After mass graves full of Indigenous children have been found, how can Canada justify ongoing land theft?
Featured image: The site near the former Marieval residential school where a ground search has been underway. Image has been shared by The Federation of Sovereign Nations and Cowessess First Nation. (Photo by Dennis Ward, Twitter)
By Justin Podur
Canada is developing a new image: one of burning churches, toppling statues, and mass graves. There are thousands more unmarked graves, thousands more Indigenous children killed at residential schools, remaining to be unearthed. There can be no denying that this is Canada, and it has to change. But can Canada transform itself for the better? If the revelation of the mass killing of Indigenous children is to lead to any actual soul-searching and any meaningful change, the first order of business is for Canada to stop its all-front war against First Nations. Much of that war is taking place through the legal system.
Canadian politicians have said as much, adopting a motion in June calling for the government to stop fighting residential school survivors in court. A long-standing demand, it has been repeated by Indigenous advocates who have expressed amazement in the face of these horrific revelations that the Canadian government would nonetheless continue to fight Indigenous survivors of systematic child abuse by the state.
To get a sense of the scope of Canada’s legal war on First Nations, I looked at a Canadian legal database containing decisions (case law) pertaining to First Nations. I also looked at the hearing lists of the Federal Court of Canada for ongoing cases. My initial goal was to identify where Canada could easily settle or abandon cases, bringing about a harmonious solution to these conflicts. Two things surprised me.
The first was the volume and diversity of lawsuits Canada is fighting. Canada is fighting First Nations everywhere, on an astoundingly wide range of issues.
The second thing: Canada is losing.
The Attack on Indigenous Children and Women
In his 1984 essay “‘Pioneering’ in the Nuclear Age,” political theorist Eqbal Ahmad argued that the “four fundamental elements… without which an indigenous community cannot survive” were “land, water, leaders and culture.” Canada fights Indigenous people over land, water, fishing rights, mining projects, freedom of movement, and more. The assault on Indigenous nations is also a war against Indigenous children and women.
Note that this isn’t about the history of residential schools. It’s about discrimination against Indigenous kids in the present day. “In fact, the problem might be getting worse,” writes Blackstock, compared to “the height of residential school operations.” As evidence, she refers to a 2005 study of three sample provinces showing a wide gap between the percent of First Nations children in child welfare care (10.23 percent) compared to a much lower rate for non-First Nations children (0.67 percent). In 2006, following the Canadian government’s repeated failures to act on the inequity described in this report (which also included comprehensive suggested reforms that had both moral and economic appeal), Blackstock writes, “the Caring Society and the Assembly of First Nations agreed that legal action was required.” The CHRT was very clear in its 2019 decision that the federal government should compensate each victim the maximum amount, which addressed the victims as follows:
“No amount of compensation can ever recover what you have lost, the scars that are left on your souls or the suffering that you have gone through as a result of racism, colonial practices and discrimination.”
Canada’s war on Indigenous children is also a war on Indigenous women. The sterilization of Indigenous women, beginning with Canada’s eugenics program around 1900, is another act of genocide, as scholar Karen Stote has argued. Indigenous women who had tubal ligation without their consent as part of this eugenics program have brought a class-action suit against the provinces of Alberta and British Columbia, both of which had Sexual Sterilization Acts in their provincial laws from the 1920s in Alberta and 1930s in British Columbia until the early 1970s, and Saskatchewan, where sexual sterilization legislation was proposed but failed by one vote in 1930. A Senate committee found a case of forced sterilization of an Indigenous woman as recently as 2019.
The Legal-Financial War on First Nations Organizations
As Bob Joseph outlines in his 2018 book 21 Things You May Not Know About the Indian Act, Canada first gave itself the right to decide Indian status in the Gradual Civilization Act of 1857, which created a process by which Indigenous people could give up their Indian status and so become “enfranchised”—which they would have to do if they wanted to attend higher education or become professionals. The apartheid system was updated through the Indian Act of 1876, from which sprang many evils including both the residential schools and the assertion of Canadian control over the way First Nations govern themselves. In 1927, when Indigenous veterans of World War I began to hold meetings with one another to discuss their situation, Canada passed laws forbidding Indigenous people from political organization and from raising funds to hire legal counsel (and from playing billiards, among other things). The Indian Act—which is still in effect today with amendments, despite multiple attempts to repeal it—outlawed traditional governance structures and gave Canada the power to intervene to remove and install Indigenous governance authorities at will—which Canada did continuously, from Six Nations in 1924 to Barriere Lake in 1995. As a result, at any given moment, many First Nations are still embroiled in lawsuits over control of their own governments.
Canada dribbles out humiliating application processes by which Indigenous people can try to exercise their human right to housing. When combined with the housing crisis on reserves, these application processes have attracted swindlers like consultant Jerry Paulin, who sued Cat Lake First Nation for $1.2 million, claiming that his efforts were the reason the First Nation received federal funds for urgent housing repairs.
