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Resource Rebels: Native Challenges to Mining and Oil Corporations. (Book Notes).

By Al Gedicks

Boston: South End Press, 2001

241 pages; $18.00

THE LAST DECADE HAS WITNESSED a remarkable upsurge in indigenous people's organizing for control of their natural resources and against multinational corporate projects to extract resource wealth from indigenous lands. Indigenous communities have asserted long-ignored rights; refused to tolerate mining, oil and other projects that despoil their land, threaten their health and destroy their livelihoods; networked with each other nationally, regionally and even globally; and worked closely with non-indigenous allies around the world.

Al Gedicks, author of Resource Rebels, has been in the thick of these fights. A professor of sociology at the University of Wisconsin, La Crosse, he has been a staunch ally of the Sokaogon Chippewa, as they have successfully blocked a slew of major mining multinationals, including Exxon and Rio Tinto Zinc (through its Kennecott subsidiary), from dangerous mining projects in northern Wisconsin.

Gedicks traces the intensification in resource struggles to the processes of corporate globalization. Thanks to new technologies, new developing country receptiveness to foreign investment new international and national laws, and new financing arrangements, multinational resource companies now scour the globe for natural resources as never before. Much of their attention is focused on indigenous lands, which are typically remote and less likely than more accessible places to have been "developed" in earlier periods.

Simultaneous with the expansion of multinational corporate reach has been the strengthening of indigenous organizing capacity. Drawing on examples from all over the world, Gedicks highlights evolving indigenous strategies of resistance, from the invocation of human rights law to savvy civil disobedience campaigns, from sophisticated political alliances to media campaigns in companies' home countries, from lawsuits to large-scale demonstrations. Resource Rebels focuses particular attention on the Wisconsin mining conflict and the Freeport McMoRan mine in West Papua (Irian Jaya), Indonesia as case studies of Native challenges to major multinationals.

Increased organizing by indigenous groups and their allies has spawned a political response from the resource companies and their governmental defenders. Gedicks explains how the mining industry has: leveraged political influence to win exemptions from environmental rules that would severely restrict its scope of operation; blackmailed governments, demanding huge compensation for agreeing not to despoil indigenous lands; looked to state and national government to override local and state laws protecting indigenous interests; and undertaken major greenwashing public relations campaigns to convince the public that environmentally devastating projects will have benign consequences. The industry routinely uses these tactics particularly to subvert the resistance of those who will be directly affected by resource projects, which is one reason the broad alliances and international networking of indigenous groups have been so important.

"The international coalitions between environmental, human rights and indigenous groups ... cannot always prevent developmental genocide," Gedicks concludes, "but, as one industry consultant report emphasized, 'heightened international scrutiny means that perceived transgressors have no hiding place.'"
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Publication:Multinational Monitor
Article Type:Book Review
Date:Dec 1, 2001
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