The points in time at which various ancient human societies began to go the wrong way (whether by force from outsiders, or by bad decisions made from within) are numerous and span thousands of years, but, thankfully for our future, some few remotely-situated Indigenous societies around the world never departed from those basic, ancient ways of seeing and living with the natural world and still have enough of their ancestral homelands not yet confiscated or destroyed by colonialist predators to make that continuance possible. The Kogi people of the northern Andes mountains in Colombia are a prime and now well-known example, as are some of the more remote tribes to the south and east of them in the Amazon rainforest. Other relatively intact traditional indigenous societies exist in remote locations in central Africa, the Pacific islands, northern and southeastern Asia, and a few other remote locations in the Americas and elsewhere. It is by learning from people such as these, and from all of our relations in the non-human world as well, that we might be able to find our way back to truly green, sustainable and regenerative ways of life. There are also many more Indigenous peoples throughout the world who have just a little or none of their ancestral homelands still accessible to them, retain only pieces of their traditional cultural values and practices, and have just a small number of tribal members who are still fluent in their ancestral languages. Colonialism, capitalism, cultural oppression, and intercultural relations have brought many changes to them, but, even so, for people whose encounter with wrong ways of living is more recent than most of the rest of humanity, the way back to truly green eco-harmony might be a little easier.
Unless a community consciously agrees to put the needs of their entire local ecosystem and all lives within it first, above what they conceive to be human needs, their community will someday fail and collapse.
As clearly as we now see that the concept of utopian societies was never meant to mean “perfect” societies, it should also be clearly understood that traditional Indigenous societies were never perfect either, just as no human society has ever been perfect and none ever will. But, model ideal societies do not have to be perfect to provide inspiration, wisdom, and direction for our paths forward into the difficult future. It is interesting to note that the first contacts that European colonialists and their descendants had with Indigenous peoples of the western hemisphere (or, “the Americas” and the first people to be called “Americans”) inspired a small wave of utopian thinking that lasted for centuries, and now, in this time of profound global crises, many people are looking to Indigenous individuals, societies and cultures for guidance and leadership towards resolution of the current crises and for ways to create viable, Earth-sustaining and regenerative future communities. Many utopian community social experiments have come and gone over the last five centuries, and one reason why the vast majority of them failed is that they did not look closely enough at the models to be found in Indigenous societies all over the world. While some communities have mimicked Indigenous, eco-based, reciprocal economic models to some extent, and others have imitated Indigenous representative political models, there are two elements of the original ways of human social organization, which nearly all non-Indigenous-led utopian communal experiments have missed, and which are essential to ideal community success. One element is the understanding that humans are just one of millions of types of people (or, “species”) who all have the potential to make essential, invaluable contributions to the interconnected web of regenerative life on Earth. All species of the living world belong here and need each other. People from anthropocentric, “human needs first,” or “humans-are-most-important,” or “humans are superior to all other species” societies have an extremely difficult time trying to see that, unless they somehow acquire a special ability to break free from that very powerful mass delusion. Unless a community consciously agrees to put the needs of their entire local ecosystem and all lives within it first, above what they conceive to be human needs, their community will someday fail and collapse. A big step on the way to getting there is to realize that the greatest human need is to be in tune with the needs of the entire living organism to which we are all connected.
The second element is the need to learn how to have deep communion or interactive communication (listening, hearing, and being heard) with all of our non-human relations in the natural world (animals, plants, earth, water, fire and air). That idea sounds very unreal, or even impossible, to most modern humans today, but there are many stories and indications that most of our species once had and commonly engaged in such abilities, throughout most of our history as homo sapiens sapiens. Although I probably will not be able to recover much of our former fluency in such communion, after 70 years of living in this corrupt, lost, degenerated modern industrial world, I will remain committed to working on that quest for all of the remaining time that I have to live in this body, with all of the species by which I am surrounded. Why? Because I expect that we can learn more about what Mother Earth wants from us and how we can be healed and corrected, from our innocent, already-connected, harmonious, right-living, non-human relatives than we can from just listening to and following other humans. Daniel Wildcat (Yuchi, Muskogee), professor of American Indian Studies at Haskell University, helped to clarify this Indigenous perspective in his ground-breaking 2009 book, Red Alert: Saving the Planet with Indigenous Knowledge:
Current scientific research on animal communication overwhelmingly verifies the existence of complex communication systems. Honesty and humility require us to acknowledge that indigenous knowledge, in its diverse substance and structure, is the result of collaboration, a respectful partnership, between us and our many other-than-human relatives. Several tribal elders I have known have been almost matter-of-fact about their ability to exercise interspecies communication with animals.
The old ability to also commune with and hear the languages of the plant beings is eloquently described by Potawatomi scholar and award-winning nature writer, Robin Wall Kimmerer in a recent essay that was re-published in Yes! magazine:
The Indigenous story tradition speaks of a past in which all beings spoke the same language and life lessons flowed among species. But we have forgotten—or been made to forget—how to listen so that all we hear is sound, emptied of its meaning. The soft sibilance of pine needles in the wind is an acoustic signature of pines. But this well-known “whispering of pines” is just a sound, it is not their voice….Traditional cultures who sit beneath the white pines recognize that human people are only one manifestation of intelligence in the living world. Other beings, from Otters to Ash trees, are understood as persons, possessed of their own gifts, responsibilities, and intentions. This is not some kind of mistaken anthropomorphism….Trees are not misconstrued as leaf-wearing humans but respected as unique, sovereign beings equal to or exceeding the power of humans.
We definitely won’t get to successful, regenerative, natural Life-connected communities just from reading books written by other humans. This is not a simple philosophical exercise or an intellectual parlor game. We have to actually live the interconnected life, under natural laws and the wise limits of Mother Earth, on a finite but abundantly sufficient planet. That was the old normal way of living for the vast majority of our species, for the overwhelming majority of the time of our existence in Earth.
Some other essential elements for successful utopian societies at this particular moment in global history, besides the two most important elements mentioned above, include:
A group of people with a common enough vision or sense of direction, not excessive in population for the particular place in which they live so that they do not overshoot the carrying capacity of their local ecosystem or need to trade with the world outside their community for material goods, and can help to maintain regenerative processes and relationships between all species of life in that local ecosystem/community. Eventually, the community would need to determine their own membership or citizenship requirements and limits.
Access to sufficient land and clean water. This might require that people pool their financial resources and purchase land together. A more remote rural location would be safer, but for people who feel that they must remain living in urban locations, at least for the short-term future, city or town governments sometimes lease vacant lots relatively cheap for use as community gardens.
Sufficient collective knowledge and experience within the community membership about how to care for and nurture a wide variety of edible plants, either native to the place where the community lives or compatible with that ecosystem, to organically grow or gather for food and medicine. Knowledge in sustainable, respectful hunting and fishing might also be useful or necessary.
A commitment by all community members to expanding the community’s collective knowledge of the lifeways and connections between all species in the community’s ecosystem and learning how humans best fit into the interconnected purposes of life in that place. Knowledge of the lifeways of the people who were, or still are, indigenous to that place is an essential part of this process. As much as it may be possible, that knowledge should come directly from the people who are indigenous to the community’s place, whenever and how much they may be willing to share that knowledge, and such people should be invited into those communities and have leadership roles there, if they choose to do so. Generally, though, most Indigenous peoples would prefer to form their own ideal communities on their own ancestral lands or reservations.