Canada uses the threat of withdrawal of these funds to impose stringent financial “transparency” conditions on First Nations—the subject of legal struggle, in which Cold Lake First Nations has argued that the financial transparency provisions violate their rights. Canada has used financial transparency claims to put First Nations finances under third-party management, withholding and misusing the funds in a not-very-transparent way, as the Algonquins of Barriere Lake charged in another lawsuit. An insistence on transparency is astounding for a country that buried massive numbers of Indigenous children in unmarked graves.
Win or lose, the lawsuits themselves impose high costs on First Nations whose finances are, for the most part, controlled by Canada. The result is situations like the one where the Beaver Lake Cree are suing Canada for costs because they ran out of money suing Canada for their land. When First Nations are winning in court, Canada tries to bankrupt them before they get there.
Land and Resources Are the Core of the Struggle
The core issue between Canada and First Nations is land. Most battles are over the land on which the state of Canada sits, all of which was stolen and much of which was swindled through legal processes that couldn’t hold up to scrutiny and are now unraveling. “[I]n simple acreage,” the late Indigenous leader Arthur Manuel wrote in the 2017 book The Reconciliation Manifesto, this was “the biggest land theft in the history of mankind,” reducing Indigenous people from holding 100 percent of the landmass to 0.2 percent. One of the most economically important pieces of land is the Haldimand tract in southern Ontario, which generates billions of dollars in revenue that belongs, by right, to the Six Nations, as Phil Monture has extensively documented. Six Nations submitted ever-more detailed land claims, until Canada simply stopped accepting them. But in July, their sustained resistance led to the cancellation of a planned suburban development (read: settlement) on Six Nations land.
Why does Canada keep fighting (and losing) even as its legitimacy as a state built on theft and genocide crumbles? It’s not merely the habits of centuries. It’s also the absence of any project besides the displacement of First Nations and the plunder of the land. Canada could take the first step to ending all this by declaring a unilateral ceasefire in the legal war. Too few Canadians understand that this would actually be a very good thing. First Nations lived sustainably for thousands of years in these extraordinary northern ecosystems. Then the European empires arrived, bringing smallpox and tuberculosis among other scourges. Local extinctions of beaver and buffalo quickly followed, as well as the total extinction of the passenger pigeon. Today’s settler state has poisoned pristine lakes with mine tailings, denuded the country’s spectacular forests, and gifted the atmosphere some of the world’s highest per capita carbon emissions (seventh in the world in 2018—more than Saudi Arabia, which was 10th, and the U.S., which was 11th). Indigenous visionaries have better ideas, such as those presented by Leanne Betasamosake Simpson and Arthur Manuel, or for that matter the Red Deal and the People’s Agreement of Cochabamba.
Under Indigenous sovereignty, Canadians could truly be guests of the First Nations, capable of fulfilling their obligations to their hosts and their hosts’ lands, rather than the pawns of the settler state’s war against those from whom the land was stolen.
Editor’s note: Testing nuclear bombs in “French Polynesia” is yet another example of the insane western mindset of colonialism, racism and entitlement.
France conducted 193 nuclear tests in the South Pacific
This article originally appeared in Global Voices.
Featured image: This is the third picture of a series of the Licorne thermonuclear test in French Polynesia, a scan of a (digitally restored) hard copy of a picture taken by the French army. Photo and caption by Flickr user Pierre J. (CC BY-NC-SA 2.0)
Written by Mong Palatino
More than 1,000 people gathered in the Tahiti capital of Papeete to condemn the failure of the French government to take full accountability for its nuclear testing program in the South Pacific.
France conducted 193 nuclear tests from 1966–1996 in Mā’ohi Nui (French Polynesia). France’s 41st nuclear experiment in the Pacific led to catastrophe on July 17, 1974, when France tested a nuclear bomb codenamed “Centaure.” Because of weather conditions that day, the test caused an atmospheric radioactive fallout which affected all of French Polynesia. Inhabitants of Tahiti and the surrounding islands of the Windward group were reportedly subjected to significant amounts of ionizing radiation 42 hours after the test, which can cause significant long-term health problems.
The July 17, 2021 protest was organized under the banner of #MaohiLivesMatter to highlight the target=”_blank” rel=”noopener”continuing fight for nuclear justice. Campaigners said that despite the statement of former French President François Hollande in 2016 recognizing the negative environmental and health impact of the nuclear tests, the French government has done little to provide compensation or rehabilitation to French Polynesia.
After analyzing 2,000 pages of declassified French military documents about the nuclear tests, in March 2021 a group of researchers and investigative journalists from INTERPRT and Disclose released their findings on the health implications of the experiments.
According to our calculations, based on a scientific reassessment of the doses received, approximately 110,000 people were infected, almost the entire Polynesian population at the time.
The report has revived public awareness in France about the impact of their nuclear testing program. The French government held a roundtable discussion about the issue in Paris in early July. Though some criticized the French government for their alleged lack of transparency around the clean-up efforts in French Polynesia, officials denied these claims.
Protesters in Tahiti insisted that the French government should do more to address the demands of French Polynesian residents. Some noted that if French President Emmanuel Macron was able to seek forgiveness for the role of France in enabling the Rwanda genocide in 1994, he should at least make a similar apology for the harmful legacy of the nuclear tests in the Pacific.
