “If I hadn’t been a girl…”

“If I wasn’t a girl, I wouldn’t have been raped. If I wasn’t a girl, I wouldn’t be scared.  If I wasn’t a girl, I wouldn’t be here, at this institution.”

I kept that for a while, because I didn’t really understand it right away. It took a while for that to sink in.  I don’t bring up this example to try to convey that every person who describes themselves as trans does so because of the type of horrific abuse that she endured.  I do it to assert that being socialized into femininity is abuse, and she just experienced it more extremely than most of us do.  She did what she could to get out of it at that time.  As much as I want that for her, that doesn’t mean that she actually could get out.  She got out of that institution, but she did not get out of femininity, no matter how short she cuts her hair, and no matter what name she uses.

Gender is anything but natural. She was not born with a feminine brain or a masculine brain, but she was born with a female body and in this culture that means she’s considered less human than members of the sex class “men.”

It’s no wonder to me that she wanted to escape that oppression of female socialization by rejecting her femaleness, but like Kourtney said, just as men cannot erase their masculine privilege, women cannot choose to erase the oppression of being socialized into femininity.

Which brings me to the final distinction between the liberal and radical conception of gender that I’m going to talk about today, which is the difference between reformism and revolution.

This is a long quote; I’m not going to read all of it, because it’s not necessary.

“That’s one of the things that the word ‘queer’ can refer to: the open mesh of possibilities, gaps, overlaps, dissonances and resonances, lapses and excesses of meaning when the constituent elements of anyone’s gender, of anyone’s sexuality aren’t made (or can’t be made) to signify monolithically.”


This is a quote from Eve Sedgwick, who’s another really prominent queer theorist.  She goes on to say that people can identify as “radical faeries, pushy femmes, transwomen, lesbians who sleep with men, lesbian-identified men”… she goes on like that for a while, it’s a long paragraph.

The point I’m trying to get to, by reading all of that academic language, is that all of those identities are still based on domination and subordination.

Just because we’re putting extra categories in between the two, does not mean that we’re getting rid of the system based on animosity between the two.

On the radical side, we have revolution. This is Catherine Mackinnon:

“In a society in which equality is a fact, not merely a word, words of racial or sexual assault and humiliation will be nonsense syllables.”


In the radical feminist view, this will be what happens to the words “man” and “woman”, along with the sex-class system based on subordination and domination that those words signify

Jonah Mix: Why Not Decriminalize Trafficking While We’re At It?

by Jonah Mix, Deep Green Resistance

Most objections to the Nordic Model – laws criminalizing the purchase of sex, but not its sale – rely on one of two sets of talking points. First is the proud misogyny of men who oppose abolitionism solely because it prevents their easy access to the bodies of female strangers. But among those who consider themselves feminists, progressives, and Leftists, the greatest opposition to criminalizing pimps and johns comes from claims about the adverse effects those laws will have on prostituted women themselves. Spurred by Amnesty International’s ruling on the issue, the last month or so has seen dozens of articles, blog posts, and editorials attempting to show that the Nordic Model stigmatizes, starves, endangers, and (according to one blog post sent to me recently) “literally rapes and murders” women.

The majority of these objections are either intentionally misleading or just false. For example, defenders of decriminalization often claim the Nordic Model leads to the deportation of undocumented prostituted women who report violence or abuse. This is, unfortunately, something that does sometimes happen. But what these prostitution apologists don’t mention is that the same exact treatment would be received by an undocumented prostituted woman in New Zealand, Germany, or Holland. This applies as well to women who use drugs or commit other crimes.

The vast majority of ills attributed by decrim supporters to the Nordic Model are, in fact, universal to all nations with xenophobic immigration law and ineffective drug policy – whereas the tragedies affecting decriminalized and legalized nations – forced drug taking, trafficking, and rampant sexual abuse – can be traced back to their neoliberal prostitution law in a far straighter line. When you avoid this dishonest conflation and measure the specific results of Nordic Model policy, a different picture emerges: Violence drops and the sex industry shrinks, gender equality increases, and male attitudes towards buying sex slowly shift.

Interestingly enough, while the supposed horrors of the Nordic Model are trotted out as reason enough for its rejection, the general principle is agreed upon when it comes to explicitly coerced women and girls who are obviously not consenting. Most supporters of decriminalization would, for example, agree that purchasing sex from twelve year-olds should not be legal. And from this position, it follows that some form of punishment or preventative measure should exist to stop men from doing so – one that would, of course, not criminalize the exploited child, but instead provide her with robust exit services, trauma counseling, and other resources. In short, the Nordic Model.