Although ideal or utopian communities may need to use some money to get the community started, ideal communal economies should eventually become moneyless, direct-from-and-back-to-nature (ecologically reciprocal), mutually reciprocal, life-giving and sharing societies. In the formerly normal pre-monetary world, a society’s wealth was received directly from relationship with the natural world and was preserved or enhanced by maintaining a good, respectful, reciprocal relationship with the natural world. If our economic dependency is on the well-being of local natural systems, that is what we take care of and if our dependency is upon money, then that is what we care about most. In old Indigenous societies, the honorable attitude was to look out for the well-being of all people (human and non-human) in the community, give generously without worrying about what you will receive in return, and NOT measure out individual material possessions mathematically, to assure exactly equal portions of everything to each individual. In a culturally generous gifting economy, sometimes individuals or families would be honored in a ceremony and receive many gifts from the community, making them temporarily rich in material possessions. On another occasion a family or individual might sponsor a feast for the whole community and give gifts to all who attended until they had no more possessions left to give. When such activities were frequent and commonplace and people knew that they were connected to a generous, caring, cooperative, reciprocating community, of both human and non-human beings, there was no anxiety or sense of loss about giving one’s possessions away. Generosity was such a highly-esteemed, honorable character trait, that people sometimes actually competed with each other to become the most generous. There was also social shaming attached to being stingy or greedy, which is seen in some of the old stories, along with the stories about generosity and other positive traits.
The community would need to mutually agree upon a governing structure and decision-making processes for issues that involve or impact the entire community (including the ecosystem and non-human members of the community). Community rules and laws should conform to and not violate nature’s laws. Effective government depends on mutual respect and/or love, listening and communication skills, common core vision and goals, honesty, transparency, and a commitment by all community members to working on and continually improving their self-governing skills.
Democratic or consensus decision-making about what technologies and tools will be allowed in the community, again giving highest regard to what would be best for the entire ecological community and for the connected biosphere of our whole planet.
Here again are the first two necessary elements of ideal community creation (explained above, before this list), reduced to nutshell, outline form:
Relinquish all anthropocentrism and any concepts of human superiority over all of the other species that we share interconnected life with in our ecosystems and in the entire biosphere of Mother Earth. Recognize the interconnected value of all species of life and keep that recognition at the forefront of all community decision making. (How can the species that is the most destructive to Life on Earth be rightfully considered “superior” to any other species, much less to all of them?)
All individuals in the community should commit themselves to actively developing our formerly common human abilities to commune deeply with and communicate (listening, hearing, and being heard) with other species in our inter-connected natural world. Since, for many of us, our ancestors lost those abilities hundreds or even thousands of years ago, a community should make no requirements about the speed at which those abilities should be developed. It should not be a contest, but, instead, a mutually-encouraging, enjoyable, natural process. With each successful step that any individual makes in this endeavor, the entire community gains greater ability to more closely follow nature’s laws and gains a better sense of how humans were meant to participate in and contribute to Earth’s living systems.
There are probably many more essential elements of community formation, structure, and actual operation which people may feel they need to consider and discuss. The reason that I titled this essay “Paths (plural) Forward….) was to acknowledge that there will be innumerable forms that ideal communities will take, throughout the world, depending upon the needs of local ecosystems and all of their inhabitants, the will of the particular communities, their sense of the common good, and whatever creative ideas that they come up with.
Some Obstacles and Possible Scenarios on the Near Future Paths Forward, both Good and Bad:
The idea of giving up and abandoning modern technologies is unthinkable and even abhorrent to most present-day humans. Besides those humans who have an abundance or excess of such things, many people around the world who own very few modern technology products are also repulsed by the idea that they might have to give up even the dream or desire to have such things. To abruptly switch to pre-20th century, or earlier, technologies would be excruciatingly painful to most modern, western industrialized people, and even a slow transition would be quite hard. It is possible that, to somewhat ease the transition to truly green and bio-sustainable living, we could just end the production of toxic modern technological products, while still using those things that already exist until they’re spent or broken (but cease immediately from using items that burn fossil fuels or emit other toxic wastes, in their production or consumption), and then not replace them. Some items could possibly be re-constructed from discarded parts, until such things are no longer available. During the time span in which the old manufactured goods are being used up, people would simultaneously need to be very actively engaged with learning to bio-sustainably produce the things that they actually need and that are actually green or Earth system friendly. That might be, at least in part, what a viable transition could look like. Obviously, most people today would absolutely reject and resist such a change, due partly to not knowing any other way to live, alienation from nature, fear of the unknown, and belief in, addiction to, or imprisonment by their normal material culture. Just wrapping their minds around the realization that so many things that they had always considered to be normal and innocent should probably never have been made, will be nearly inconceivable to most, at least initially. I remember how hard it hit me when I first realized that we just cannot continue to go forward with the status quo social systems and most of their by-products and still have a living world for very long. But how many will give it a second thought or change their minds after personally experiencing the increasingly common excruciating pain of global warming natural disasters? At some very near future point, relief agencies, all of which have finite resources, will not be able to keep up with the increasingly frequent catastrophic events, including more pandemics (connected to thawing permafrost, increased trade and travel, and increasing displacements and migrations of humans and other species). Is the creation of ideal or “utopian” local eco-communities, immediately and proactively—like building the lifeboats before the ship actually sinks—the best possible and most viable path forward, both for humanity and the rest of Life on Earth?
Because of the likelihood that modern industrial humans will not respond quickly or adequately enough to sufficiently (or even significantly) alter our present global destruction trajectory, the creation of utopian eco-communities might become more of a post-collapse source for places of refuge or survival and healing for those relative few who do manage to survive, than a means for actually providing an appealing alternative to continuing with the status quo, or just limiting the harm caused by our predicament. It may be likely that even those of us who would like to create utopian eco-communities would have a hard time doing so as long as the option of continuing with the status quo still exists, because we are so conditioned to depend on or desire many of the things that society offers us. Either way, though—whether prior to the collapse of the status quo or after—the creation of such communities would be a good thing and probably the least futile use of our time, attention and energy.
I offer here a brief assortment of some possible near-future scenarios, both positive and negative:
1. Sometime within the next five years, about 60% of humans around the world decide to create local eco-utopian communities, following the old Indigenous principles described above, and begin the process of abandoning modern industrial technological social systems and structures. Soon after that, we also begin the difficult process of safely de-commissioning all of the existing nuclear power and nuclear weapons facilities in the world and sealing away the radioactive materials therein. The bio-system collapse already set in motion to that point continues, but at a rapidly diminishing rate, as Earth’s regenerating systems are allowed to take over and bring gradual healing and an opportunity for a new direction for humanity, rather than repeating our former disastrous mistakes. As the human people begin to experience the joy of re-discovering our real purpose as part of Earth’s interconnected life-regenerating systems, while simultaneously grieving about all of the increased suffering of the humans who are still stuck in the collapsing, chaotic old industrial societies, and offering refuge to any persons that their communities can take in, many ask each other the question, “why didn’t we start doing this much sooner?”
2. In the initial first few years of the international, local utopian eco-community movement, very few people take it seriously and the vast majority of humanity knows nothing about it. Government security agencies in the wealthiest nations of the world know about it, but only because they spy on everybody, and not because they see the movement as a serious threat, as they assume it would never catch on due to the common unquestioning submission to the system and consumer addictions to modern technology and over-consumption. During those same first few years, the corporate-controlled wealthiest governments are much more concerned with the growing far right wing revolutionary movements in the U.S. and much of Europe than they are with the mild-mannered, willing to work through the system, so-called “left.” The fringe right, or the tail that wags the Republican Party dog, successfully breaks Donald Trump out of prison, and re-elects him as President in 2024, then designates him to be “President-for-life.” Though at one time useful tools for the ruling class’s divide and conquer strategy, at this point the rulers determine that they have become somewhat unmanageable, since an obvious one party state is not as useful or dependable as two parties masquerading as opposites, when they actually serve the same corporate economic masters. So, the corporate rulers decide to make the far right wingers of the U.S. an example to the far right in Europe and to any on the far left in the U.S. who might be encouraged to try something similar with the harder to wag Democratic Party dog. The U.S. military is called in, they stage a coup against Trump and his cohorts, and begin mass imprisonments, and some executions, of many of the remaining right wing revolutionaries (except for the ones who cooperate with the government, making deals and submissions in order to save their “me first” lives). It is only after that that the governments of the wealthy nations of the world and their corporate handlers begin to notice that the utopian community movement had grown exponentially during the years that they were pre-occupied with the far right. Of course they had noticed that consumer spending had diminished considerably throughout the “developed world,” but had attributed that to other usual economic factors and to the extensive hardships caused by the increasing natural disasters, including the most recent pandemics. Once they realize that the eco-utopian movement has the potential to completely bring down the prevailing economic system, they get right on it. One useful tactic they find for dealing with the situation is to employ the now scattered, frustrated, scorned, unemployable, and even more fearful far righters as mercenary soldiers against the eco-utopians, whom they easily scapegoat for the deteriation of the economy, with very little need for indoctrination. Most of the righters agree to serve just because of the promise made to them that they would get their guns back after they complete their service to the country. Simultaneously, the EU, Russia, China and other governments use their more conventional militaries and other methods of persuasion and suppression to deal with the situation.