The #MaohiLivesMatter protest has inspired solidarity in the Pacific.
Community leaders of West Papua expressed their support for the protest:
Youth activists from Pacific island nations also took part in the protest:
The International Campaign to Abolish Nuclear weapons (ICAN) Australia issued this statement of support:
As you gather in Maohi Nui on the 17th July we offer our deep respects to your leaders and community members who have long spoken out against the harms imposed by these weapons. We have heard your calls for nuclear justice. We continue to listen closely when you speak of the lived experience of the testing years and the on–going harms.
French President Emmanuel Macron is expected to tackle the legacy of nuclear testing during his visit to Tahiti this month.
Editor’s note: The American Holocaust (a term coined by David Stannard) is the largest genocide in human history. The atrocities are ongoing and being reinforced by fascists like Jair Bolsonaro, providing another example that capitalism and fascism are two sides of the same coin.
The land rights of the Xokleng, a tribe that was violently expelled from its territory in the 19th and 20th centuries to make way for European colonists, are now the focus of a landmark court case in Brazil.
The Xokleng were brutally persecuted and evicted by armed militias to make way for European settlers. The Supreme Court hearing into the so-called “Time Limit Trick” could now set the effects of these and subsequent evictions in stone, establishing a precedent which would have far-reaching consequences for indigenous peoples in Brazil.
The case centers around the demarcation of the “Ibirama La Klãnõ” Indigenous Territory in the state of Santa Catarina in southern Brazil. If they win, the Xokleng would be able to return to a significant part of their ancestral territory.
However, the official demarcation of the territory has been suspended following a lawsuit filed by non-indigenous residents and a logging company operating in the area. They argue that on October 5, 1988 – the date the Brazilian Constitution was signed – the Xokleng only lived in limited parts of the territory and therefore have no right to most of their original land. If this argument succeeds, it would legitimize centuries of evictions experienced by indigenous peoples throughout Brazil.
The Brazilian government encouraged Europeans to settle on indigenous land, and allocated them large parts of the Xokleng and other indigenous territories at the beginning of the 20th century. It also financed a so-called “Indian-hunting militia”, which accelerated the colonial land grab. This militia specialized in the extermination of indigenous peoples and hunted down the Xokleng.
“The Redskins are interfering with colonization: this interference must be eliminated, and as quickly and thoroughly as possible,” German colonists demanded at the time.
German settlers resented Xokleng attempts to defend their territories, and frequently subjected them to cruel “punitive expeditions.”
The Xokleng territory was continuously reduced over several decades. In the 1970s, a dam was built in the small part that remained.
If Brazil’s Supreme Court votes in favor of the “Time Limit Trick”, it would have devastating consequences for many other indigenous peoples, and their chances of reclaiming their ancestral territories. It could enable the theft of land that is rightfully owned by hundreds of thousands of tribal and indigenous people. The validity of existing indigenous territories could then also come into question.
Brasílio Priprá, a prominent Xokleng leader, said: “If we didn’t live in a certain part of the territory in 1988, it doesn’t mean it was “no man’s land” or that we didn’t want to be there. The “Time Limit Trick” reinforces the historical violence that continues to leave its mark today.”
Indigenous organizations and their allies, including Survival, began raising fears about the “Time Limit Trick” in 2017, calling it unlawful because it violates the current Brazilian Constitution and international law, which clearly states that indigenous peoples have the right to their ancestral lands.
Fiona Watson of Survival International said today: “The history of the Xokleng shows just how absurd the “Time Limit Trick” is: Indigenous peoples have been evicted from their lands, hunted down and murdered in Brazil for centuries. Those who demand that in order to have the right to their land now, indigenous lands had to have been inhabited by indigenous communities on October 5, 1988 – after the end of the military dictatorship – are denying this history and perpetuating the genocide in the 21st century.”
Note to the editor:
– More information on the Xokleng and their history can be found here.
– The case before the Court concerns only the Xokleng of Ibirama La Klãnõ indigenous territory. There are many other Xokleng communities.
Featured image: Michael Oliveira Baré Tikuna lists countless incidents of apparent prejudice he faced for being Indigenous since moving to Rio de Janeiro. “We are made invisible in the university, in social movements, we are made invisible in everything,” he said. This photograph was taken in Copacabana beach, in Rio de Janeiro, on November 14, 2020. Image by Mongabay
Contrary to popular belief, Brazil’s Indigenous people aren’t confined to the Amazon Rainforest, with more than a third of them, or about 315,000 individuals, living in urban areas.
Over the past year, we dived into the census and related databases to produce unique maps and infographics showing not only how the Indigenous residents are distributed in six cities and in Brazil overall, but also showcasing their access to education, sewage and other amenities, and their ethnic diversity.
Access to higher education is a milestone: the number of Indigenous people enrolled in universities jumped from 10,000 to about 81,000 between 2010 and 2019, giving them a higher college education rate than the general population.
This data-driven reporting project received funding support from the Pulitzer Center on Crisis Reporting’s data journalism and property rights grant.