The two-pronged approach of the Nordic Model – criminalization of the clients and pimps, along with social programs to aid in recovery and healing – is generally approved of in the case of trafficking victims and children; the name may be taboo, but almost every meaningful response to sexual exploitation has fallen along its general lines. This is a serious problem for the decrim side, considering their previous position that legislating against clients makes women in prostitution unsafe. After all, it’s hard to conceive of a good explanation for why Nordic-style laws would hurt one group while benefiting the other. All of the dangers consenting women face under asymmetrical criminalization (whatever those dangers actually are) would almost certainly be equally likely for children, sex slaves, and other obviously exploited women and girls.

Consider the common objection that laws against sex buyers drives prostitution into secluded areas, where women are less able to assess clients or call for help should one turn violent. There are deeply flawed assumptions behind this argument – as Trisha Baptie once said, “Women date, get engaged to, marry, and live with men who end up murdering them. And I was supposed to figure out if a man was violent in fifteen seconds versus a minute?” The idea of moving prostitution into the open so women’s distress calls can be heard more clearly is also a callous gesture; apparently, there are large groups of people who respond to an industry wherein women routinely scream for their lives by saying, “You know, we should really make sure this screaming happens in a busy place.”

But you can put all that aside and still see the fundamental inconsistency in the decrim position. If the consenting women in prostitution have their ability to predict violence compromised, I can’t see why a prostituted child wouldn’t either. And if an empowered sex worker can’t be heard when she calls for help, why would the sounds of a trafficked sex slave travel any further? Does this mean that those who oppose the Nordic Model on these groups also support the legalization of paid child rape? If not, how do they take that position without opening themselves up to the same criticisms of endangerment that they use so often against abolitionists?

The same brute fact applies to almost every other complaint made against the Nordic Model. If consenting women will be forced into starvation as clients disappear, so too would children who depend on being purchased to survive. If those who freely choose prostitution will be marked with stigma and shame, there’s no reason to assume that burden would stay off the shoulders of the trafficked and abused. And if these reasons alone are enough to reject abolitionist law in the case of the former, why are these costs suddenly acceptable for the latter? Or, to put it another way: How does a supporter of decriminalization believe trafficking and the prostitution of children can be meaningfully addressed without providing legal cover to rape or creating the conditions that they claim render the Nordic Model unacceptable?

When faced with this dilemma, I see three options: He can agree that the Nordic Model causes harm to both categories of prostituted woman, reject it on those grounds, and endorse men’s right to buy sex from those who are explicitly coerced, in which case he has taken a position most of us find morally repugnant; he can claim that laws against sex buyers don’t harm trafficked or underage women and girls, in which case his argument against the Nordic Model is severely weakened; or he can explain why laws against clients and pimps lead to the deaths of consenting women but somehow manage to save the exploited, in which case he is engaging in denial, dishonesty, or outright fraud.

So I ask: Which is it?


Editor’s Note: First published September 12, 2015 on Gender Detective

Dominique Christina: Culturalized Brutality In Four Part (Dis)Harmony

Thoughts on Dylan Roof, The Charleston Shooting, The Spectacle of Death, & The Roanoke Killings

by Dominique Christina / Deep Green Resistance

I hate writing about this stuff…

But today in Roanoke Virginia, a black man gunned down three people on live television, killing two of them. He even held a camera phone up to record himself doing the deed. I got wind of it late. That is usually the case for me. I actively avoid the news. It leads me toward feelings of hopelessness and I have kids to raise. I have to have enough language left in me to give them hope or something like it. But social media has a way of making sure you know things. I saw tweets like:
Culturized Brutality 01And…Culturized Brutality 02And just like that I am again entangled in the too frequent conversation about violence in this country and gun laws, and questions about motive and debates about whether or not it was race-related and the connection between this event and the shooting in Charleston where nine people were killed by Dylan Roof who was named by the Roanoke shooter in the manifesto he wrote and sent to a news station two hours after he murdered the two newscasters.

