What are we celebrating? Most of us Euro types wouldn’t be here if it weren’t for the heroic journeys (4 of them) that brought him (with Spanish crews and ships) to the Americas. But for Americans already here before Columbus, there isn’t much to celebrate. What can only be called genocide started early on as Columbus and the Spanish began to colonize indigenous peoples of Hispanola (now Haiti and the Dominican Republic) and other islands. Here are excerpts from the late (great) Howard Zinn’s A Peoples History of the United States based on historical documents.
- “They found no gold fields, but had to fill up the ships returning to Spain with some kind of dividend. Columbus later wrote: ‘Let us in the name of the Holy Trinity go on sending all the slaves that can be sold.’ “
- “Trying to put together an army of resistance, the Arawaks faced Spaniards who had armor, muskets, swords, horses. When the Spaniards took prisoners they hanged them or burned them to death. Among the Arawaks, mass suicides began, with cassava poison. Infants were killed to save them from the Spaniards. In two years, through murder, mutilation, or suicide, half of the 250,000 Indians on Haiti were dead.”
- The remaining Arawaks were…enslaved to work on plantations.. They were worked at a ferocious pace, and died by the thousands. By the year 1515, there were perhaps fifty thousand Indians left. By 1550, there were five hundred. A report of the year 1650 shows none of the original Arawaks or their descendants were left on the island.”
Forward in Time: In the U.S. colonists and settlers backed by government troops carried out ruthless repression resulting in the displacement and deaths of millions of Native Americans. We needn’t look very hard to find genocide in our own history.
But what about now? The evidence indicates that multi-national corporations–with the backing or and complicity from governments–are trampling indigenous people, their rights and their territories in develop mines, plantations, logging operations, oil and gas, and hydroelectric power for profit–maybe not in the name of “the Holy Trinity” but certainly in the name of economic growth. This is happening all over the world, and especially in the Amazon rain forests of South America.
Videos tell the story: To get an idea of the struggles of indigenous peoples in the Amazon region, we invite you to take a look these videos.
The Awa of Brazil: Survival International’s successful International’s efforts to save “The Earth’s Most Threatened Tribe” from illegal logging.
Indigenous peoples stake on Big Oil. See video from Amazon Watch.
Chevron and its Secret Videos: A whistle blower provided NGOs with a videos that Chevron’s reps took in Ecuador. There mission was to find evidence showing the place was clean and safe. They didn’t have much luck, hence the kept them in the closet. See it here. In one sequence a poor farmer says that his children were exposed to oil and died.
Good News on the Legal Front (Bad for Chevron). The Supreme Court of Canada ruled unanimously that 30,000 poor Ecuadoran farmers can sue Chevron on trial in Toronto, in an effort to seize $9.5 billion from its Canadian subsidiary for damages from the pollution the company’s drilling caused in vast stretches of their territory. See news story here.
What you can do on Columbus Day Week. Go to websites of two fabulous groups working on behalf of indigenous tribes: Amazon Watch and Survival International. You will find a wealth of information and additional videos. Then take two steps: Sign critical petitions and donate. Let’s not allow history to repeat.
John Tierney (NYT Oct 3, 2015) writes: “You probably recycle. You probably feel good about it. Are you wasting your time? It’s still costly and inefficient. So why do we keep doing it?” He gives the following perspective to frame his argument:
Andrew Miller, Amazon Watch, Blasts The Green Inferno
I must confess I’ve not seen Eli Roth’s The Green Inferno (see Delete this Racist Movie). Just the trailers. Frankly I don’t think I could stomach watching it. It’s not just the gore but the total dissing of indigenous people as savage cannibals. Fortunately, Andrew Miller the director of Amazon Watch’s Washington DC office, sat through the entire film. And he didn’t even get get hazard. Hats off to Andrew. You can see his critique here.
Amazon Watch is one of the most effective organizations working to protect the rights and territories of indigenous peoples of the Amazon region of Central and South America.