RIO DE JANEIRO — During a presentation for Indigenous People’s Week, celebrated in April in Brazil, at his son’s elementary school in Rio de Janeiro, the first thing sociologist José Carlos Matos Pereira did was to show a photo of several individuals and ask the children, “What do you think, are they Indigenous?” The children immediately answered in unison: “No.” He asked why, and they responded, “They are not naked; they do not have a bow and arrow and they are not in the forest; so, they are not Indigenous.”
The episode, centering on a picture of Indigenous people from the city of Altamira in the Amazonian state of Pará, is just a snapshot of the reality faced by Indigenous people living in urban areas throughout Brazil. “This marks a perception since a child as one thinks of Indigenous people [as being] outside the city and in conditions of, shall we say, ‘natural,’” Pereira, a researcher at the Social Movements Memory Program, from the Federal University of Rio de Janeiro (UFRJ), told Mongabay.
“The Indigenous hunt, fish, live in the forest, have their way of life, their rituals. But he also comes to the city … And when he comes, he brings with him a way of life.”
In fact, contrary to popular belief, Indigenous people are scattered all over Brazil and not just in the Amazon Rainforest and remote rural areas. More than a third of Brazil’s Indigenous population, or about 315,000 individuals, live in urban areas, according to the country’s latest census.
But while in rural and remote areas Indigenous people are threatened by land invasions, mining and a wide range of development projects, in the cities they constantly face invisibilization and prejudice.
Having lived in Rio de Janeiro for 20 years, Michael Oliveira Baré Tikuna can list countless incidents of apparent prejudice that he faced for being Indigenous since moving to the city. These range from the time he used to live on the streets selling his craftworks, through to his time in university. Baré was the first Indigenous person to enter the Rio de Janeiro State University (UERJ) through the quota system.
“A black guy told me that my place wasn’t at the university, that my place was inside the forest,” said Baré, a shiatsu therapist and freelance professor of Indigenous history. “This was the thing that shocked me the most because he was reproducing in me what the white men do to him [when they say] to send him back to Africa.”
Born in Manaus, in the Amazon region, Baré’s Indigenous name in the Nheengatu language — derived from the Tupi-Guarani language — is Anaje Sucurijú Mangará Ibytyra, which means Sucurijú Hawk Mountain Heart. His name on his birth certificate is Michael Júnior Queiroz de Oliveira but he adopted the Indigenous ethnicities Baré and Tikuna from his parents after rescuing his Indigenous roots, he said.
The Tikuna people are the most numerous Indigenous ethnic group in the Brazilian Amazon. The first reference to the Tikuna people dates back to the mid-17th century, in the Solimões River region, in Amazonas state. With history marked by the violent entry of rubber tappers, fishermen and loggers, the Tikuna only achieved official recognition of most of their lands in the 1990s. They speak the Tikuna language.
The Baré people live mainly along the Xié River and the upper Negro River, to where the majority migrated compulsorily due to violence and exploitation of their extractive work by with non-Indigenous. Their first contact with non-Indigenous occurred in the early 18th century, according to documents from that century. Originally from the Arawak linguistic family, today they speak Nheengatu, which was disseminated by the Carmelites in the colonial period.
“We are made invisible in the university, in social movements, we are made invisible in everything. But I realized that this is a historic construction,” he said, one that “I struggle to deconstruct, which I ended up calling … ‘the ideological discourse of the slave colonizer,’ which is the discourse that introjected into the collective unconscious the notion … that miscegenation is not good.”
Historian Ana Paula da Silva, a PhD in social memory, highlights the importance of a revisionism movement of Indigenous history that several researchers are carrying out today, given the lack of a prominent place for Indigenous people in Brazilian history.
“They were part of our history, our culture and they were fundamental in the colonization process and this is something that should be taught in schools, disseminated in the media and, certainly, from the moment that the Brazilian society understands that Indigenous people are part of Brazil, of our history, certainly many prejudices, a lot of discrimination in relation to this population will be deconstructed,” said da Silva, a researcher at the Program of Studies of Indigenous Peoples (Pro Índio), from the Rio de Janeiro State University (UERJ).
The intrinsic presence of Indigenous people in Brazilian culture, from words to habits, was also highlighted by the historian, who is also a member of a network of university researchers focused on promoting the Indigenous knowledge at schools throughout Brazil. Called Saberes Indígenas(Indigenous Knowledge), the program is promoted by the Ministry of Education since 2013.
A diaspora of Indigenous people to the cities, da Silva said, is a consequence of their displacement in the past during the colonial period from the places where cities were built. Many of them also come to urban areas seeking better living conditions, she added.
Hidden stories like Baré’s will be framed in a series of data-driven multimedia stories that Mongabay starts publishing today, focused on the six Brazilian municipalities with the highest absolute numbers of Indigenous people living in urban areas, showing that Indigenous people are much closer to other Brazilians than they imagine.
Although some experts argue that the best way to highlight the Indigenous presence in Brazilian cities is by their proportion of the population in each city, Mongabay has decided to focus on the absolute numbers. The figures may come as a surprise to many, as the six cities with the highest number of Indigenous people include the country’s most famous metropoles, where the Indigenous presence is even more invisible.