Culturized Brutality 03

And in spite of myself I went looking for who this man was that shot and killed two people on live television in Virginia today. And I found this…

Culturized Brutality 04
But then I found this…

Culturized Brutality 05And I watched video that showed this woman…

Culturized Brutality 06…just moments before she was gunned down. You can hear her screaming…or somebody…somebody is screaming…and it is the same unlanguageable hurt that visits us regularly now. We’ve seen it all before. It’s almost naive to call it “unthinkable” now. We have made a home of it. The old familiar anguish, if you aren’t too desensitized to feel that, visits but only stays around a couple of days before we are right back to our lives, our business trips, our smart phones…But this shooting made me remember when my paradigm changed…

Culturized Brutality 07My son was just seven months old when two young men walked into Columbine High School in Littleton, Colorado killing fellow students and a teacher. I had just completed my Master’s program at The University of Arkansas and had moved back to Denver with my young son. My advisor had arranged for me to complete my student teaching in Colorado. I was assigned to Columbine High School. I was scheduled for a visit on the day of the shootings. But something happened that morning. My infant son woke up early with a cold. His first. I was a new mother. I freaked out. Called the school, told someone at the front desk that I was going to have to reschedule, was assured that that would be fine, hung up, and nursed my son until we both went back to sleep. When I woke up I turned on the television and saw this…

FILE -- In an April 20, 1999 file photo rescuers tend to the wounded at a triage area near Columbine High School in Littleton Colo., during a shooting rampage by two students. Eric Harris and Dylan Klebold killed 12 students and a teacher before taking their own lives in what remains on of the deadliest school attack in U.S. history. (AP Photo/The Denver Rocky Mountain News, George Kochaniec) ** MANDATORY CREDIT NO SALES TV OUT; ONLINE OUT; DENVER OUT**And this…

Culturized Brutality 09

And this…

Culturized Brutality 10

I didn’t have any language for it. I had no point of reference for it. A shooting at a school? What world was this?

In the days that followed, I, like many, grieved for the students, the teachers, and the parents. Like most folk, I struggled to make sense of it. America, the violent, was not news to me. But this new ugly rattled me. A lot. I couldn’t sleep. I couldn’t let go of the images of students pouring out of the school screaming. I needed answers. And then…

Culturized Brutality 11

The parents of Isaiah Shoels, the only African American student killed in the Columbine shooting, decided to make their son’s wake and funeral available to the public. I decided to go.

At the wake I met Isaiah Shoels’ mother and stepfather. I talked with them for a long time. I was honored to be allowed to do so. I let their grief engulf me. They had just lost a son to unimaginable violence…unimaginable because it was the suburbs; unimaginable because it was in a school with so much privilege, unimaginable because they had moved to Littleton to ESCAPE the violence they knew and were met with another kind. I let their grief engulf me because I had my own precious son, unkilled and waiting for me at home. The very LEAST I could do was stand still and hold a space for them. I promised them both I would attend the funeral the next day. I promised them I would never forget Isaiah.

Before I left the wake I stared at him in that coffin. I was shell-shocked and destabilized by the whole damn thing. I remember having to pull over in my car when I left Pipkin Mortuary. The ululation…pinned me to the steering wheel and hung on for a good while.

Culturized Brutality 12I brought my son with me to the funeral the next day. There are things I remember with absolute clarity and other things are lost to the sadness. I remember the choir. I remember them singing “No weapon formed against me, shall prosper.” I remember the swell of folk in the church that day. I remember pressing my son so tightly against me at one point he squealed in protest and a man standing behind me reached out his hands and took my baby from me so I could cry like I needed to. I remember those things. I remember the church being stuffed with mourners and reporters…I remember his parents’ faces…

Culturized Brutality 13

At some point I left the church that day. At some point I let the memory of Isaiah Shoels slip from around my neck and while I have NEVER forgotten that young man, I have not quite carried him with me either. I’m not sure if that’s noble or not. Today brought it all back though…

The man in Roanoke Virginia did something unspeakable. He murdered two people and he did so in a manner that encouraged spectacle. He wanted an audience. He wanted to inherit the legacy of other mass shooters. He named them in his manifesto. I will not do so here but…that broke me.

In the scraps that have been made available to the public from his manifesto, the shooter talks about being bullied for being black and gay. If that is true I doubt it not. This is America after all. Where God looks like a straight white man with a 401K plan. That is not a statement intended to legitimize what the shooter did. It is, however, a statement about the real life consequences of treating people like second class citizens and then using the old bootstrap anecdote on them when they become dysfunctional. Powder kegs often blow.