3. Instead of rejecting modern industrial technological society altogether, the majority decides to try technological “fixes” to our predicament instead. They generally agree that saving the capitalist system, their precious, hard-fought-for careers, and their even more precious levels of material consumption are more important than saving biological life on Earth itself. But, in order to save capitalism and the status quo civilization, and avoid an international socialist revolution, they realize that some more significant and more convincing gestures need to be made toward CO2 reduction. In 2023, production and installation of solar electricity panels and wind farms begins to increase rapidly throughout the world, along with all of the toxic, CO2-producing mining, manufacturing, construction, deforesting and defoliating of natural habitats for new power lines as well as for the new power installations themselves, road-building, hauling of equipment, workers, and the products themselves to retailers and installation sites, and more—all of which involve a huge increase in the burning of fossil fuels. Even though the alleged purpose for all of that increased industrial activity would be to replace fossil fuels with “green energy technologies” at the scale needed to keep the precious system going and growing and create more jobs, the unexpected or oft-denied negative consequences soon become nearly undeniable (but humans have the ability to deny just about anything—or, actually, just anything). The oil, lithium, and “green energy” companies then use their greatly increased profits for advertising and indoctrinating people to trust the new “green” uses for fossil fuels. They also use some of the new profits to purchase the cooperation of additional politicians and entire governments in protecting their enterprises. The bio-system collapse, natural disaster and mass extinction trajectory then continues, at a more rapid rate.
4. By 2033, it becomes widely obvious to the majority of humans that the “green” energy techno-fix for the continuation and growth of modern industrial capitalism is not really that green and is actually exacerbating global warming and the continually increasing environmental catastrophes, while pulling attention and resources away from both the urgently-needed disaster relief and the struggle against the seemingly endless parade of new pandemic diseases. Because they still have not developed any proven technologies or machinery for sucking CO2 out of the atmosphere at anywhere near the rate needed to get back to the 2° C “point of no return,” which we had already passed back in 2028, the ruling class then decides to proceed with the next great, unproven, theoretical techno-fix: injecting sulfides and/or other chemicals into Earth’s only, increasingly fragile, atmosphere in an attempt to block or reduce much of Father Sun’s gift of radiant light and warmth—a technology called “geoengineering,” or artificially forced Earth cooling. Very soon after the first widespread use of that techno-fix, we then get a “Snowpiercer” scenario, but without the horrific, impossible, perpetual-motion prison train “lifeboat.” We just get the entire planet frozen to death.
5. The complete collapse of the modern industrial economy occurs in the year 2029, due to multiple factors (too many to list here, but they include some of those listed in the scenarios above and many things that are actually happening RIGHT NOW). The radical left finally realizes then that a real opportunity for a successful socialist revolution is now upon them, effectively dropped right into their laps. They can actually just vote it right in, throughout the so-called “developed world.” Seeing the writing on the wall, the trillionaires and billionaires decide that the whole planet has become unmanageable and too out of control, so they make one last plundering of the planet’s gifts (a.k.a., “resources”) to build up their private spaceship fleets and build more space stations, in preparation for their last grand exit. Many of the millionaires and wannabe trillionaires do whatever they can to join them and those who fail to make the escape then also fail at a last ditch attempt to save capitalism. Many eco-utopians and eco-socialists advise the more conventional Marxist socialists that socialism will fail without putting the needs of the natural world first (instead of just the humans) and doing away with money. After much productive discussion around the world, in-person and by the internet (whenever the intermittent grid is up and running) it is generally agreed that nation states and empires have run their course, done much more net harm to life in Earth and the common good of humans than their assumed “benefits” can make up for, so the human people decide to abolish all such political entities. They also decide that, instead of nations, human societies should be small, local, eco-centered, non-monetary and truly democratic, while staying in touch with each other through communication networks, with or without the electric grid. For several decades after that glorious beginning, as the Earth begins to heal through natural regenerative processes and the humans begin to discover who they really are and how they fit within the Whole of Life, they also discuss whether or not they should continue to use electricity, and, if so, what limits upon such use does Mother Earth and all our non-human relations recommend to us?
6. OK, just one more possible near-future scenario to give here, although I am sure that we all could think of many more. Nuclear war breaks out between the U.S. and China in 2022, with additional participation from Russia, the EU, and North Korea. China targets both the Yellowstone caldera and the San Andreas fault. We get combined nuclear and volcanic winter, and the Earth freezes to death. A couple of the trillionaires, with their entourages, manage last minute, rushed, and not completely prepared, spaceship exits, and end up starving to death in outer space within a couple of years (having extended the time of their survival with cannibalism, of course).
Which of the above scenarios seems most likely to occur, in your opinion? Do you think that something else would be more likely and, if so, what? What would you like to see happen? Do you feel free to think with utopian creativity? If not, do you understand why that is? Would you like to have that freedom and engage in such creativity for the common good?
I realize that, for many of you, this may be the first time that you have heard of many of these dismal realities regarding the present condition and future prospects of life on Earth. As I began to say earlier, I have not forgotten the dismay, anger and other emotions that I felt when I first became aware of some of these facts (and other facts that I did not go into here), several years ago. There are many other people, around the world, who are going through the same thing and there are support groups and other resources that have been formed over the years to help people get through this together and peacefully adapt to it. For me, the way I deal with it best is to try to create alternative, natural living paths forward. Just because the status quo way of societal life is doomed does not necessarily mean that all life or all potential human societies are doomed.
I also realize that for many of you this may be the first time that anybody ever told you that utopian does not really mean “perfect” or impossible, and that exercising our utopian creativity might be not only a good thing, but an absolutely essential thing to do at this particular time. It might also be the case that you have never heard that traditional Indigenous societies and lifeways might provide us with models for viable, Life-saving, Earth-protecting, regenerative paths forward at this time, instead of being the “miserable,” “brutal,” “struggles for existence” that you might have heard about in some anthropology class. The future might indeed look like it is going to be a painful struggle for life, for both humans and non-humans, but engaging in survival efforts as communities with united visions, a common sense of purpose, seeking the common good for each other and for all species of life in our local community worlds, will be much easier and more enjoyable than trying to pursue mere survival as “rugged individuals” or rugged little nuclear family units. Embarking upon these paths forward to “utopian,” ideal, or best possible and ever-improving human eco-communities might be what our Mother Earth and all of our relations of all inter-connected Life have been yearning for us to do for thousands of years! I am excited to find out what we will learn in the actual doings.
Banner image: The Kogi village and tribal community of Tairona, in northern Colombia.
George Price (descendant of the Assonet band of the Wampanoag tribal nation of Massachusetts) has been living with his family on their five-acre organic, polyculture farm on the Flathead Indian Reservation in Montana since the summer of 1985. He retired from a 33-year teaching career in 2018, which included teaching Native American Studies, American History, and African American Studies at the University of Montana for 20 years. Since he is no longer working “through the system,” he is devoting the remainder of his life to Earth/Water protecting, organic farming, food sovereignty, constructive communicating, and replacing industrial technophile capitalism with local, eco-harmonious, EarthLife-centric, cooperative, alternative communities.
 Here is a link to the only free access to the amazing old documentary film on the Kogis, “ From the Heart of the World: The Elder Brothers’ Warning”:
https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=hRgTtrQOiR0 The written introduction to the film at the top of the post, contains an excellent explanation on why the Kogi people do not want to receive tourists or other visitors on their lands. What humans who want to return to our original harmonious ways need to start doing is to work on listening to and following the voices of our relations in the non-human portion of this inter-connected life world. That is an ability that all First Peoples had for most of the time of our existence as humans on this Earth, and it is still the best source of true guidance. Stop looking to modern humans and guru types for the light that we all need that is freely available in our natural, inter-connected world (both within and outside of our bodies).