According to the 2010 census, the latest released by the Brazilian Institute of Geography and Statistics (IBGE), the municipalities with the highest number of Indigenous people living in urban areas are, in descending order: São Paulo, São Gabriel da Cachoeira (in Amazonas state), Salvador (in Bahia state), Rio de Janeiro, Boa Vista (in Roraima state), and Brasília, the national capital — IBGE considered data for the whole Federal District. Only two of these, São Gabriel da Cachoeira and Boa Vista, are in states that comprise part of the Brazilian Amazon.
Over the past year, we dived into the 2010 census (new data only will be available in 2022) and related databases to produce unique maps and infographics showing not only how the Indigenous residents are distributed in the urban areas of these six cities but also showcasing their access to education, sewage and other amenities, as well as their ethnic diversity. Mongabay will publish one story for each city, starting with the biggest cities and followed by the Amazonian ones.
The project, which received funding support from the Pulitzer Center on Crisis Reporting, will close with an in-depth analysis of the Indigenous presence in Brazil’s urban areas as a whole, including the cities with the highest percentage of Indigenous residents and other municipalities that don’t appear in the ranks but are very relevant in representing the Indigenous way of living in the urban areas.
Pereira, the sociologist, who has a postdoctoral degree in social anthropology, highlights the importance of the 2010 census, as it is the first to recognize, through a self-declaration process, the Indigenous presence in population compacts in reserves, rural and urban areas, as well as their 300 ethnicities speaking multiple languages.
“For a long time, the Indigenous people were removed from the population count. They only appeared in the 1990s through the question of color and race. And this was repeated in the early 2000s. Only in 2010 we had Brazil’s first Indigenous census,” Pereira said. “So it is an important fact that you can’t deny anymore: the Indigenous presence in Brazilian cities.”
He said the census began during the colonization period, with an aim of counting the population for taxation purposes and army conscription. “So, all the diversity of language, of people, of customs, they were erased because this information did not matter to the metropole; it aimed to standardize and reorder the data according to the interests of the metropolitan power,” Pereira said.
Censuses carried out by the Brazilian government date from the end of the 19th century. But it largely excluded the Indigenous population, Pereira noted; only those who had been evangelized by missionaries appear in the statistics under the race categories of caboclo and pardo, both of which refer to mixed-race individuals.
Education as a weapon
One of the highlights of our coverage is how access to higher education has helped Indigenous people fight against this prejudice and has improved their living conditions in urban areas. Between 2010 and 2019, the number of Indigenous people enrolled in universities through the quota system, launched in 2012, spiked from 10,219 to 80,652.
Given that about 81,000 Indigenous people from a population of about 900,000 were attending university in 2019, this gives a much better rate of higher education than the average for Brazilian citizens in general in the same year (9% compared to 5.8%, respectively), said anthropologist João Pacheco de Oliveira, a professor and curator of the ethnographic collections at the National Museum — a member of the Science and Culture Forum of the Federal University of Rio de Janeiro (UFRJ), which completed 200 years in 2018.
Oliveira pointed to the enormous potential of Indigenous peoples in universities. “From this group, the brains of the movement will be formed: lawyers, anthropologists, doctors, teachers,” he said. “The Indigenous project in relation to being a Brazilian citizen, it is not a project to become simply a repository from the past. It is to have and gain citizenship, to be prominent people, to exercise science, to hold positions.
“Those who go to the city didn’t become white people,” he added. “They continue to be Indigenous, and will be very important for those that are within the villages, and this junction between one thing and the other is essential for the Indigenous project.”
Oliveira added that most of the international public “would take it by surprise to see the real face of the Brazilian Indigenous,” which doesn’t match with the stereotypical image of a person dressed in traditional clothing.
Baré said that entering Rio de Janeiro State University (UERJ) through the quota system was his biggest achievement in life. “I am the first of my family who entered university, who achieved this feat. And I was very happy and proud to be able to give [this] pride to my mother,” he said.
Education, he said, has helped him overcome the prejudice he felt against his Indigenous identity, citing the concept of autophobia from Domenico Losurdo, an Italian Marxist philosopher and historian. “Autophobia is when the victims introject the point of view of their oppressor. It’s when one hates oneself. I realized that this happens to all Indigenous people, from South to North America [due to the colonization process],” Baré said.
But from the moment he started gathering academic knowledge of racial democracy and ancestral culture he said, citing Brazilian anthropologists Darcy Ribeiro and Berta Ribeiro, he realized that education is the only effective “weapon” to end the prejudice.
“I realized that education is not only … a shield to defend myself against prejudice and racism,” he said, “it is also a weapon … and the only weapon that we can use, as Indigenous people, that will not generate a genocidal reaction [from non-Indigenous people].
“It was thought of by the Brazilian people that if you were placed in the city, you are no longer an Indigenous,” Baré said. “If you wear shorts, you wear a watch, you wear a cellphone, you wear sneakers, you are no longer an Indigenous. But that’s a big lie, a big mistake.”
He said his dream is to free the Brazilian people from the ideological discourse game of the slave colonizer, which keeps Indigenous people subdued. “My dream … is that Brazilians instead of saying ‘Ah, they are the Indigenous,’ they say, ‘They are our ancestors.’”