But here’s what I’m left with…in the wake of the Roanoke shooting, the thing that stuck out to me most profoundly was the media’s treatment of the event. Yeah…I’m going there…

The shooting of the two newscasters was done on live television. The shooter seemed deliberate about wanting the spectacle. But media outlets refused to show the killing. MSNBC stated that fact flatly. They would not show the video. CNN has just announced that they will “only” show the video of the journalists being shot once per hour. Here’s why that is noteworthy…

CNN, MSNBC, FOX News and others ran a constant loop of Michael Brown’s body, which lay on the ground for more than four hours after he was shot. They did not blur the image. They did not make speeches about “honoring the family” or “protecting the public from the horror.” I never heard descriptors like “gruesome” and “ghastly” attached to the sight of an 18 year old black boy’s body in the middle of the street, the blood pouring from his head and face creating a highway of blood several feet away from him.

Or this…

Eric Garner being murdered in front of our very eyes at the hands of NYPD Officer Daniel Pantaleo…it was played over and over again on various news stations. No pretty speeches about honoring the family, no blurred image. You can literally watch Eric Garner die whenever you like.

And the video of Tamir Rice, 12 years old, being shot dead by police officers in Cleveland which I still can’t watch but, which is readily available online if I ever change my mind.

And this…

The surveillance video inside Walmart that shows John Crawford being shot dead for holding a BB gun that was for sale in that same Walmart…found easily online…

And Walter Scott, a black man in South Carolina, shot in the back by a police officer who later lied and planted evidence…you know…standard procedure…

And this…Samuel Dubose…shot in the face by a University of Cincinatti cop who stopped Mr. Dubose because…he did not have a front plate on his car.

I can’t get on the internet anymore without seeing at least one streaming video showing a black or brown body being brutalized or murdered. It is literally EVERYWHERE. Facebook, Twitter, Tumblr…oh yeah…remember Kajieme Powell? The young man who was shot by police in Saint Louis RIGHT after the death of Mike Brown? His death is available online too. See?


Originally published August 29, 2015 on Storify


Kim Hill: Sick

By Kim Hill / Deep Green Resistance Australia

I think I’m dying. My heart is beating too fast, I’m too weak to get out of bed most days, and some days I don’t even have the energy to eat. It’s been like this for years. It’s been getting gradually worse.

I haven’t read a book, taken a walk, watched a movie, visited a friend, or done anything useful in months. I can’t focus, can’t even think most of the time.

I’m not the only one. Many of my friends are also ill. I see the sickness all around me. Every year there are less fish in the sea, less birds in the trees, less insects. The air smells more toxic, the industrial noise is getting louder. Every day, 200 species become extinct. Most rivers no longer support any life. Around half of all human deaths are caused by pollution. We’re all dying of the sickness.

Australia Pollution

My own illness can be attributed to heavy metal and chemical toxicity, from mining, vaccines, vehicle exhaust, and all the chemicals I’m exposed to every day, indoors and out. They’re in my food, in the air, in the water I drink. I can’t get away from them. There’s no safe place left to go. I can’t get any better while these are still being made, being used, being disposed of into my body.

It’s not just chemicals, but electromagnetic fields, from powerlines, phones, wifi and cell phone towers. The food of industrial agriculture, grown in soils depleted of nutrients and becoming ever more poisoned, is all I can get. It barely provides me with the nutrients I need to survive, let alone recover. Let food be thy medicine, but when the food itself spreads the sickness, there’s not much hope for anyone.

When the soil life dies, the entire landscape becomes sick. The trees can’t provide for their inhabitants. They can’t hold the community of life together. The intricate food web, the web of relationships that holds us all, collapses.

Will I recover? With the constant assault of chemicals, electromagnetic fields, and noise, it seems unlikely. Will the living world recover, or will it die along with me, unable to withstand the violent industries that extract the lifeblood of rivers, forests, fish and earth, to convert them into a quick profit?

Western medicine can’t help me. All it can offer is more chemicals, more poisons. And new technology can’t help the land, the water, the soil. It only worsens the sickness.

If I am to heal, the living world must first be healed. The water, the food, the air and the land need to recover from the sickness, as they are the only medicine that can bring me back to health.


The machines need to be stopped. The mining, ploughing, fishing, felling, and manufacturing machines. The advertising, brainwashing and surveillance machines. The coal, oil, gas, nuclear and solar-powered machines. They are all spreading the sickness. It’s a cultural sickness, as well as a physical one. Our culture is so sick that it barely acknowledges the living world, and has us believe that images, ideas, identities and abstractions are all we need. It all needs to stop. The culture needs to recover, to repair.

