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The loss of native lands and economic blackmail.

Indigenous peoples of the North and South American continents have suffered outrageous and criminal human-rights violations due to racist policies perpetrated against us at the hands of the Europeans and their descendants. These policies include the use of economic blackmail.

Since the time of the invasion of Columbus and other European explorers, indigenous peoples who have occupied and cared for the North and South American continents have suffered the loss of our native lands, our culture, our spirituality, our languages, our lives, and, in far too many cases, the total extinction of our tribes. Fortunately, through years of resistance to the white invaders, many of us have survived and have been able to keep our culture alive.

Many of the Europeans who invaded our lands were criminals of the worst kind -- rapists, thieves, and murderers, who were exiled from their homelands due to their criminal behavior, and who eventually made their way to our native lands. They thought nothing of taking what they wanted, while leaving a path of destruction and murder.

Native American priorities and ways of thinking about the world we all live in are different from those of the Euro-Americans and their descendants. For instance, Native Americans believe that we were all put on this Earth as equals along with the plants, the animals, the elements, the air, the water, the wind, and Earth. One does not own the other. Rather, we gave and took from one another only what was needed to survive. Thankfully, there are those of us who still believe in these ways. But the white man came here in a search for gold and other precious metals. This is the major difference between our cultures. Native Americans see all life as equal and important -- sacred, and the spiritual connection we have with the natural world is what is most important to us. The white man sees as important only that which makes him wealthy or powerful in the material sense. Worse yet, the white man also sees his way as the only correct way.

Unfortunately, the Europeans who invaded our lands did not respect our ways or even understand our beliefs, and many of their descendants to this day still do not respect or understand us, and so we continue to be threatened with the loss of our remaining lands. Economic blackmail has been used against Native Americans, causing the loss of almost all of our lands, which then have often become environmental nightmares as in the Exxon Valdez disaster. To understand this, there are some facts to be considered.

Many Native Americans, although spiritually rich, suffer severe economic hardship as a result of being forced into living within a nation whose fundamental way of life is so different from ours. Whereas hunting, fishing, and gathering were once enough for us to survive, those means are no longer available, largely because of the white man's so-called development and destruction of the land and resources. Native peoples have therefore been forced to find other means of survival. Sometimes we have been successful, but in far too many instances we suffer from the consequences of economic blackmail.

Like other Third World people, and people of color who suffer economic hardships, we are victimized into giving up our lands or allowing the use or development of our lands, in return for economic relief. Often this so-called economic relief has led to economic failure for our people and to the problems we suffer with alcohol and drugs. The capitalistic methods imposed on us do not work for native peoples because of the fundamental differences in our ways of thinking and living and our understanding of things. Nor do I believe they are intended to work for the economic benefit of our people. Rather, I believe that we are set up for economic failure.

The loss of our lands because of economic blackmail and other causes can be seen in ongoing struggles we are facing, which include:

* Canada -- Kanesatake -- Mohawk lands invaded by the Canadian government for the expansion of a golf course. These are sacred burial grounds that the government sold to land developers after the government refused petitions to adjudicate Mohawk land claims. The Mohawks were attacked by well-armed provincial paramilitary police while blockading the road leading to the town of Oka, where the golf course was to be built. The Mohawks have lost more land since 1950 than in the previous 100 years. Over 570 aboriginal land claims, covering more than one-half of the Canada land mass, still await settlement.

* Alaska -- The U.S. claim to title to the entire state of Alaska is currently being disputed by the indigenous peoples of Alaska. The Sovereignty Network Legal Rights Office in Palmer, Alaska asserts that the indigenous people of Alaska have never made any treaty or other agreement with the U.S. or any other foreign governinent ceding any of their traditional lands. The 1867 Treaty of Cession between the U.S. and Russia provided for the purchase by the U.S. of the Russian American Trading Co., which included only trading rights and a few acres of land. Russia never claimed title to Alaska as a whole, and therefore never sold it to the U.S. The U.S. has never legally acquired jurisdiction or title to Alaska. The majority of the indigenous peoples of Alaska were never fully informed or consulted about the laws passed by the U.S. affecting their traditional land rights, and never gave their consent to such laws.

Also in Alaska, the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge (ANWR), one of the few remaining pristine wilderness areas, is now being targeted for oil development. If allowed to happen, this will very likely disturb the migration and calving grounds of the porcupine caribou herd. This, in turn, would have devastating effects on the Gwich'in Indians of Arctic Village, which borders the ANWR area. The Gwich'in people depend almost exclusively on the porcupine caribou for their existence (physical and spiritual). The Gwich'in refer to themselves as the caribou people. The Gwich'in tribe could be facing extinction.