This project received funding support from the Pulitzer Center on Crisis Reporting’s data journalism and property rights grant.
Infographics: Ambiental Media/Laura Kurtzberg
Data research and analysis: Yuli Santana, Rafael Dupim and Ambiental Media
Karla Mendes is a staff contributing editor for Mongabay in Brazil. Find her on Twitter: @karlamendes
Indigenous peoples are usually at the forefront of environmental and social justice struggles. They are also the most threatened by violence directed at activists. Deep Green Resistance stands in solidarity with front line activists, particularly indigenous peoples who seek to restore human rights and protect the land and water from harm.
The prominent Adivasi (Indigenous) activist, Hidme Markam, from the Koya tribe, was arrested on Tuesday March 9th, while attending an International Women’s Day event in the Indian state of Chhattisgarh. A video shows her being violently bundled into a car amid protest from other women activists.
Ms Markam, 28, is an anti-mining and tribal rights activist working to prevent the mining of a sacred mountain in south Chhattisgarh and against police brutality and the building of paramilitary camps.
She is the convenor of the Jail Bandi Rihai Committee, a group campaigning for the release of thousands of Adivasis who have been criminalized, branded as Naxals [armed Maoist rebels] and held, often for many years, in pre-trial detention for speaking up for their rights. She now finds herself in the same situation.
According to the police, she has been arrested for a number of cases filed between 2016 and 2020 relating to Maoist activity. They also claim there was a US $1,500 bounty on her head.
This is disputed by other activists, such as Soni Sori, who said:
“She isn’t a Maoist as police claimed. She has been fighting for the Jal-Jangal-Jameen (water, forest and land) of tribals in Bastar. She had been going to the offices of the Superintendent of Police (SP), and Collector [government official] frequently and met with many prominent personalities … to raise tribals’ issues…Have you ever heard that a Maoist goes to the SP or Collector’s office, meets with the Chief Minister, Governor and reveals their identity openly?”
The police have said that she will be held in custody for 10 days. Lawyers are applying for bail.
Her arrest is clearly meant to send a warning to those who speak out for Adivasi and women’s rights and against mining and state repression. It is another sign of the growing attack on Adivasi rights and democracy in India under Modi’s authoritarian regime. Even in Chhattisgarh – which is not under the control of Modi’s party – the assault against Adivasi lives and rights is relentless.
In India those who dissent, especially Adivasis and their supporters are often branded “anti-national” and are accused of sedition or held under the draconian Unlawful Activities (Prevention) Act (UAPA). In November 2020, 67 activists were charged under the UAPA in just two states. 10,000 Adivasis have been accused of sedition for their role in laying stones at the entrances to their villages engraved with their constitutional rights.
There are grave concerns about the treatment that Hidme Markam will receive in custody.
The event at which she was arrested was to speak out against the sexual abuse of Adivasi women. It was to commemorate the lives of two young Adivasi women who were physically and sexually assaulted by the Chhattisgarh police and subsequently took their own lives.
“They’re being beaten every day, they’re being jailed every day. Every day, wherever our women go, they face the same kind of abuse. The only possible way forward is for all women to be united, for our water and forests, for our lands – to save them from mining.”
In the following piece, Mark relates the population growth to patriarchy, exploitation, and capitalism.
Editor’s note: DGR does not agree with all opinions on this article.
by Mark Behrend
The population of Africa is soaring.
Since 1950, it has grown from 227 million to 1.343 billion — an increase of 590%. Over the same period, South America has grown by 425%, Asia by 330%, and North and Central America by 250%, while Europe has only grown by 35%.
There are many reasons for the disparity, though the basic factors are development, wealth, and education. With development, infant mortality generally goes down and life expectancy increases, driving population up. Development tends to increase prosperity, education, and opportunities, gradually bringing population growth to a halt. Under normal development patterns, this results in a huge population increase when an economy is fueled largely by primary industries. Population growth slows as the economy moves into secondary industries, and levels off in a tertiary economy, where wealth is amassed, service industries emerge, and domestic businesses expand into foreign markets. That’s the upside of industrialization.
The downside is that both sides of this growth curve devastate the natural world.
With an exponential increase in the consumption and depletion of natural resources, degradation of air, land, and water, an ultimately fatal attack on biodiversity, and the exploitation of cultures on the back end of the development curve. Rooted in colonialism, the immediate threat to Africa’s people is that most of the benefits of development are going to European, American, and Chinese corporations. This does not appear likely to change. According to U.N. estimates, populations in North America, Europe, and Southeast Asia are expected to stabilize by 2100, while Africa’s is expected to triple.
Due to a variety of factors, including government inaction, corruption, and poor educational opportunities, birth rates remain high. To state it simply, unschooled girls and women have few options in life but to marry young and have four or more children. Ignorance can lead to the persistence of superstitions and regressive cultural practices, such as female genital mutilation, and beliefs that contraception causes promiscuity, infertility, and various health problems.
A recent news story reported that 10% of girls in Senegal are still subjected to female genital mutilation.
