Saturday, July 28, 2007

Update on the Tsawwassen and Semiahmoo First Nations Treaty Process

Yesterday, I posted on the how the B.C. courts are pitting two indigenous Canadian First Nation peoples against each other. Well, one of the bands signed the treaty. So it looks like more legal action will be taking place. As the news summary below highlights, we are not only talking about land, but money, and rights and access to resources. Interesting how the other band is not discussed at all in this news story...

"B.C. Native Band Accepts First Urban Treaty," Rod Mickleburgh, The
Globe and Mail (Canada), July 26, 2007, p. A7.

After spending more than $1-billion over 15 years, British
Columbia's troubled attempts to negotiate treaties with the province's 180,000 aboriginals has its first success. Members of the small Tsawwassen First Nation voted yesterday to accept the terms of a proposed treaty that will give them millions of dollars in cash, a share of the annual Fraser River salmon catch and more than 400 hectares of Crown land north of Vancouver. The deal is significant as the province's first urban treaty and perhaps more important as the first to be reached under B.C.'s long, costly treaty process... The treaty must still be approved by the province and the federal government, but this is regarded as a mere formality. Premier Gordon Campbell, who was quick to congratulate the Tsawwassen First Nation, promised last night to introduce legislation implementing the agreement over the coming months... Many considered the vote pivotal to the future of native land claims in B.C., where, unlike other provinces, only a handful of treaties were ever signed to strip natives of their traditional territory... The proposed $120-million deal will more than double the size of the pocket reserve, adding more than 400 hectares of crown land to its existing 290 hectares... In addition, the treaty provides $16-million in cash, a guaranteed share of the Fraser River salmon run, and $36.6 million in funding for various other programs. In return for defined treaty rights, the Tsawwassen First Nation agrees to abandon further land claims, while members will eventually lose their tax-free status, a big concession to many on the reserve..."

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Friday, July 27, 2007

What Happens When Colonialism Impacts Indigenous Peoples? The Fight!

Now, I know the title of this post is a little dramatic, but I chose it to illustrate a point. The point is that although this blog is about indigenous peoples and their contemporary issues, it is not meant to be romantic in its output. Rather, I am trying to highlight contemporary indigenous peoples issues in all their complexity. Not until both the romanticism and the cynicism are gone can we truly address contemporary indigenous people’s issues in a meaningful way. Or so at least I argue.

So, what is the case that I’m talking about here? Well, up north the Canadian government is currently forcing First Nation indigenous peoples to decide who owns the land. This process, one that was in many ways foreign to First Nation peoples a few generations ago, is usually put under the rubric of treaty and reservation making. In the United States we did this to the contemporary American Indians over the period of about 100 years, from roughly the early 1800s to the turn of the twentieth century. That process resulted in today’s American Indian reservations and federally recognized tribes (which stands at 562).

In Canada this process is still going on. Just like in the United States, indigenous groups that historically called a large area of mutually overlapping territories their homelands now have to designate on a map exactly who owns what. This is fine when there is only one indigenous group claiming ownership or rights to a particular area, but when several do, things get even more complicated. In fact, as is happening right now between the Tsawwassen First Nation and the Semiahmoo First Nation, colonial processes are forcing the two indigenous groups to fight each other. This is the result of the Semiahmoo claiming that some of the lands and rights that will be given to the Tsawwassen actually falls within traditional Semiahmoo territory.

Seems simple therefore, just let the two tribes work out the boundary issues and then treaties can be signed. As I said above, indigenous peoples issues are not nearly as simple. The Canadian government, over the course of 11 years, has failed to consult with the Semiahmoo. “It’s absolutely outrageous that in this day and age, after Haida and other Supreme Court of Canada decisions about the government’s legal duty to consult with First Nations people, that it has failed to do so yet again,” says Semiahmoo Chief Willard Cook. So now the Semiahmoo have to fight not only the colonial Canadian government over this issue, but they also have to fight the Tsawwassen, who they hold no animosity toward.

The Semiahmoo court documents show that under the Canadian British Columbia treaty process, a native band is not obliged to show documented proof of its territorial claim. As Semiahmoo lawyer Michael Ross noted, “all they have to do is draw lines on a map.” In fact, the Semaihmoo people are satisfied that they have proof of their territorial claims in writing going back to the Douglas Treaty of the 1800s.