Government regulation saves lives: Tired of hearing GOP Presidential Candidates calling for an end to government regulation? Take a look at Paul Krugman’s excellent in today’s NY Times, “Dewey, Cheatem & Howe.” The op-ed, blasts the anti-regulators and starts off like this:
But by some stroke of fate?, here is the banner add that sits atop the Editorial in the on-line version.
The Green Inferno: On September 25, this coming Friday–with Pope Francis still in the U.S.– Eli Roth’s new horror film, The Green Inferno will hit the theaters near you. The movie depicts a group of student activists who travel from New York City to the Amazon forest to “save” a tribe. When their plane crashes the tribe takes the group hostage. The members of the tribe then kill the youthful captives whom they roast, carve up and eat. All in gory detail. You can get a ?? good feel?? for the movie by viewing either the official trailer or the more lucid red version. SIGN PETITION–DELETE THIS MOVIE.
The most horrible thing about the film is not the horror, but the film’s portrayal of indigenous peoples as brutal cannibals. The film is a betrayal of the truth. In reality today’s Amazon tribes could teach “the civilized world” a great deal about civility. While the corporate dominated global economy is busy usurping tribal land, destroying forests and playing roulette with the climate, indigenous peoples have sustained their communities and their biodiverse natural resources for thousands of years. For more, see the companion post.
Critiques: Tara Houska is Ojibwe from Couchiching First Nation and a tribal rights attorney in Washington, D.C.. she has written a sharp critique of The Green Inferno. Here is a salient quote:
In other words, no problem seizing lands from backward, evil savages.
We also refer you to the statement by AIDESEP, The Inter-Ethnic Association for the Development of the Peruvian Amazon, Peru’s largest indigenous coalition composed of some 64 indigenous peoples. And this post by AMAZON WATCH.
Compare the images in Green Inferno with those from real life:
SIGN THE CHANGE.ORG PETITION ASKING ELI ROTH TO CANCEL THE GREEN INFERNO before it does its damage.
/ Link to Petition /
In the coming weeks, Eko-squared will provide a series of posts on indigenous people and why their survival is of vital importance to the entire world.
A struggle to survive: Indigenous peoples the world over are the earth’s most effective protectors of nature; From tundra to rainforest these communities depend on healthy ecosystems for their sustenance. They are also in a life and death struggle to survive the onslaught of development including mining, oil and gas extraction, monoculture agriculture, logging, and hydroelectric projects. Rather than protect indigenous peoples, many governments either openly or covertly support the developers. As a result cities large numbers of displaced tribespeople wind up living in the squalid slums in cities like Manaus in the Amazonas Province of Brazil. Many who resist have been killed. Contact with outsiders often infects indigenous peoples with diseases with deadly consequences.
A Range of indigenous communities: Recently there have been news reports on newly discovered tribes in remote regions of the Amazon Rainforest. Brazil’s Amazon is home to more uncontacted tribes than anywhere in the world. There are thought to be at least 77 isolated groups in this rainforest, according to the government’s Indian affairs department. FUNAI. See full article on Survival’s Website.
At the other end of the spectrum are indigenous peoples who have been dispossessed of their ancestral lands and forced to live in urban “favelas” or “barrios” often in poverty. In some cities (e.g. Brazil in the leadup to the World Soccer Cup (2014) have had to fight to for their homes once again.
The good news: Numerous indigenous groups are becoming technologically, politically and legally astute, while preserving their language and traditions. A good example is the Sarayaku Kichwa people of Ecuador, who have had major successes in fending off oil companies in international courts. See Amazon Watch article on the Sarayaku. These tribes have formed inter-tribal and international organizations such as Coordinator of Indigenous Organizations of the Amazon River Basin (COICA). Perhaps the most powerful and advanced indigenous peoples in Brazil are the Kayapo. Kayapo drew upon their warrior tradition to stave off loggers and miners. See terrific article in National Geographic
Primitive? Although many people in the “civilized world” view indigenous societies as primitive, a closer look tells a very different story. Indigenous peoples tend to foster cooperation within the community and a harmonious relationship with nature. Rather than being “consumed by consumption” indigenous communities hunt, gather, grow and build what they need. They don’t work for a boss, but for their families and communities. They keep their traditions including music, dance, stories, and art. What herbs are good for a sour stomach or headache? Ask the shaman.