The practice remains common on much of the continent. A Senegalese activist said it continues, mostly among the poor and uneducated, who are afraid to defy old customs. He noted that victims often experience a high rate of lasting pain, along with a much higher than normal incidence of menstrual problems. A woman in favor of FGM, however, disagreed and said.
“If women are having problems, it’s because of contraception.”
The more obvious problem with contraception in Africa is that it is rarely used. The population of Senegal jumped from 2.4 million in 1950 to 16.3 million in 2018 — an increase of 675% in 68 years. On average, that’s the equivalent of adding 10% of a country’s current population every year, in perpetuity. The country with the greatest population growth, however, is Ivory Coast, with an astounding 978% increase over a similar period (2.6 million to 25.7 million, between 1950 and 2018). This can be linked directly to corporate exploitation, as the numbers clearly show.
Since independence in 1960, foreign corporations have virtually transformed Ivory Coast into one giant cocoa plantation, to feed the developed world’s voracious demand for chocolate. In 2019, the world cocoa market was worth over $44 billion, and is projected to top $61 billion by 2027. Along the way, Ivory Coast has become the world’s largest producer, with an estimated 38% of global production. In the process, however, 90% of the country’s forests have been sacrificed, and the illusion of economic growth has driven an unprecedented explosion in the Ivorian census.
Several foreign corporations are responsible for this, the principal offenders being Olam International (Singapore); Barry Callebaut (Switzerland); and the American companies Cargill, Nestle, Mars, and Hershey. They have much to be responsible for.
Capitalism’s guiding principle of creating an ever-growing demand at the lowest possible cost has led to more than rampant deforestation.
According to The Guardian an astounding 59 million children, aged five to 17, are working against their will in sub-Saharan Africa, mostly in agriculture. Due to the refusal of some agencies and governments to include family farms in forced labor statistics, however, estimates of the number of victims vary widely. Fortune Magazine, for instance , puts the number of child laborers in West Africa at “only” 2.1 million. Additional data from the U.S. Department of Labor indicate that over a million children under the age of 12 work in the cocoa industry in Ivory Coast and Ghana, which together produce more than two-thirds of the world’s supply.
Thousands are recruited from even poorer African countries, often with promises of good jobs and free education. Instead, they become victims of what is arguably the world’s largest human trafficking and slavery network. Even those working on family farms are often kept out of school to work in hazardous conditions, with 95% of them reportedly exposed to pesticides, and at risk of injury from using machetes and carrying heavy loads.
Pressured by organized boycotts by Europeans and Americans, the industry pledged in 2001 to reduce child labor 70% by 2020.
Instead, a new report says that since 2010, the number of West African children engaged in forced labor has increased from 31% to 45% of the total childhood population. The reason, again, is the basic mechanism of capitalism. Industry influences consumers to demand more, by producing more and advertising it at a lower price — thus enabling corporations to pay farmers even less. As a result, wholesale prices for cocoa have been cut in half since the 1970s. This has been achieved by paying West African farmers between $.50 and $.84 a day, while the World Bank’s poverty line is $1.90. Hence the 60% rise in cocoa production since 2010, the 45% jump in child labor, and the accelerated pace of deforestation. Farmers are compelled to produce more, just to make the same money they used to make for producing less.
The cocoa industry explains this by saying that it decentralized production (i.e., encouraged family farming rather than corporate plantations) to hold down costs. So, now it can’t meet its child labor goals, because family farms can’t be regulated like factory farms. Corporations call this good economics, while a neutral observer might call it legalized slavery.
A 2019 study, reported by The Guardian, says research indicates that the best way to end child labor is by educating girls and empowering women, in what remain highly patriarchal societies.
There are 18 steps in preparing cocoa for the wholesale market, and women and girls perform 15 of them. This is typical of labor patterns in much of the developing world. And it goes a long way toward explaining the poverty, overpopulation, and environmental destruction that plague the “Third World” — and, by extension, the planet as a whole. In Ivory Coast, the production demands and poverty forced on local communities has also forced roughly a million people to seek their livelihoods by illegally deforesting and farming in national forests and national parks. Recent surveys found that in 13 of 23 of these so-called “protected areas,” once thriving populations of chimpanzees and forest elephants have been totally eliminated.
At the current rate, Ivory Coast’s irreplaceable flora and fauna will soon be gone, along with a carbon sink half the size of Texas. Similar scenarios are playing out across Africa, as global agribusiness becomes more invested in African lands. Incredibly, the Ivorian government’s response has been to pass a law that would effectively put the nation’s forestry protection under corporate control for the next 24 years. The argument behind this fox-guarding-the-henhouse policy is that corporations see the “big picture,” while local farmers only see their own immediate needs. The policy would expel those one million illegal farmers from public lands, with no assistance or other apparent options, apart from migration, starvation, or lives of crime.
Such is the grim reality of corporate resource extraction in nations that were European colonies less than a century ago, and today have become virtual colonies of E.U., U.S., and Chinese business. China now has a huge and ever-growing footprint, both in East Africa and in Latin America. On the surface, Beijing paints this as a “win-win” relationship, with China building “free” infrastructure, and bringing big business to the boondocks.