 I am afraid that if I name and give more precise locations for these model Indigenous societies, some eco-tourists, missionaries, or other modern humans might find them and corrupt or destroy them.
 I must acknowledge here that, like all human demographic groups, the multitude of Indigenous peoples, world-wide, have much variation among individuals within their unique individual societies—in personal experiences, adaptation to historical circumstances, retaining of cultural traditions, level of wealth or success within the imposed colonialist economic systems, and several other factors that impact cultural resiliency and recovery.
 Besides Thomas More, other colonial era European writers who imagined “utopian” societies and were inspired, in part, by what they had heard about Indigenous peoples of the Americas include Jean-Jacques Rousseau (The Social Contract, 1762), Tomasso Campanella (City of the Sun, 1602, English translation, 1623), Thomas Bacon (New Atlantis, 1626), and James Harrington (The Commonwealth of Oceana, 1656). Benjamin Franklin is known to have admired the form of government of the Iroquois (Haudenosaunee) Confederacy and to have recommended to his fellow revolutionaries that they copy the Haudenosaunee, to some extent. See, Donald A. Grinde, Jr. and Bruce E. Johansen, Exemplar of Liberty: Native America and the Evolution of Democracy, UCLA American Indian Studies Center, 1991, pp.96-98, but really, the whole book.
 If not a need or dependency, such trade could remain optional, to preserve good relations with neighbors, and provide things not available in the community location that would do no harm if brought in to the community.
 Some of us old-timers who tried to go in that direction back in the late 1960’s on through the 1980’s and failed will probably have plenty to say about that. Barb and I lived communally (in shared houses and living spaces) from 1970 until 1973 and in intentional community (separate households on shared land) from 1982 to 1985.
 Although I do not agree with them about everything, two people who it has been said are very helpful with that kind of support are Joanna Macy and Michael Dowd (they work separately).
 That is enough about the “whys” of this for now, partly because the essay is getting very long. I’ll be glad to hear from others now, in the comments below and elsewhere, and will turn my attention now and in future blog posts to more about the “hows” of it all. But, I know that the real knowledge, wisdom, and joy, will come through the doing, not just the words.
Editor’s note: This is what environmental justice looks like. Not NGOs dictating what lands will be set aside for 30×30, which is just greenwashing colonialism. It is the people whose land it is making those decisions and the governments enforcing them.
An Indigenous community in southwest Colombia established a protected reserve in the face of illegal logging, mining and coca cultivation being carried out by criminal groups.
The Eperãra Siapidaarã peoples are especially interested in protecting the extremely poisonous golden dart frog, which they historically used in their darts while hunting.
Despite establishing the reserve, the community has more work to do to fend off violent non-state armed groups.
One of the most poisonous animals on earth, the golden dart frog carries enough toxins in its body to kill 10 people. If it enters the blood stream, the toxin paralyzes the nervous system and, in only a few minutes, stops the heart from beating.
The golden dart frog (Phyllobates terribilis) is found only in southwest Colombia, where mountains and rainforest meet the mangroves of the Pacific coast. For centuries, the Indigenous communities there harvested the toxin for their hunting darts. But in recent years, as criminal activity has spread through the area, some communities have begun to worry that the frog might disappear.
“The advancing agricultural frontier, mining and the expansion of illicit coca crops impinge on the life of the frog because it’s endemic to that one area,” said Luis Ortega, director of the environmental group Fundación Ecohabitats. “All the time, there’s less and less habitat for them.”
For some Indigenous peoples in the area, such as the Eperãra Siapidaarã of Timbiqui, the golden dart frog is more than a hunting tool. It’s also a central figure in their culture, and the reason their ancestors were able to survive after being relocated to the coast during Spanish colonization.
During that time, the frog’s poison helped save the community by giving it an easy way to hunt. Now, it was the community’s turn to help save the frog.
The best way to do this, the Eperãra Siapidaarã decided, was to establish a natural reserve that they would protect and maintain themselves.
“We have the working spirit to defend this territory,” community leader Carlos Quiro told Mongabay.
Quiro and the Eperãra Siapidaarã had already worked with the Colombian government on land titling issues in their territory as well as to help preserve mangroves and other local ecosystems. But these measures weren’t stopping the habitat destruction.
Non-state armed groups, including paramilitaries and guerrillas, have been deforesting the Chocó Biogeographical Region for decades. In recent years, they have pushed into Eperãra Siapidaarã territory to plant coca for drug production, sometimes leading to violent land disputes between rival groups.
In 2009, Colombia recognized the Eperãra Siapidaarã as one of the Indigenous peoples at risk of extinction due to the country’s ongoing armed conflict.
There are also three legal gold and silver mining operations upstream from Eperãra Siapidaarã territory, which satellite data suggest have advanced well beyond their concessions, according to Fundación Ecohabitats. Some residents noticed that the fish pulled from local rivers were becoming smaller and scarcer than in previous years, likely as a result of the pollution.
The makings of a reserve
In 2017, community leaders started meeting with Fundación Ecohabitats, the Cauca department government and the Ministry of Interior about developing a protected area for the golden dart frog. It would not require demarcating new land, they proposed, but instead absorb more than half of the community’s existing territory.
With funding from the Rainforest Trust, meetings were held for the next two years to discuss where the community wanted to establish the reserve and what conservation initiatives they should prioritize. In addition to protecting the golden dart frog’s habitat, residents were interested in stewarding the area’s many watersheds and developing a land use plan that would allow them to continue harvesting forest resources for their cultural, medicinal and spiritual practices.
Younger members of the community were trained in geographic information systems to assist with mapping the boundaries of the new reserve and carrying out patrols, while others studied tourism and business in hopes of turning their artisanal forestry practices into a sustainable source of income.
In September 2019, after years of work, the community officially announced the establishment of the 11,641-hectare (28,765-acre) K´õk´õi Eujã Traditional Natural Reserve — Territory of the Golden Dart Frog.
So far, it hasn’t stopped non-state armed groups from engaging in violent confrontations over control of coca production near Eperãra Siapidaarã territory. It also can’t do anything to prevent pollution from the illegal mining operations upstream. But with the newly established reserve, residents say they feel they have more of a fighting chance.
“There are areas abundant with plants for medicinal use,” Quiro said, “and there is also another area, another mountain range, where there are many trees that are useful for families, so we are benefiting from that. They are very important to the Eperãra Siapidaarã.”
The reserve contains 41 plant species and 11 bird species endemic to Colombia, according to the community’s preliminary research. It is also home to dozens of rare and threatened species, including the night scented orchid (Epidendrum nocturnum) and Licania velata.
The community is still training its rangers in data collection that will help it better understand how these different species are faring in the reserve. Right now, there isn’t hard data on the golden dart frog population or whether it has improved since the reserve was founded. Empirical evidence suggests that it has rebounded, community members say, but they want to know for certain.
One of the Eperãra Siapidaarã’s next goals is to collaborate with biologists and the local government on scientific research projects that will strengthen their understanding of the forest ecosystem, and then to use that work to make better decisions as a community.
In October and November, for example, the golden dart frog begins reproducing. Quiro said he wants to learn more about that process and what can be done to ensure it isn’t interrupted.
“It interests me a lot,” he said. “To understand that experience and, equally important, to share it with the younger generations.”
Editor’s note: THE FIRST LARGE SCALE NATURE CONSERVATION AGREEMENT (NCA) IN THE WORLD. You should be afraid, very afraid. (NCA) is a different acronym for (NGO). It is the new colonialism, green , clean and renewable. The market will not solve climate change or loss of biodiversity. The market can only cause those problems. Don’t let them tell you otherwise. Free and Informed Prior Consent and may I add control by keeping corporations out. Abolish all corporations and their money.
To the surprise of Indigenous and local communities, a huge forest carbon conservation agreement was recently signed in the Malaysian state of Sabah on the island of Borneo.