I need your help. I can’t do this myself. I’m close to death. To those who are not yet sick, those who have the strength to stand with the living, and stop the sickness: I need you now. Not just for me, but for everyone. For those close to extinction, those who still have some chance of recovery. We all need you.

Today is the last day on Earth for many species of plants and animals. Every day, the sickness consumes a few more of us. If I didn’t have friends and family looking after me, I wouldn’t be alive today. When the whole community becomes sick, there is no-one left to take care. This is how extinction happens.

It doesn’t have to happen. It can be stopped. Some people, mostly those in the worst affected areas, are taking on the sickness, fighting because they know their lives depend on it. They see the root cause of the affliction, not just the symptoms. They are taking down oil rigs, derailing coal trains, and sabotaging pipelines and mining equipment. They’re blockading ports, forests, mine sites and power stations, and doing everything they can to stop the sickness spreading further. They are few, and they get little thanks. They need all the help they can get. With a collective effort, the sickness can be eradicated, and we can all recover our health.

From Stories of Creative Ecology August 28, 2015

Corporate Developers Seize Indigenous Lands in Brazil and Hire Hit Men to Murder Residents

By Renata Bessi and Santiago Navarro F., Translated by Miriam Taylor / Truthout

In an effort to make way for new investment projects, the Brazilian government and transnational corporations have been taking over ancestral indigenous lands, triggering a rise in murders of indigenous people in Brazil.

According to the report, “Violence Against Indigenous People in Brazil,” recently published by the Indigenous Missionary Council (CIMI by its Portuguese initials), the number of indigenous people killed in the country grew 42 percent from 2013 to 2014; 138 cases were officially registered. The majority of the murders were carried out by hit men hired by those with economic interests in the territories.

The states of Mato Grosso del Sur, Amazonas and Bahía figure heavily in the statistics. An emblematic case was the brutal killing of the indigenous woman Marinalva Kaiowá, in November of 2014. She lived in recovered territories, land that for over 40 years has been claimed by the Guaraní people as the land of their ancestors. Marinalva was assassinated – stabbed 35 times – two weeks after attending a protest with other indigenous leaders at the Federal Supreme Court in the Federal District of Brasilia. The group was protesting a court ruling that annulled the demarcation process in the indigenous territory of the Guyraroká.

For four days and three nights, more than 1,500 indigenous individuals filled one of the gardens in front of the National Congress with colors, music and rituals. (Photo: Santiago Navarro F.)For four days and three nights, more than 1,500 indigenous individuals filled one of the gardens in front of the National Congress with colors, music and rituals. (Photo: Santiago Navarro F.)

In addition to this, there has been a steady flow of people forced to move to small territories after being displaced by economic development projects, as in the case of the state of Mato Grosso do Sul, where the majority of the population – over 40,000 people – live concentrated on small reservations. These are communities that are exposed to assassinations by hired hit men, lack education and basic necessities, and endure deplorable health conditions. Infant mortality rates in the community are high and rising: According to official statistics, last year 785 children between the ages of 0 and 5 died.

“We, the Guaraní, principally from Mato Grosso do Sul, have been the greatest victims of massacres and violence,” the Guaraní Kaiowá indigenous leader Araqueraju told Truthout. “They have killed many of our leaders, they have spilled much blood because we are fighting for the respect for and demarcation of what is left of our territories that the government does not want to recognize.”

Indigenous women leaders were also present for the taking of congress to denounce violations of human rights suffered by indigenous people. (Photo: Santiago Navarro F.)Indigenous women leaders were also present for the taking of congress to denounce violations of human rights suffered by indigenous people. (Photo: Santiago Navarro F.)

The rise in the rate of violence is related in large part to the development policies of the Brazilian government – policies that have been denounced by the Indigenous Missionary Council. Another report, titled “Projects that impact indigenous lands,” released by CIMI in 2014, revealed that at least 519 projects have impacted 437 ancestral territories, directly affecting 204 indigenous groups.

The energy sector has most deeply affected indigenous people; of the 519 documented projects, 267 are energy-related. In second place is infrastructure, with 196 projects. Mining is third, with 21 projects, and in fourth place, with 19 expansive projects, is agribusiness. Ecotourism comes next with 9 projects.

