The words aboriginal, indigenous, native, primitive, adivasi, tribal and first nations are used almost synonymously although there are subtle differences setting them apart. The word aborigine or aboriginal is associated with Australia, indigenous makes us think of Latin America even though its roots go back to the inhabitants of the Indus Valley, the word native has acquired a slightly derogatory connotation thanks to Hollywood just as the word primitive did thanks to Eurocentric anthropologists. Adivasis were the original inhabitants of India before the Aryans and other invaders from the North subjugated them long before the advent of the British Raj. The term First Nations is the proud denomination of the people who settled in North America before the Europeans came here. Be it as it may, the First Nations of Canada also came from elsewhere, having either crossed the Bering Straight or floated in a raft from islands in the Pacific, but their seniority in the queue is undisputable. But let us forget about nomenclature. What matters is that colonialism, driven by mercantile impulses but often cloaked in moralistic or modernistic garb, has subjected many of these nations to a life of servitude, pauperization, depredation, dislocation, environmental degradation, loss of identity and other ills. And today there is a new type of land grab which involves the displacement of indigenous populations to make way for transnational mining or rapid industrialization, regardless of the human or environmental cost.
This issue of Montreal Serai analyses how a group of people, long settled in a particular region, has been controlled by another group of people coming from elsewhere and how it is fighting back to heal ancient historical torts and restore the health of the land. An important point to remember is that most indigenous populations consider themselves stewards of the land and all the living creatures that reside on it, hence the universal appeal of their struggle. Tomás Ramírez, a Chichimeca from Mexico, describes the struggles of women in San Cristóbal de las Casas, which has had an autonomous government on and off for years. Carmen Cordero, a Spanish woman, tries to get into the skin of the corn people, especially the Mayan women in Guatemala. Rosemary Ahtuangaruak, a native of Alaska, deplores the killing of whales in her homeland. Shanti Johnson, a multicultural Mexican with Mayan roots, meditates on the deeper meaning of indigenous. Other authors offer us their poems in solidarity with indigenous people, and much more.
Most importantly, however, the First Nations of Canada let us know, in no uncertain terms, that they expect the Government of Canada to respect its commitment to the United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous People to which it finally adhered.
2 thoughts on “Stewards of the land”
A wonderful editorial and important points. And we should note, too, that those suffering the adversities endured by aborigines, the adivasi, the First Nations, . . . include also some among the more hometown readers of this magazine. For as the North American/Euro empire shrinks (as seems happening), and available oil as well, the peoples of the Canadian plains, the U.S. Far West, Appalachian mountaintops, NY/New England hills and coasts, the North. and any other region rich enough in energy resources to be exploited, poor enough to grab at any seeming chance at recapitalization or “tech-paying” jobs, will more and more join those native to Central America and Africa and the Middle East in losing the joy of their ways of life and land. The inroads of “fracking,” of “wind farms” (oh yes, them too–which, despite the claims of the industry’s AWEA and CWEA-backed “research,” promulgate health-destroying noise and kill off birds, displace and dispossess both human and many mammalian species, etc. for up to a few miles around), and–if not yet much in North America–biofuel “plantations” (destructive of the surrounding flora, fauna, and human communities), etc. etc. are coming home, indeed, to roost. Supplying, meanwhile, continuing oodles of energy–from many sorts of sources, but all green primarily in their cash output (GE, for instance, owns oil/natural-gas, wind-energy, finance-banking, developing-world-health-care, and many other “interests”–BP can use carbon credits from its windturbine developments to offset its oil-industry despoilations). And all this energy upholds the consumer lifestyles, not to mention power (in both senses) of those increasingly few wealthy increasingly desperate to suck the earth into themselves. It is good indeed to see in these articles and poems the spirit of the people who fight back.
Thank you, Paula Friedman, for taking the trouble to send in your valuable comments first thing in the morning of the New Year. Your interest augurs well for 2011. You are indeed right, so many so-called environmentally-friendly initiatives are also harming the land and its indigenous inhabitants, be they human or those belonging to other species.