Granting rights to foreign entities on more than two million hectares of the state’s tropical forests for the next 100-200 years, civil society groups have called for more transparency.
“Is history repeating itself? Are we not yet free or healed from our colonial and wartime histories?” wonders a Sabahan civil society leader who authored this opinion piece calling for more information, more time, and a say.
This post is a commentary. The views expressed are those of the author, not necessarily of Mongabay.
“Bornean communities locked into 2-million-hectare carbon deal they don’t know about” – 9 Nov 2021, Mongabay
This was the headline Sabah woke up to on the morning of November 10th. Before the Mongabay story broke, I heard from Australian friends and allies as early as July that something was afoot. Forests, carbon, climate and communities are core to our collaborative work between civil society and government. I asked colleagues in government if they had any information but did not hear a clear response.
Over the weeks, I heard increasingly ominous whisperings. On 28 October, I received an email from international partners who had seen a Sabah deal – claimed to be signed in August – mentioned by external corporate entities in presentation materials. They were curious if I knew anything about it.
The materials were presented by Tierra Australia, Hoch Standard and Global Natural Capital (GNC) – seemingly Australian, Singaporean and Malaysian entities. Here are two slides from the 43 pages I received:
A month later, I’m still struggling to understand why and how this happened – and why we had to learn about it from outside Sabah.
Much has been revealed since then. We’ve now read numerous press articles, social media posts and reposts. We’ve seen online videos of the home offices of our new partners and footage of Hoch Standard’s Corporate Advisor Stan Golokin representing Sabah at COP26 in Glasgow, explaining carbon. We’ve read fact sheets and due diligence reports and realized that we don’t know who Sabah has signed this deal with. And some of us attended a briefing where Datuk Dr. Jeffrey Kitingan and team ‘mansplained‘ the deal to the public and civil society, after the deal was made.
But we have not heard the truth.
Read a November 24, 2021 update on this developing story here.
I identify as a community member of Sabah. I care about what happens to this tanahair (homeland) we belong to, over the next 100 years and then 100 years beyond that and onwards. I worry about whether our future communities can have food and water, and can be safe, self-determined, and sovereign. I aspire to be a good ancestor.
I, like many people in Sabah, yearn for true leadership that I can trust. I have zero tolerance for vague, unintelligible platitudes and half-truths disguised as leadership. It is an insult to our intelligence.
When will we finally stop with messiah/savior politics? With leaders who only have one tune in their repertoire – divide and rule with promises of wealth – and whose approach to fighting Federal Patriarchy, nationalism and ketuanan (patronage) involves using the exact same rhetoric? I urge us to get out of this delusional and dysfunctional trance before we lose everything and ourselves with it.
With the British North Borneo Chartered Company/Hoch Standard/Tierra Australia, is history repeating itself? Are we not yet free or healed from our colonial and wartime histories? Are we still riddled with illusions of inferiority and such self-doubt that we will step away from responsibility and sovereignty again? And hand our power, our rights, to those who have no idea who we are and what tanahair means?
Has patronage politics disempowered us and debilitated our agency? How can we stand back while discourse and democracy are replaced by silence and blind loyalty to the “lord” (Tuan, Datuk, Tan Sri, Bos, etc.)?
The more our doors are closed, the less transparent our processes become, and the wider the division between us. The more divided we are, the more future-altering decisions are made for the majority by a disconnected few. The more this is normalized, the smaller and less human we become, and more corruption breeds.
Two million hectares is more than a quarter of Sabah, two million hectares of forests is more than half our forests, 100 years is about four generations, 200 years is double that.
This is big. So big and so long that Sabahans deserve and need information and time – and a say. We do not want to be presented a gift of a done deal with bags of money (to perpetuate patronage politics); prior and open fact-sharing, communication and consultation is what we want and in fact demand from our leaders.
Many of us in the social and environmental justice and conservation fields have spent decades working on a range of issues with growing intersectionality. We have nurtured real and trusting relationships both on the ground in Sabah and out in the world. We sought and continue to seek political and societal will and ambition for an equitable, climate-resilient future for Sabah.
We collectively, and in collaboration with Sabah’s civil service, have the confidence, capacities, expertise and partnerships necessary to build a home-grown, bottom-up process: a Sabah process. We do not require the unknown services of a Tierra Australia or the benevolence of a Hoch Standard to tell us who we are, what we have and how we need to manage it.
Is it possible to salvage this moment for Sabah?
Clean up, repent, learn. Pick ourselves up and build a self-governing, sovereign carbon future for Sabah.
The Indigenous Environmental Network condemns the actions of Canada as it inflicts settler violence against the Wet’suwet’en peoples, hypocritically breaking both Wet’suwet’en and Canadian law to push TC Energy’s illegal Coastal Gaslink pipeline through unceded territories.
By entering sovereign Wet’suwet’en territory with RCMP, dogs and assault rifles we are witnessing state-sanctioned violence on behalf of an Oil company, and such barbarous acts of violence inflicted upon Indigenous peoples cannot be defended. These attacks by RCMP are nothing less than Human Rights violations as defined by the United Nations, and acts of extreme detriment to the inherent sovereignty of the Wet’suwet’en. The Wet’suwet’en have asserted self-governance over their territories since time immemorial, and it is their inherent right to defend their lands, resources and bodies from foreign aggressors. They have signed no treaties nor have they relinquished title to their lands. They are not part of so-called Canada and have not consented to bearing the burden of the world’s dependence on an extractive industry such as oil.
We will continue to support the Wet’suwet’en in their struggle and call on others to join us in supporting our relatives. From disrupting business as usual to divesting from banks funding the theft of Indigenous lands, there are steps we can all take to stand with our relatives. These barbarous acts of violent aggression must cease and the inherent right to self determination must be upheld.
How You Can Help:
Over the past two days heavily militarized RCMP tactical team have descending on Coyote Camp with snipers, assault rifles, and K9 units,
In total, eleven people were arrested at Coyote Camp, including Gidimt’en Checkpoint spokesperson, Sleydo’, and Dinï’ze Woos’ daughter, Jocey. Four more were arrested at 44km later that day, including Sleydo’s husband, Cody.
Solidarity actions began immediately. Now is the time. Plan, organize or join an action where you are.
Issue a solidarity statement from your organization or group and tag us.
The Wet’suwet’en Hereditary Chiefs represent a governance system that predates colonization and the Indian Act which was created in an attempt to outlaw Indigenous peoples from their lands.
The Wet’suwet’en have continued to exercise their unbroken, unextinguished, and unceded right to govern and occupy their lands by continuing and empowering the clan-based governance system to this day. Under Wet’suwet’en law, clans have a responsibility and right to control access to their territories.
The validity of the Wet’suwet’en house and clan system was verified in the Delgamuukw and Red Top Decisions that uphold the authority of the hereditary system on Wet’suwet’en traditional territories.
At this very moment a standoff is unfolding, the outcome of which will determine the future of Northern “BC” for generations to come. Will the entire region be overtaken by the fracking industry, or will Indigenous people asserting their sovereignty be successful in repelling the assault on their homelands?
The future is unwritten. What comes next will be greatly influenced by actions taken in the coming days and weeks. This is a long-term struggle, but it is at a critical moment. That is why we say: The Time is Now. If you are a person of conscience and you understand the magnitude of what is at stake, ask yourself how you might best support the grassroots Wet’suwet’en.
In the midst of a long conflict and recent protest over a nickel mine in El Estor, in eastern Guatemala, police have carried out more than 40 raids and 60 arrests, and the government has declared a 30-day state of emergency.
Indigenous Mayan opponents to the mine say they were never properly consulted about the mine and its impacts on their lands, livelihoods and lake, and protested on the town’s main road, refusing passage to mining vehicles.
Four police were shot during the police crackdown on protests by what the government blames as armed protestors, although mine opponents say the assailants were not involved in the protest.
There are concerns mining operations will pose environmental damages to Guatemala’s largest lake, home to diverse fish, bird, reptile and mammal species, including the endangered Guatemalan black howler monkey (Alouatta pigra).