* Nevada -- The Western Shoshone have been involved in legal battles throughout recent years, trying to assert their claims to 30 million acres of their traditional lands. The U.S. government has ruled that the Western Shoshone have been paid for 24 million acres, and that they no longer have claim to these lands, even though the Western Shoshone have never accepted any monies for their lands. The land of the Western Shoshone was used by the U.S. government for above-ground testing of nuclear bombs in the 1950s. From then until now the land continues to be used for underground nuclear testing, despite requests by the Western Shoshone that nuclear testing on their lands cease. Western Shoshone lands have been bombed thousands of times by the U.S. government and are being subjected to radioactive fallout as a result. The U.S. government now proposes to use Yucca Mountain, Nevada, an area within approximately 50 miles of the test site, as the country's first high-level radioactive waste repository, again despite the protest of the Western Shoshone people.

* Arizona -- Big Mountain -- The Navajo and Hopi have been fighting for several years now for their sacred lands against multinational corporations that would benefit from the mining of coal and oil on these lands. Many Navajos have consequently been relocated from their traditional lands.

Also in Arizona the Havasupai, a tribe consisting of approximately 600 people, is fighting against a multinational corporation that intends to do uranium mining in an area above Supai, the village at the bottom of the Grand Canyon where the Havasupai live. If allowed, the potential for ground-water contamination is very great, especially in flood conditions. The Havasupai people would be facing extinction.

* The Dakotas, Wyoming, and Montana -- The Paha Sapa (Black Hills). This is the sacred center of the Sioux Nation. The Sioux Nation has never voluntarily surrendered or agreed to accept monetary value in exchange for title to the Black Hills. Pursuant to the 1868 Fort Laramie Treaty, the U.S. agreed to leave 48 million acres for the use and occupation of the Sioux. Since the discovery of gold in the Black Hills, as a result of an expedition led by General Custer, this treaty has been violated continuously. In 1876 the Sioux were forced to relinquish the Black Hills. Those who resisted were massacred by the U.S. Calvary, which included the massacre at Wounded Knee in 1890. In 1973, Wounded Knee was occupied by traditional and activist Indians to call attention to the continuing violations of treaties by the U.S. and the injustices suffered by Indian peoples.

* Misiones, Argentina -- In 1989, Guarani Indians were forced from their ancestral, traditional lands and homes located in the Port of Iguazu. Their homes were burned to the ground. The Guarani were then trucked to an area bordering a garbage dump and left there, during one of the coldest nights of the year. This violent action was a result of a contract between the government of Argentina and the Iguazu Company. The Iguazu Company bought 500 hectares of Guarani land from the government for $400 million, with the intention of building a tourist complex on this land, which just happens to be adjacent to the world-famous Iguazu Falls.

* Sarayacu, Ecuador -- ARCO is in the process of drilling on Moretecocha Indian lands in the Province of Pastaza, in the Ecuadorian Amazon -- the most intact Amazon rain forest left in Ecuador. Several other oil companies are also gearing up to drill in Pastaza, including British Gas and UNOCAL. This is going on despite the fact that in June 1989 the Ecuadorian government signed an agreement with the Organization of Indian People of Pastaza, known as the Sarayacu Agreement. It provided that all Indian lands would be demarcated and legalized as such, and that all oil exploration and exploitation on that land would cease until this had been done. The agreement provided that adequate enviromnental measures would be enforced. Also, the Summer Institute of Linguistics (a Texas-based missionary organization that moves into local Indian communities to undermine the Native culture and prevent the influence of Indian federations) would be prohibited from operating in Ecuador. The agreement also included recognition of an Indian Nationality Act. However, none of these promises have been kept by the government of President Rodrigo Borja.

There are also plans by CONOCO Ecuador Ltd., a wholly owned subsidiary of Dupont, to build more than 100 miles of roads and pipelines with direct encroachment on Huaorani traditional lands. There are about 1,600 Huaorani people who live by hunting and cultivation on these lands and they are among the most isolated goups of the Amazon rain forest. The president of the Confederation of Indigenous Nationalities of the Ecuadorian Amazon (CONIFENIAE), Luis Varga, sums up what the "developers" will bring to the Indian population:

Forced employment or unemployment, a loss of the natural resources

that guarantee Indian subsistence, as well as general contamination of

their environment, the introduction of prostitution, alcoholism, and

infectious diseases, the destruction of traditional healing methods and

natural cures, and the assimilation into a destructive, consumerist society.