“In the Amazon region, the region of the Tapajos River, we are being fenced in,” João Tapajó – a member of the Arimun indigenous group – told Truthout. “The Teles waterway is being constructed and the BR163 highway widened. This is being done to transport the transnational corporations’ grain and minerals,” added Tapajó, who is part of one of the groups that make up the Indigenous Movement of the region Bajo Tapajós, in the state of Pará. “We live under constant threat from agribusinesses and lumber companies. There is a construction project to build five hydroelectric dams on the same river. To top it off, our region is suffering from a process of prospecting for the exploitation of minerals, by the companies Alcoa y Vale do Rio Doce.”

The military police were constantly present, protecting the headquarters of Brazil’s three branches of government from the indigenous protesters. (Photo: Santiago Navarro F.)The military police were constantly present, protecting the headquarters of Brazil’s three branches of government from the indigenous protesters. (Photo: Santiago Navarro F.)

Similarly, a report produced by the Federal Public Ministry, based on its own evaluations and carried out by anthropologists María Fernanda Paranhos and Deborah Stucchi, shows that the processes of social change generated by these projects principally affect those who live in rural contexts. This includes many groups living collectively who are relatively invisible in the sociopolitical context of Brazil.

“The evaluations provide evidence that the intense social changes, the possibility of the breaking up of productive circuits, the disappearance of small-scale agriculture, fishing, and forested areas, a reduction in jobs, and the impoverishment and degradation of material and immaterial conditions of life … have led to strong reactions and an avalanche of social conflict,” according to the ministry’s report.

Indigenous people of ethnic Pataxo struggle to return their lands. In October 2014, they closed the highway to pressure the government. (Photo: Santiago Navarro F.)Indigenous people of ethnic Pataxo struggle to return their lands. In October 2014, they closed the highway to pressure the government. (Photo: Santiago Navarro F.)

Hydroelectric Dams in the Brazilian Amazon

The government’s Ten-Year Plan for energy expansion – 2023, which projects for the period of 2014 to 2023 an expansion of over 28,000 megawatts of energy generation by way of hydroelectric dams, claims that none of the 30 hydroelectric dams projected for construction in this country during this period will have any direct effect on indigenous lands.

Data from the Institute of Socioeconomic Studies, through an initiative called Investments and Rights in the Amazon, tells a different story. According to research carried out by Ricardo Verdum, a PhD in social anthropology and member of the Center for the Study of Indigenous Populations at the Federal University in the state of Santa Catarina, of the 23 hydroelectric dams that will be built in the Amazon, at least 16 will have negative social and environmental effects on indigenous territories. They will destroy the environmental conditions that these indigenous groups depend on to live and maintain their way of life.

“The difference in results is due to the way the idea of ‘impact’ or ‘interference’ is defined conceptually and materially,” Verdum told Truthout. “According to current legislation, interference in indigenous lands occurs when a parcel of land is directly affected by the dam itself or the reservoir. The territorial and environmental criteria do not consider the human and social aspects of the interference, or influence of the project on the population.”

The atmosphere grew tense as Federal Police came in, although this was no surprise to the Pataxo. They have been long been rejected by cattle farmers, businessmen and people living in cities close to Monte Pascoal–one of the richest areas in terms of flora and fauna in the world. (Photo: Santiago Navarro F.)The atmosphere grew tense as Federal Police came in, although this was no surprise to the Pataxo. They have been long been rejected by cattle farmers, businessmen and people living in cities close to Monte Pascoal – one of the richest areas in terms of flora and fauna in the world. (Photo: Santiago Navarro F.)

A Militaristic Approach to the Economy

Brazil’s development model – a model adopted by most countries in Latin America within the old international division of labor – leads the country to specialize in the export of raw materials or basic products at a low cost in relation to the import of final products that return to Brazil at elevated prices. This is a logic that is based on the colonial model, according to Clovis Brighenti, a professor of history at the Federal University of Latin American Integration. “It is an entry into the globalized world by way of intense exploitation of the environment with few results,” Brighenti told Truthout. “What’s more, these results are in exchange for high investment costs, made with public resources and subsidized interest rates, concentrated in a tiny group of beneficiaries. It is a dried-up model but in its death throes, it causes irreversible damage to the environment and for the people that depend on these ecosystems.”