EL ESTOR, Guatemala — Germán Chub was still sleeping when police and military personnel showed up outside his home. It was the fourth day of a month-long state of siege, akin to martial law, in El Estor, eastern Guatemala, in the wake of the latest flashpoint in a decades-long, multifaceted conflict over a nickel mine.
Chub’s wife went out the door a few minutes before six o’clock in the morning on Oct. 27, on her way to grind the maize she would make into tortillas for the day. Police waiting in the street informed her they were there to search the house and entered with personnel from the country’s Office of the Public Prosecutor. Chub was forced to get up and get into his wheelchair.
“It scared me,” Chub told Mongabay. “They just said they were there for a raid and that they had been sent.”
It was not the first time Chub had experienced fallout from the mining conflict. During protests against the Fenix nickel mine in 2009 over land rights, he was shot and paralyzed from the waist down by Mynor Padilla, the mine’s head of security, who also shot dead anti-mining activist Adolfo Ich Chamán. Mongabay first spoke to Chub in 2015 during the trial and again in 2017 when Padilla was initially acquitted. After appeals, Padilla eventually took a plea deal and was convicted this past January.
The Fenix nickel mine has been tied to conflict and violence for more than half a century, when it was formerly owned by EXMIBAL, a subsidiary of Canadian miner Inco. Indigenous Maya Q’eqchi’ residents were never consulted, and their exclusion from a court-ordered consultation process prompted protests, a crackdown and violence that left four police officers with gunshot wounds in October this year. The ensuing state of siege and raids targeting community leaders, outspoken mine opponents and local journalists — all Indigenous Maya Q’eqchi’ — have sparked alarm and condemnation in Guatemala and beyond.
“I do not even have the words to express myself about what they are doing,” Chub said. “Everything they are doing in El Estor is unjust.”
Police raided the homes of two journalists and at least nine community authorities, fishers’ guild leaders and protesters during the last week of October. In early November, Mongabay visited several families in El Estor whose homes were raided and spoke with other leaders in hiding. Hundreds of police officers, soldiers and marines were in the area, patrolling and stationed at different points around town, including fanned out along a stretch of road between El Estor and the mining complex 6 kilometers (4 miles) to the west.
The Fenix project is now owned by the Solway Investment Group, a private mining and metals corporation based in Switzerland, after decades of Canadian ownership. When it acquired the Fenix mine in 2011, Solway was based in another tax haven, Cyprus, and widely acknowledged to be a Russian company.
Protests and condemnation related to the state of siege continue to target both the Swiss and Russian embassies in Guatemala. Solway’s press office told Mongabay in a written statement that the company is fully owned by European Union citizens and that there is no Russian capital or investment in the company. Russian is one of the company’s working languages because Solway operated several projects in that country in the past, according to the company. Many high-level employees at the Fenix project in Guatemala are Russian.
The project includes mountaintop mining and ferronickel processing facilities near the shore of Lake Izabal, the country’s biggest lake. The lake, waterways and lands in the region are at the heart of sustained opposition to the mine. Indigenous communities in the region primarily live from subsistence agriculture and fishing, and want to ensure the environment can sustain those livelihoods for future generations.
“That’s why we were supporting the resistance. People want to look out for their children, their grandchildren,” Chub said.
Battles over proper consultation
The municipality of El Estor is home to some 82,500 people, more than 90% of them Q’echi’, according to the most recent national census. In 2019, Guatemala’s Constitutional Court ruled in favor of El Estor’s small-scale fishers’ guild and other local plaintiffs, and determined that Indigenous communities in the mine’s area of influence were never properly consulted about the project. The court issued an injunction, ordering the suspension of the mining license held by Solway subsidiary CGN, pending consultation.
In a 2020 ruling, the Constitutional Court reiterated the suspension order and laid out guidelines for a consultation process to be carried out by the Ministry of Energy and Mines. Free, prior and informed consultation is required under the International Labour Organization’s Convention 169 on Indigenous and Tribal Peoples, which Guatemala ratified in 1996.
The defendant in the case was the Ministry of Energy and Mines, not the company, the Solway Investment Group’s press office noted. “The company received the order to suspend the license on February 4, 2021, and ceased its operating activities at the Fenix mine as of February 5, 2021,” according to the press office.
However, the ferronickel processing plant kept running. Operated by another subsidiary of Solway, Pronico, rather than CGN, the subsidiary whose license was suspended, the plant is now processing ore from other mining operations in the region. Mine opponents say the distinction between the subsidiaries is spurious and argue the suspension should apply to the plant because it is located within the mining license area.
The continuation of mining operations, long after the court rulings, has stoked discontent, as has the government’s management of the pre-consultation process. The Constitutional Court ruling addressed how formally recognized entities ostensibly representing local populations do not necessarily represent or speak for Indigenous peoples. Many Q’eqchi’ residents say that is the case with the pre-consultation dialogue, which includes a formally recognized Indigenous council that mine opponents have argued for years is coopted by mining interests.
“They just self-elect themselves. They were not going to look out for the interests of the people,” said Luis Adolfo Ich, a primary school teacher and community leader whose home was raided on Oct. 27, along with that of his mother, Angélica Choc. Ich is the son of Adolfo Ich Chamán, the community leader killed by the Fenix mine security personnel on Sept. 27, 2009, the same day Chub was shot. Padilla, the former head of security, was also convicted on Jan. 6, 2021, for killing Ich Chamán.
“The state really does not respect the rights of Indigenous peoples,” Ich said in a telephone interview from another part of the country, where he and some other community leaders had fled out of fear for their safety. “A decision was made to organize another ancestral council,” he said.
On Jan. 30, traditional local authorities, elders, midwives, fishermen, community leaders and other Q’eqchi’ residents from around the municipality gathered in El Estor at an assembly to form a new Q’eqchi’ ancestral authorities council. They elected representatives, including Ich, from several dozen communities. Ever since, they have been unsuccessfully attempting to get the Guatemalan government to recognize the council for inclusion in the pre-consultation process.
The Ministry of Energy and Mines held the first pre-consultation dialogue meeting Sept. 28 in Puerto Barrios, 120 km (75 mi) from El Estor. Thirty-eight representatives from 13 national and local government institutions, universities, the CGN mining company, and the controversial Indigenous council participated. The Q’eqchi’ ancestral council was excluded and called a protest that began Oct. 4 on the main road into El Estor, refusing passage to vehicles related to mining activities, and in particular trucks hauling ore out and bringing in coal needed to fuel the processing facilities. The protesters stood their ground for two and a half weeks, demanding inclusion in the pre-consultation process and the suspension of the mine’s processing plant operations.
Police and company officials attempted to persuade the protesters to clear the road and allow coal trucks to pass, but were turned away. On Oct. 22, police moved in, using force and tear gas to disperse people and clear the road. Police officers later escorted coal trucks heading to the Fenix mine complex, running alongside them to ensure their passage.
Dozens of raids and a monthlong crackdown
During the crackdown, four police officers were shot in the leg. They are recovering at home, a national police spokesperson told Mongabay. Q’eqchi’ mine opponents told Mongabay that some protesters threw rocks at police but that any armed assailants who shot at police were not involved in any way in the protest. The Guatemalan government issued a public statement Oct. 24, accusing the protesters of shooting police officers “after 17 days of illegal blockades by a small group of people who it is assumed do not live in the area.”
Cristián Xol was one of the El Estor residents there, including on the day in question. “I participated but it was a really peaceful protest,” said the 25-year-old. When police cracked down, the situation became chaotic and there were shots fired, but not by protesters at the action led by Q’eqchi’ community leaders, he said.
At least two of the several pro-mine Facebook accounts sharing local news insinuated Xol may have shot police, in a post that included three unrelated photographs: one of Xol, one of someone else with a gun, and one of guns. Police had a screenshot of the Facebook post in hand when they raided Xol’s home looking for guns, he said.
Finding weapons was also the key aim of a previous search warrant covering nine other properties. “Find firearms, homemade weapons, vehicles reported stolen and objects of unlawful origin,” reads an instruction emphasized in bold, underlined, and upper case on the final page of the warrant.