Furthermore, the abuse of indigenous people goes hand-in-hand

with the destruction of the Amazonian rain forest.

The World Bank has been financing oil development in Ecuador and a new loan of $100 million is pending. Indigenous people have filed a petition with the Ecuadorian government and the World Bank in which respect for indigenous culture and territorial integrity is demanded.

Representatives of nine Indigenous Nations of Ecuador held the "First Uprising of Indigenous Peoples" on June 4, 1990. This was a result of the Borja administration's treatment of Native peoples and its continuous disregard for agreements that had promised restraint regarding the exploitation of Indian lands by multinational corporations.

The uprising began with a sit-down occupation of the Santo Domingo Church in Quito. Simultaneously, all major roadways were blocked in the Amazonian province of Napo. The uprising quickly spread throughout the nation. All major thoroughfares in Ecuador were blocked, and the situation was complicated by a general strike among farmworkers. Violent clashes between the military, police, and Indian people took place in various parts of the country. Protesters demanded the Boda government comply with the Sarayacu Agreement signed in June 1989. The Confederation of Indigenous Nations of Ecuador (CONAIE), in a November 11, 1989, open letter to President Borja of Ecuador, stated that:

the government is responsible for the attacks on the indigenous and

campesino movements and we call on you the President to reflect on

the dangerous consequences of permitting the paramilitary groups

who work for the landowners along with the complicity of police

forces, to carry out such attacks with impunity.

* Chile -- The Chilean government has sold the lands of the Pehuenche people of the Quinquen Valley to the Galletue Lumber Company. The lumber company won a court battle by arguing that the Pehuenche do not use their lands to their fullest potential by not harvesting the Araucaria trees. But these ancient, valuable, and endangered trees are central to the lives of the Pehuenche. The Pehuenche settled in the Quinquen Valley in 1880, after escaping the persecution of the Chilean Pacification Plan.

* Guatemala -- The indigenous peoples of Guatemala have suffered from some of the worst human-rights abuses in the world as a result of living under military dictatorships that have stolen the lands of the indigenous peoples and continue to subject indigenous peoples to constant military terrorism. Rigoberta Menchu Tum, a member of the International Representatives of the Comite de Unidad Campesina (CUC) and of the Unified Representation of the Guatemalan Opposition, states that "Guatemala is a country characterized by the systematic violation of the people's human rights and fundamental liberties."

Seventy percent of the fertile land is controlled by two percent of the population. The descendants of the Mayan culture, whose roots are of this land, are living in a state of daily misery, hunger, and death. Rigoberta Menchu Tum goes on to say:

The internal war and the general crisis we are currently living through

are undeniably linked to the true content of the 500 years of silence

and oppression, the 500 years of denial and pillage of our Mother

Earth, and all of the painful and unjust consequences of the so-called

discovery of America. There are currently more than one million people within Guatemala who have been displaced.

From 1954 to 1991, under the reign of consecutive military dictatorships, 200,000 unarmed civilians have been killed or "disappeared" by government security forces and death squads in a country of nine million people, 60% of them indigenous. A recent example of the military attacks on indigenous people occurred on December 2, 1990, when members of the military garrison at Santiago Atitlan fired upon a crowd of 1,500 Tzutujil Mayan Indian people who were protesting the harassment of people in their village. At least 11 were killed and 19 wounded.

Santiago Atitlan has been the site of massacres and continuous murders ever since the army permanently occupied the town in 1978. Indian organizations in Guatemala request that people throughout the world express solidarity with them by protesting this massacre and the continued repression of the Indian people of Guatemala by the government and military forces. They ask Americans to demand that the U.S. Congress withhold all U.S. aid to Guatemala until the indigenous people of the village are respected and those responsible for the massacre are brought to justice.

These are just a few examples of the current land struggles facing indigenous peoples throughout the Americas. Along with the loss of our lands, we also face:

* The misuse of natural resources and consequent environmental disasters

that are occurring all around us;

* The testing of nuclear bombs on our Native American lands and the

resulting fallout of radioactive materials;

* The destruction of old-growth forests and the rain forests;

* The mining of our lands and the resulting contamination;

* Military occupation, and the use and abuse of our lands and air space;

* Chemical production and contamination on our lands;

* Oil development and resulting disasters on our lands;

* The diversion of water from our lands; and, finally,

* The targeting of our lands to dispose of all these highly toxic, hazardous,

and radioactive waste materials.