The reality, however, is a far different story — with pipelines and powerplants crossing the Serengeti, a superhighway across fragile Amazon headwaters, and a rival to the Panama Canal on its way to completion, in Central America’s most environmentally sensitive wetlands. And if supposedly accountable corporations in Western democracies can’t stop child labor in West Africa, what are we to expect from a secretive dictatorship like China?
Who will feed Africa as its population doubles and triples, with much of the farmland now leased to Chinese agribusiness?
How long can Africa’s (or Indonesia’s, or Brazil’s) rich biodiversity survive, with their habitat reduced to a corporate commodity? Who would you pick to win a competition between gorillas, elephants, giraffes, and zebras, on the one hand, and global extraction industries, on the other?
As the monocrop cocoa farms of Ivory Coast become infertile and lose their productivity, the booming population will inevitably face growing poverty, and a very real threat of starvation. That isn’t the “corporate plan,” of course. The corporate plan, as one Ivorian farmer observed, is simply to make as much money as possible as fast as possible. And African farmers either play along, or the cocoa companies find those who will. The cycle thus compels Africans to make more babies to work the land, and then rape the land to feed the babies.
When it comes to Africa, ‘supply and demand’ is merely a sanitized term for ‘slash and burn’. Capitalism has no long-term plan for the continent, because the corporations are beholden to non-African investors back home. Their competitive edge is based on exceeding the year-end dividends of their rivals. From a business standpoint, the practical meaning of the profit motive is to use up the planet as fast as possible, and report it for tax purposes as normal depreciation.
Crazy as it sounds, the long-term plan of industrial civilization is simply to have a good short-term plan.
Corporations are all about the current fiscal year, just as democratic governments are all about the next election cycle. Sensible goals (relatively speaking) may be discussed and agreed to in forums like the Paris Climate Accords. But that all presumes a world working toward a common goal. When the negotiators get back home, however, they’re in a competitive race again. It’s nation against nation, corporation against corporation — the “real world” of year-end reports and election cycles, where those “sensible goals” they agreed to in principle are put off until next year. And “tomorrow,” as the song says, “never comes.”
Such are the economic realities that prompted the International Panel on Biodiversity and Ecosystem Services (IPBES) to project that by 2050, the world will face between 50 million and 700 million food refugees — a polite term for starving people, coming soon to a country near you. IPBES says the most likely number is between 200 and 300 million. At any rate, it will make Europe’s current crisis of African and Asian refugees (along with Latin American migrants fleeing to the United States) look like a picnic in the park, and today’s regional crisis will become tomorrow’s global disaster. Such is the future of corporate capitalism, where the rich plunder the resources of the poor, create a baby boom for cheap labor, and then — when there is no longer any profit in it — abandon both the people and the land.
The destruction can no longer be confined to the developing world.
This time the migrants will follow us home. Indirectly, their barren land will follow us, too — in the form of climate change, sea level rise, and the other unintended consequences of globalization, in what promises to be capitalism’s last century. There is simply nowhere left to run. As Chris Hedges describes it,
“It’s all Easter Island now.”
Returning to the education factor, population experts have long recognized the link between female education and employment opportunities on the one hand, and population stability on the other. Indeed, wherever women and girls have access to higher education, equal job opportunities, and the right to say “no” to having babies, population either stabilizes or decreases slightly.
For proof, one need only look to South Korea, where this otherwise positive formula is creating an economic problem of its own. Women there have achieved relative parity, in both education and employment. But with patriarchy persisting in the home, fewer than half of South Korean women now choose to marry, and the population is plunging.
In places like Senegal, on the other hand, “women’s liberation” is a largely meaningless phrase.
Only 63% of girls there so much as finish primary school, and less than half make it to high school. After all, what do corporate exploiters need with educated masses in the developing world? How could the plunder continue, if the plundered were taught why they’re being plundered, where their resources go, who reaps the profits, and what the developing world is getting in return?
Such are the hard truths behind industrial civilization. Insane as it sounds, increased population and planetary destruction are the inevitable consequences of “progress,” when sustainability and common sense argue for reducing population, minimizing technology and energy needs, replanting forests, and restoring the land. Corporate executives, of course, denounce such sustainable ethics as wild-eyed, radical nonsense. To their thinking, perpetual growth is the only way to avoid economic stagnation and collapse.
Super-techies like Elon Musk of SpaceX and Google’s Larry Page ignore the math, arguing that we can mine the asteroids, colonize Mars, feed a growing population with hydroponic agriculture, and produce endless clean energy and green jobs. (Former U.S. House Speaker Newt Gingrich went so far as to suggest human colonies on the moon. Gingrich apparently wasn’t aware that the moon has a monthly temperature swing of 540° Farenheit, due to its two-week-long days and nights, and total lack of an atmosphere. Mars, meanwhile, has a highly toxic atmosphere, and an average temperature of -67°. Minor details.)
Technological fantasies aside, these so-called leaders leave one question unanswered:
In what school of economics is it taught that when you knowingly and systematically destroy your home planet, you get another one to plunder for free? What part of “there is no Planet B” did they not understand?