The raid on the Xol family home occurred a week after the government’s declaration of a 30-day state of siege in the municipality of El Estor. However, news of the Oct. 23 decree did not surface until the following morning. Under the dictatorship-era Public Order Law, Guatemala has five kinds of states of emergency — prevention, alarm, calamity, siege, and war — under which some constitutional rights and freedoms can be suspended and military involvement warranted.
By law, the military is now in charge of civilian authorities in El Estor for the duration of the state of siege, though spokespersons for the Ministry of Defense and National Civilian Police both told Mongabay that in reality it is a very coordinated, interinstitutional effort. Freedoms of assembly and movement are restricted and a curfew from 6 p.m. to 6 a.m. is in place. The constitutional rights to legal detention and legal interrogation are suspended.
“This is a textbook intervention,” said Iduvina Hernández, executive director of the Association for the Study of Security in Democracy. “It is a pattern of systematic actions to halt the progress of the Q’eqchi’ resistance in El Estor.”
Roughly 600 police officers and 300 military personnel are currently in El Estor, according to the spokespersons for the two institutions. So far, police have carried out more than 40 raids and more than 60 arrests, according to the police spokesperson.
Some El Estor residents say they’re relieved the government declared a state of siege. “When there is a state of siege, one can sleep a little easier. There are many gang members that break into houses to steal,” a woman told Mongabay early one morning shortly after the curfew lifted while she fished from the edge of a lakeshore block the military was using as a staging area. She requested anonymity, citing potential retaliation from local criminals.
“The mine has brought quite a lot of development to the town,” she said, holding the line she had baited with pieces of tortilla to catch small fish for consumption. She also sells cosmetic products and said the wives of mine and plant workers are good clients, adding that workers spend their wages at local businesses. “Blockades affect the population,” she said of the recent protests. “They are people who do not want to work.”
While Mongabay was in El Estor, a few dozen people had traveled to Guatemala City to rally in favor of mining and the state of siege. At least one protest sign was already requesting the government to extend the state of siege for another 30 days. “The residents of El Estor collected more than 1,300 signatures on open letters of gratitude to the police, the Ministry of the Interior, and the President of Guatemala,” according to Solway’s press office, which added that neither it nor its subsidiaries had requested the police presence or state of siege.
National and international human rights organizations, on the other hand, have condemned the police crackdown on protests, the state of siege, raids, and attacks on local press. “The Inter-American Commission on Human Rights (IACHR) condemns the use of excessive force against protesters and members of Maya Q’eqchi’ communities as well as acts of repression against journalists and media outlets recorded in recent days in the municipality of El Estor,” the IACHR wrote Nov. 4 in a Spanish-language statement.
Local press targeted
The local Xyaab’ Tzuultaq’a community radio station was a target on Oct. 24, day one of the state of siege. It broadcasts almost exclusively in the Q’eqchi’ language and is a means of news, communication and coordination for communities throughout El Estor, some of which do not have cellphone reception or even electricity. In some Q’eqchi’ areas, many people, especially women and elders, speak little or no Spanish.
“Companies have a hatred for the radio,” said Robin Macloni, executive director of Defensoría Q’eqchi’, a nonprofit local rights group linked to the volunteer-run radio it helped get off the ground in 2017. In practice, though, “the radio is the hands of ancestral authorities,” Macloni said. During the October protests, Q’eqchi’ council members used the radio to let people know which communities had turns maintaining the protest camp on which days, as they were taking rotating shifts around the clock.
When police cracked down on the protests, Defensoría Q’eqchi’ and Xyaab’ Tzuultaq’a knew they would be targeted. On the morning of Oct. 24, they read the state of siege decree on air, announced they would have to suspend broadcasting, and removed all the transmission equipment from the building, Macloni said. Police did not raid the station as no one was present at the property.
Two days later, police raided the homes of local journalists Juan Bautista Xol and Carlos Ernesto Choc. As local correspondents for Prensa Comunitaria, an independent community-based digital publication, they had been covering the protests and crackdowns, later becoming targets of police violence in the mix. Since the raids, their relatives have reported being followed, questioned and surveilled by uniformed police officers as well as unmarked gray pickup trucks with tinted windows.
“Human rights defenders and especially journalists [like Choc] who have denounced this situation … are at high risk,” Francisco Vivar, a lawyer with the Center for Human Rights Legal Action, said in early November outside the local prosecutor’s office in El Estor, where he was accompanying Choc.
Choc had fled El Estor for safety but had to sign a registry at the prosecutor’s office every month as part of his bail conditions. Four years ago, Choc had reported on El Estor small-scale fishers’ guild protests against the mine and was later criminalized alongside several fishermen. This included guild president Cristóbal Pop, whose home was also raided during the state of siege, and former guild vice president Eduardo Bin, who was arrested during the state of siege on an old, expired arrest warrant. He was later released.
Fears for Guatemala’s largest lake
Fishermen have noted changes and fish stock depletion for years in Lake Izabal. In 2017, a red patch of discolored water appeared in the lake, and the fishers’ guild blamed the mine, filed a formal complaint, and organized protests. With a surface area of 590 square kilometers (228 square miles), Lake Izabal sustains local livelihoods but also important ecosystems and protected areas home to diverse fish, bird, reptile and mammal species, including the endangered Guatemalan black howler monkey (Alouatta pigra). The lake itself, which drains into the Caribbean, is also home to a population of manatees (Trichechus manatus), the symbol of the town of El Estor.
Government studies have shown that “90% of the water pollution is generated not by the company’s operations but by the local communities residing along the Polochic River [that feeds into Lake Izabal]. The company’s contribution to the water pollution is minimal,” Solway wrote in a 2017 public statement. The company does not discharge any type of waste water and “carries out the most extensive environmental monitoring of water quality in Lake Izabal in the region,” the company’s press office told Mongabay.
Many Q’eqchi’ fishermen and community members do not trust the company or government. A private Guatemalan university, Universidad del Valle, was conducting research in the area when Solway acquired the Fenix project. The following year, in 2012, three biology students were killed on mining company property while monitoring crocodiles and taking water samples as part of a university-company exchange program. In 2019, a court convicted a CGN mining company biologist of culpable homicide and found CGN civilly responsible. The sentence was overturned in September 2021 and the legal battle continues.
The deaths fed local perceptions of mining pollution and a cover-up. “In the future we will see the consequences,” Luis Adolfo Ich said of all the mining and oil palm industry operations around the lake. “The struggle of the ancestral authorities and the guild is to protect the lake from pollution.”
Fishers’ guild protests in El Estor in May 2017 blocked the road leading to the Fenix mine, and riot police cracked down on May 27, firing tear gas and some live rounds. Local Q’eqchi’ fisherman Carlos Maaz was shot in the chest and killed, one of the latest in a long list of people killed in connection with the mine.
In 1965, a military dictatorship granted mining rights to EXMIBAL, a 50:50 joint venture between the Guatemalan government and Canada’s International Nickel Company (INCO). EXMIBAL’s operations took place during the 1960-1996 armed conflict between leftist guerrillas and the state. The military committed the first large-scale massacre of civilians in 1978 in Panzós, 26 miles west of El Estor, where Q’eqchi’ villagers were protesting for rights to their traditional lands, a massive swathe of which had been given to EXMIBAL.
Mining company personnel shot some El Estor community residents while they were on their way to the Panzós protest, according to a United Nations-backed truth commission into crimes against humanity during the armed conflict. A congressman and another member of an ad-hoc committee investigating EXMIBAL’s acquisitions were assassinated in 1970 and 1971.
Over time, EXMIBAL became CGN and Guatemala’s 50% stake decreased to 1%. In the 2000s, there were waves of evictions and crackdowns while the project was owned by Skye Resources and then Hudbay Minerals, both Canadian companies that tried to get the project up and running. Solway acquired the Fenix project in 2011 and restarted production in 2014.
“The story remains unchanged. It is the same,” said Olga Che, treasurer of El Estor’s small-scale fishers’ guild, a member of the new Q’eqchi’ authorities council, and a prominent figure at the recent protests. “The history of the armed conflict remains unchanged.”