This is what the white man tells us is progress. It seems to me that the white man's progress is our death and the destruction and loss of native lands.

In closing, I will tell you the story of two sisters, Mary and Carrie Dann. The Dann sisters are Western Shoshone Indians who have a ranch in Crescent Valley, Nevada. They graze cattle and horses on lands that have been used and cared for by their family and members of the Western Shoshone tribes since time immemorial. These are their traditional lands.

In 1962, the Indian Claims Commission ruled that all Western Shoshone land titles were extinguished due to gradual encroachment of the white man on Shoshone land, but there has never been any documentation to show how, why, or when the Western Shoshone lost title to their land. The 1863 Treaty of Ruby Valley allowed the white man to pass through -- it never gave up any rights to the land.

In 1973 the Bureau of Land Management (BLM -- some of us like to call it the Bureau of Land Mismanagement), claimed that the Dann sisters were grazing their animals on public lands and were therefore trespassing on government property. The BLM asked the Dann sisters to pay a fee to continue grazing their animals on these lands. The sisters have refused, and continue to refuse, to pay the fees requested by BLM. This has led them into a legal battle, which continues to this day and has become a battle against the injustices against the Western Shoshone. It is also a battle against U.S. violations of the Treaty of Ruby Valley, i.e., the U.S. government's claim of ownership over 24 million of the 30 million acres that are traditional Western Shoshone lands.

In 1979, the Indian Claims Commission paid $26 million supposedly for 24 million acres ($1.10 per acre). The funds were deposited in a trust account for the Western Shoshone Nation. That amount has since grown to more than $60 million because of interest. To this date the Western Shoshone Nation has refused to accept the money, saying that the land is not for sale. The Western Shoshone believe that no one owns the land and, therefore, it cannot be sold.

In 1984, the U.S. Supreme Court ruled that whether or not the Western Shoshone accepted the money, a transaction had taken place and therefore the U.S. had possession of the land. This is not surprising, considering this is a white man's court and that such courts very rarely offer fairness and justice to Native Americans.

The Western Shoshone Nation has asserted its rights as a sovereign nation independent of the U.S. and therefore not subject to its court decisions, but the U.S. refuses to recognize that sovereignty. To add insult to injury, the U.S. continues to this day the underground testing of nuclear bombs and weapons on the lands of the Western Shoshone Nation, despite the Nation's request for a halt to this testing.

In June 1991, U.S. District Judge Bruce Thompson ordered the removal of the Danns' livestock from their Crescent Valley lands. The Danns refused to remove their livestock and so Judge Thompson ordered the BLM to round up and impound it. Later the Dann sisters met with the Nevada State Director of the BLM; an agreement was reached in which the Dann sisters agreed to reduce the size of their herd and the BLM agreed to postpone the roundup of the Danns' livestock. In April 1992, the Dann Sisters transferred ownership of their livestock to the Western Shoshone Nation, thereby nationalizing it, and demanded that the United States deal with the Western Shoshone on a nation-to-nation basis.

So, here are two sisters threatened with the loss of their right to continue to make a living off land that Western Shoshone people have used and cared for, going back probably thousands of years. They continue to assert their rights as sovereign indigenous people and refuse to subject themselves to the orders of a government that claims to be a nation of law, but that continues to render unjust orders and decisions and has, in my eyes, ruled that it can steal native lands with money -- Economic Blackmail.

In these times when the multinational corporations, the war merchants, the World Bank, the International Monetary Fund, and the major drug dealers, all of whom share similar interests, are in the process of completely taking over and/or controlling many major governments of the world, it is crucial that Native Americans and other peoples support us in our land-rights struggles. It is most important that we speak out louder and stronger than ever before to expose racist economic and militaristic policies, criminal actions, and human-rights abuses. We must challenge in whatever way necessary those who would have us believe it is to our economic benefit that they continue raping, plundering, and contaminating that which sustains life, that which is sacred to us -- Mother Earth.

Odessa Ramirez works as a legal assistant in Carson City, Nevada. She is on the council of the Southwest Network for Environmental and Economic Justice based in Albuquerque, New Mexico (a multicultural organization made up of activists from throughout the southwestern states); Board member of Citizen Alert, Nevada, (a grass-roots statewide enviromnental organization); and Advisory Board Member of the Citizen Alert Native American Program, Nevada. The author can be reached at P.O. Box 208, Carson City, NV 89702.
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Author:Ramirez, Odessa
Publication:Social Justice
Date:Jun 22, 1992
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