Awa children play with baby Peccaries.
Rampant deforestation: Armenia, located in the Caucuses Mountains Eurasia, has lost a large portion of its forests in recent decades. In 1990, 30 percent of land was forested. Now forest covers less than 7 percent of Armenia. Logging, much of it illegal, is being carried out on a large scale — the wood being used for home heating (natural gas increasingly expensive) and export.
The Teghut mine: One of the best preserved areas of old growth trees, the Teghut forest, located in the nation’s north, is now threatened. The Armenian government has approved a major copper and molybdenum mine in the Teghut region that will have a devastating and irreversible impact on thousands of acres of old forest, grassland, endangered plants and animals, and natural resources. If your time is limited sign the petition here and now! If you want more info keep reading.
As shown in the photo of the logs below, clear cutting of the Teghut forest has already begun for the mine. Excavation will leave a massive open pit — 600 meters deep — with the overburden and tailings dumped into surrounding valleys (similar to mountain-top removal). The government has allocated nearly 5,000 acres to the mining company, of which about 4,000 are forested and the remaining nearly 2,000 acres are are community lands.
Economic and health impacts: The project will also have many adverse impacts on the two villages in the area, Teghut and Shnogh and traditional village economies. Toxic drainage from the mine, tailings and sediment ponds will likely contaminate ground and surface water critical for domestic use and irrigation. The deforestation is likely to result in massive soil erosion, landslides, the clogging of streams and loss of agricultural lands and a major step backwards with regard to sustainable development.
Benefits? According to project’s Environmental Impact Statement, the ore in the mine is worth more than $20 billion. Only a paltry 1 or 2 % of this wealth would benefit the public assets of the nation. (Footnote). The big winners — the Armenian Copper Programme, part of a larger conglomerate, Vallex.
The mine company, Vallex, has promised about 1000 jobs to people in the area. Given, dire poverty and high unemployment rates, many village residents support the mine – even though the pay is low and the will last only until the ore runs out in 20 years or thereabouts. However, residents of the area are beginning to get a taste of their future with the mine. First development process is producing clouds of dust. Secondly, several people were beaten by Vallex security guards. As a result residents blocked the road to the mine area for several days until the company fired the culpable guards.
Growing opposition to corruption and oligarchy: In Armenia an increasingly militant coalition–n has sprung up to fight the project. There is also a growing to the mine project in Armenian Diaspora – here and other in countries. Organizations in Armenia and Europe have also raised critical issues with regard to governance. In the case of Teghut, government officials were charged with embezzlement after selling massive volumes of wood and pocketing the equivalent of $12,000 (U.S).
But the issue is far bigger. The government’s approval of the mining permit was granted without public involvement, without transparency and in violation of numerous laws and international agreements (e.g. protection of forests). For more information go to the post on the Armenian Environmental Network (AEN) blog. For a good description of the government corruption and collusion on environmental issues see the excellent report by the Policy Forum of Armenia. Ekos-Squared previously reported on similar rule of law issues with regard to the commercial kiosks being built in a Yerevan (capital of Armenia) public park. Nearly every Armenian, I’ve talked to has told of rampant corruption and the rule of a small number of oligarchical families that control major developments of natural resources.
Finally: It is essential to stop the growing trend for money to influence government decisions not only in Armenia but right here in America.
What’s at stake (left) and what Vallex and the Armenian Government plan (right).
The Armenia Connection: As readers may know, my wife Claudia and I spent two weeks (last Sep/Oct) in Armenia visiting my son Yevgeniy Cole who is serving as a Peace Corps volunteer there. We saw quite a bit of the country, got to meet with many people in the Capital Yerevan including environmentalists, villagers, shop owners and more. Being an unabashed eco-hugger; I was immediately drawn into the issues including deforestation and waste disposal. I now serve as a member of the Advisory Board of the Armenian Environmental Network. Our trip included a visit to the Armenian Tree Project’s nursery in Karen. ATP has planted nearly 4 million trees in rural areas, villages and cities since 1994.