In 1980, when Che was 2 years old, the military showed up and took away her father, who was never seen again. He was a very active member of the Catholic church at a time when the military government was targeting church figures openly sympathetic to human rights and land rights struggles. Che’s father is one of an estimated 45,000 people who disappeared during the armed conflict.
“We do not know if he is alive, if he is dead, or if they threw him somewhere. Who knows,” Che told Mongabay.
When soldiers and police showed up outside Che’s mother’s house on Oct. 26, lining the block, she was reminded of the incident in 1980 when the military took her husband. She has been unwell ever since the raid, said Che, whose own home was also raided while she and her husband and kids were at her mother’s place. Police dug holes in the dirt floor of the home.
A police officer threatened Che’s 11-year-old daughter with a beating and another grabbed her 8-year-old son by the arms, telling them to “tell the truth” about weapons on the property, Che said. Police also stole and ate tamales from the kitchen, according to the family. Che also said she and her husband were coerced into signing the written record drawn up at the end of the raid without getting a chance to read it.
Those claims are false, according to the national police spokesperson, who said that personnel from the prosecutor’s office were on site along with police during raids. Had something like that occurred, residents should have filed a formal complaint with the prosecutor’s office or the police’s inspectorate-general, the spokesperson told Mongabay, adding that “anything like that would not have been tolerated.”
While Che discussed the raid, 182 km (113 mi) away in another department, the Ministry of Energy and Mines wrapped up the third and final meeting of the pre-consultation process concerning the Fenix mine. None of the meetings took place in El Estor, and two of the three were held during the ongoing state of siege. The actual consultation process, consisting of an informational phase and then “intercultural dialogue,” is set to begin during the state of siege and wrap up in December.
“If they do not listen to us we have the right to protest,” Che said. “I was there to defend our mountains and to defend our lake.”
Editor’s note: Sandra Cuffe has voluntarily contributed to and written for Prensa Comunitaria, including reporting fishers’ guild protests and the killing of Carlos Maaz in May 2017. She has sent photos and videos of other events.
Banner image: A group of riot police advance at the outset of a crackdown on a May 27, 2017, fishers guild protest over Lake Izabal pollution they associate with the mine. Image courtesy of Sandra Cuffe.
Editor’s note: We would hope that this action would be a turning point where the United States stops its management planning philosophy of “natural resources” and focuses on the protection of all living beings. Yet how tenative only 10-mile buffer for only 20 years and does not include all extractive industries. Basically less than undoing what Trump illegally did. After all they still have the Gulf of Mexico.
A coalition of Southwestern Indigenous leaders on Monday applauded President Joe Biden and Interior Secretary Deb Haaland following the announcement of a proposed 20-year fossil fuel drilling ban around the sacred Chaco Canyon in northwestern New Mexico—even as the administration prepares to auction off tens of millions of acres in the Gulf of Mexico for oil and gas extraction later this week.
“While there is still work to be done, these efforts to safeguard tribes and communities will be essential to protect the region from the disastrous effects of oil and gas development.”
“Chaco Canyon is a sacred place that holds deep meaning for the Indigenous peoples whose ancestors lived, worked, and thrived in that high desert community,” Haaland—the first Native American Cabinet secretary in U.S. history—said in a statement Monday.
“Now is the time to consider more enduring protections for the living landscape that is Chaco, so that we can pass on this rich cultural legacy to future generations,” she added. “I value and appreciate the many tribal leaders, elected officials, and stakeholders who have persisted in their work to conserve this special area.”
Carol Davis, executive director of the group Diné Citizens Against Ruining Our Environment (Diné CARE), asserted that “the people in the Greater Chaco Landscape live by this maxim: What you do to the Earth; you do to the people.”
“Today President Biden is not just protecting and healing the earth and sky, he is protecting and healing the people,” she added. “We are most hopeful that this action is a turning point where the United States natural resource management planning philosophy focuses on the protection of all living beings.”
The Greater Chaco region is a living and ancient cultural landscape. A thousand years ago, Chaco Canyon in northern New Mexico was the ceremonial and economic center of the Chaco Cultural Landscape, an area encompassing more than 75,000 square miles of the Southwest in New Mexico, Arizona, Colorado, and Utah and sacred to Indigenous peoples.
Today, Chaco Canyon in northwestern New Mexico is a National Park and UNESCO World Heritage Site, considered one of the most important archaeological sites in the Americas, yet the vast majority of the area is leased to oil and gas activities. Indigenous people, primarily Pueblo and Navajo (Diné) peoples, sacred cultural sites, precious water resources, and the area’s biodiversity are all under a grave and growing threat from fracking.
“For over a century, the federal government has quite literally treated the Greater Chaco Landscape like a national energy sacrifice zone,” the coalition continued. “The region has been victim to large-scale resource exploitation, which includes a history of Navajo displacement and land repatriation that has carved the Greater Chaco Landscape into a complex checkerboard of federal, state, private, and Navajo allotment land.”
“A maze of federal and state agencies control the area, which has allowed oil, gas, and mining companies to exploit layers of law, regulations, and oversight agencies,” it added. “A recent boom of industrialized fracking across New Mexico has made it the second-biggest oil producer in the United States, with more than 91% of available lands in the Greater Chaco area leased for fracking.”
This is a good day for the tribes and local communities who can breathe a little easier knowing that more drilling equipment is not about to mar what is left of the landscape. #ProtectChacohttps://t.co/gXDynEkA9O
Diné Allottees Against Oil Exploitation (DAoX) said that “we and our heirs greatly welcome the action by President Biden to not just protect the 10-mile buffer surrounding the Chaco Canyon National Historic Park boundaries but to protect the Greater Chaco Landscape in its entirety. Our rights as landowners, our trustee relationship with the federal government, as well as our communities’ public health, has been greatly impacted by oil and gas industry fracking, alongside other extractive industries in the area, for decades.”
The group continued:
Because of the absence of free, prior, and informed consent, nearly all of the rubber-stamping actions from federal management agencies across the Greater Chaco Landscape are textbook examples of the absence of meaningful tribal engagement, and represent the impacts of environmental and institutional racism. We were not adequately informed and did not consent to more than 40,000 oil and gas wells that already litter the Greater Chaco region.
The oil and gas industry is second to none when it comes to disrespecting tribal communities, furthering institutional and environmental racism against our people and across this landscape. Most reprehensible was the fact that federal agencies facilitated the destruction and contamination of our communities while a global pandemic raged.
“This federal racist injustice cannot be forgotten. President Biden and Secretary Haaland’s actions today start to turn this racist status quo on its head,” DAoX added. “We feel that the racial injustice that has been perpetrated on our communities has caused the coming of an unavoidable reckoning to the people who knowingly permitted the destruction of our communities.”
TODAY The Biden administration took an important step toward protecting the Chaco Canyon landscape from new oil and gas drilling. The site is worth protecting now, and for generations to come: https://t.co/E5XjfC7RVM
Raena Garcia, fossil fuels and lands campaigner at Friends of the Earth, called the administration’s Chaco Canyon announcement “an important first step towards permanent protection.”
“While there is still work to be done, these efforts to safeguard tribes and communities will be essential to protect the region from the disastrous effects of oil and gas development,” she added.
The Interior Department’s announcement arrives as the Biden administration—which has come under fire from Indigenous and environmental leaders for approving more fossil fuel drilling projects on public lands than either of its two predecessors—prepares to auction off more than 80 million acres in the Gulf of Mexico for fossil fuel extraction on Wednesday.
The lease sale will take place just days after the president pleaded with world leaders for “every nation to do its part” to combat the climate emergency at the recently concluded United Nations Climate Change Conference in Glasgow, Scotland.
“It’s hard to imagine a more dangerous, hypocritical action in the aftermath of the climate summit,” Kristen Monsell, a lawyer for the Center for Biological Diversity, toldABC News. “Holding this lease sale will only lead to more harmful oil spills, more toxic climate pollution, and more suffering for communities and wildlife along the Gulf Coast.”