The design of this development model, according to Brighenti, is connected to the modern myth that an economy needs to grow rapidly and continuously to satisfy the material necessities of society. “However, behind this myth, is hidden the essence of the capitalist system: the need to guarantee a logic that is based on consumerism, and in this way, guarantee the accumulation and the benefit of the elites and the privileged sectors of society.”

In Brazil, the belief is that material happiness is connected to the search for new spaces for development expansion. “In other words, it is searching for constant advancement into ‘new’ territories, where there is still a natural environment to be explored and appropriated,” Brighenti said. “Thus, capital’s interests revolve around indigenous and traditional territories, as ideal spaces for the execution of these projects.”

He added that in Brazil there is a continuity of a militaristic mentality, due to the fact that the country was shaped by a military dictatorship from 1964 to 1985. During that time, the United States was involved through a program called Operation Brother Sam.

The objective was to remove peasants and indigenous people from their lands to concentrate territories in the hands of businesses that currently produce soy, sugar cane and eucalyptus. These companies include Monsanto, ADM, Cargill, Bunge, Louis Dreyfus Commodities, Coca-Cola, Nestlé and Ford. In this sense, current governments did not inherit just the military structure but also a business platform that dominates production and the raw materials market. “The principal similarity between the military government and what we are currently living is the development perspective, which means thinking about natural resources as infinite and readily available. In order to make a country grow economically, the amount of territory that is occupied for economic projects must increase,” Brighenti said.

Another similarity is the relationship that they establish with communities. “It could be said that there is no dialogue,” Brighenti said. “The government makes a decision and all that is left for the communities to do is to hand over their territories in the name of these initiatives. Trying to keep indigenous communities quiet is a recurring action in the sense that these populations are seen as barriers to the establishment of these projects … thus, the continuance of a militaristic mentality is explicit – proceed with development and stop the protests of those who are affected.”

An essential point that sets the period of the dictatorship apart from progressive governments is the source of financing for the projects. “Today the works are financed with public resources, through the National Economic and Social Development Bank, which is the principal funder of these megaprojects, while under the military dictatorship they were financed by the World Bank and the Inter-American Development Bank,” he said.

In 2013, the Brazilian government published an order that allowed the intervention of the Armed Forces in protests against development projects. That same year, the military police in southern Brazil killed an indigenous Terena man and wounded others in the fulfillment of an order to re-take the land that the Terena had reclaimed as part of their ancestral territories. This was disputed by Ricardo Bacha, a former congressman from the Brazilian Social Democratic Party, who said that the lands had belonged to his family since 1927.

Similarly, at the request of the ex-governor of Bahia, Jaques Wagner, who is the current defense minister of Brazil, President Dilma Rousseff signed in 2014 an authorization by the federal government to dispatch close to 500 military personnel to the Tupinambá territory, alleging that his objective was the “guarantee of law and order” and to “pacify” the region. To this very day, the Tupinambá region continues to be militarized.

Since 2010, indigenous people have intensified the re-taking of their lands in a process of self-demarcation. (Photo: Santiago Navarro F.)Since 2010, indigenous people have intensified the re-taking of their lands in a process of self-demarcation. (Photo: Santiago Navarro F.)

Institutional Violence Against Indigenous Communities

The assassinations are just the tip of the iceberg. Among the constitutional amendments that are being debated in Brazil’s Congress is PEC-215, which transfers the power to decide the demarcation of indigenous territories to the legislative branch, when it has historically been in the hands of the executive branch. The amendment would leave indigenous people in the hands of Congress and the Senate, which are primarily made up of the family members of large businessmen and the owners of huge extensions of land.

“These proposed constitutional amendments favor a group of 264 parliamentarians of Brazil’s Congress, who have received campaign financing from multinational corporations, such as Monsanto, Cargill, Bunge and Syngenta. PEC-215 favors the expansion of big agriculture, using the discourse of food production, but Brazil’s food is produced by small-scale producers,” Lindomar, of the Terena people, told Truthout.

The principal cause of the conflicts, according to the Indigenous Missionary Council, is the negation on the part of the Brazilian government to recognize and demarcate indigenous territories. In 2014, of the almost 600 indigenous territories currently claimed by different groups, only two were recognized (Xeta Herarekã, in the state of Paraná, and Xakriabá, in the state of Minas Gerais) and one was approved (Paquicamba, in the state of Pará). The current government of the Workers Party, led by Dilma Rousseff, is that which has demarcated the fewest indigenous lands since the end of the military dictatorship in Brazil.

In the state of Mato Grosso do Sul, the state with the highest rates of violence against indigenous people, communities live on the edges of highways, in precarious living conditions. The recognition of indigenous territories was outlined in an agreement that was signed in 2007 by the National Indigenous Foundation, a government agency, which later broke the agreement. Even if the demarcation had gone into effect, indigenous people would only occupy 2 percent of the state, in one of the regions of Brazil where the largest number of indigenous people reside.

Resisting the Old Development Model

According to Brighenti, since the start of the Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva (Lula) administration, indigenous people have expressed to the government that they wanted to share their knowledge and practices with the new administration. “But the government ignored them, and what’s worse, Lula declared that Brazil needed to overcome three great obstacles to development, including indigenous groups, environmental laws and the Federal Public Ministry,” he said. “Thus, since the beginning, he made it clear that for the indigenous movement and its allies, the government had chosen a different model and aligned himself with other sectors that are unfortunately at odds with indigenous groups, big agro-industry.”

Indigenous people realized that they needed to come together to avoid losing their rights. “Few social and union movements supported them. Each social movement defined its relationship with the government and indigenous people were many times criticized for their radicalness,” Brighenti added.

Indigenous lands in Brazil, as recognized by the federal government, are property of the government. Indigenous people can possess and use the land, with the exception of the subsoil and water resources. “It is necessary to advance in the sense of constructing autonomous communities, which does not mean independence, but the freedom to decide their own future,” Brighenti said.

Even with the demarcation of indigenous territories, there is no assurance against intervention in indigenous lands, since the law allows for the intervention of the federal government at any time because the lands are considered property of the government.

“All the government projects are threatening to us and the entire Amazon,” María Leus, an indigenous Munduruku woman, told Truthout. “We do not accept any negotiation with the government, because we cannot make negotiations regarding our mother and because we do not accept any of these projects that are going to affect us. We have always been here: These are the lands of our ancestors, and today we continuing fighting for the respect for our way of life, because governments have never respected how we live, and today they are devastating what is left of our lands in order to continue with their projects.”

Copyright, Truthout.org.  Reprinted with permission.


Santiago Navarro is an economist, a freelance journalist, photographer and contributor to theAmericas Program, Desinformémonos and  SubVersiones.


Renata Bessi is a freelance journalist and contributor the Americas Program andDesinformémonos. She has published articles in Brazilian media: The Trecheiro newspaper magazine, Página 22, Repórter Brasil, Rede Brasil Atual, Brasil de Fato, Outras Palavras.



Oppression and autocracy of the government continue in Serbia

Deep Green Resistance supporter Zelmira Mikljan reports from Serbia on two recent issues.

Murder of an ancient oak tree

Photo courtesy of Institute for Sustainable Communities
Photo courtesy of Institute for Sustainable Communities

In central Serbia, at the end of July, a 600 year old oak tree was cut down. The murder was committed undercover, in the middle of the night, by three workers hired by a construction company from Azerbaijan. This company is contracted by the Serbian government and the Ministry of Construction, Transport and Infrastructure to construct Corridor 11, a highway to connect Belgrade, the capital, with the South Adriatic. The oak tree was standing on the highway route, and the government didn’t want to change the route and save the oak because that would cost several million euros.

hrast = oak Photo courtesy of the Institute for Sustainable Communities – Serbia Facebook page
hrast = oak

Photo courtesy of the Institute for Sustainable Communities – Serbia Facebook page

This old oak tree was part of Slavic and ancient Serbian tradition, a symbol of the region, and very respected by the locals. Local people and environmental organisations prevented the cutting of this ancient oak two years ago. This time, despite organised protests on the ground, aand great support from the online community, they failed to stop the government from pursuing its policy of development at any cost.

Gracanica monastery demolition

Another recent situation is the involves the Gracanica monastery, which dates from the 15th century.

The monastery is located close to a planned reservoir, an artificial lake to store water for a dam. The charging process of this lake was set to begin on September 1. The construction company and the government ordered the demolition of the monastery since it is located on the site of the future lake. Many residents opposed the demolition of this building, and twenty of them are currently arrested, because they didn’t want to leave the building. Why are innocent people arrested? They are just defending their land and tradition, but the government obviously has some “greater” goals.

I must ask: How far can the government of any country go? Why are they not listening to the voice of the people whose land it is? None of the governments should interfere against the will of the people.

Support for the indigenous and all oppressed people!

Strategic activism