So here we have a situation where an indigenous group is continuing to face colonial pressures from the dominant government, while at the same time also having to deal with its indigenous neighbors, all over land that was never “owned” just a few generations ago. What is either group to do? The treaty process is forced upon them; they must mark on a map who owns what. Ancient practices of mutual stewardship are not allowed in today’s global economic market where resources are number one. Like in the larger world, indigenous peoples face a one-sided battle: they can fight to benefit themselves and their tribe, but it gets increasingly hard if they try to maintain any semblance of traditional lifeways.

Personally, I don’t see a way out of the situation unless the Canadian government ends the treaty making process and allows indigenous First Nation peoples to develop their own form of land stewardship. This, however, I don’t see happening. As the Semiahmoo are well aware, the implications of this battle can have far reaching consequences for other First Nation peoples that are also dealing with overlapping land claims. The only way around this colonial force is if the First Nation bands get together and form their own governing body that can make decisions for all. Then one band can step down in the eyes of Canada, one band can sign the treaty and claim the land, and the Tsawwassen and Semiahmoo can mutually use the overlapping territory. It’s like companies do in business. For a giant conglomerate that buys up everything, then redistribute all of the companies resources to its members in a way that it sees fit. Perhaps this is the future, giant indigenous people companies that can act in favor of the individual people of each tribe and that can redistribute the collectively owned resources equitably and indigenously.

Just my thoughts… we will see.

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Tuesday, July 24, 2007

Other Blogs on or by Indigenous Peoples' Issues

There are thousands of blogs out there, and everyday a bunch more show up. Well, I thought it would be helpful to list a couple that I know of that are either written by indigenous peoples or deal with some component of indigenous peoples issues. The list is by no means complete. If I'm missing one that you think should be included, just comment and I will up date the list. Together we can make this a great human-edited list on blogs relevant for indigenous peoples.


Rights of Indigenous Peoples - Global Issues

Indigenous News

Indigenous Intellectuals

Indigenous Way

Cihuayao Tlatolli: A Woman Warrior Speaks

First Voices Indigenous Radio

Taiwan Indigenous Focus

Congolese Women on the Web

Kekoldi Indigenous Reserve

Indigenous Internet Chamber of Commerce

Indigenous and Ethnic Minority International Legal News

International Indigenous ICT Task Force

Indigenous Women Artists of Canada

Transient Languages and Cultures


Traditional Knowledge Bulletin

The CAC Review

Arran: Sami Culture and News Blog

Bolivia Rising

Ethnomedicine in Guatemala

ANTaR: Australian Aboriginals and Torres Strait Islanders

Aymara Uta


Dust My Broom: Canadian and Metis Bloggers

The Blackfeet Review

The Native Blog

Voice of the Taino People

White Buffalo Woman Goes Singing

Dominican Republic and Caribbean Blog by Tony Yaguarix de Moya

Intercontinental Cry

Minorities in Focus

Indigenous People Caucus of the Great Caribbean

Native American and Earth News

Ecuador Rising: Hatarinchej

Jumma Peoples in North America

Native Unity Digest

Native Headline News

Indigenist Intelligence Review

American Indians in Children's Literature

Native Art, Bingorage and Other Stuff

Hugo Blanco

If you know of any other indigenous people's blogs, please comment and I'll add them to the list.

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Sunday, July 22, 2007

The Mapuche People Struggle to Keep Their Traditional Lifeways

The Mapuche people of southern Chile have long struggled to remain a distinct cultural group in the face of constant pressure. The few news items on this indigenous group are almost always linked to repression, destruction of their traditional lifeways, or some action taken by the Chilean government to displace the Mapuche people. Despite this, they continue to resist the forces of colonialism and globalizm. However, timber and hydroelectric multinationals have been increasingly exploiting their traditional homeland, making it harder and harder to maintain traditional lifeway patterns.

Recently logging companies have become more aggressive as they have continued to push their way into Mapuche traditional territory. As a result, a bitter clash has arisen, whereby some Mapuche have been labeled "terrorists" by the Chilean government for defending their homeland. As Hector Llaitul, a Mapuche member, noted in a recent Center for International Policy Report "The Mininco Company along with one of our main adversaries, the hydroelectric company ENDESA, have changed their policy. It's no longer just the use of violence. They are diversifying the repression: they study the areas where they operate and develop plans (for publicity, courses, etc.) tailored to each one, often financed by the Inter-American Development Bank, in order to create a security rim around their properties. They arm small farmers and hunting and fishing clubs, so they can form vigilance committees, which are legal in Chile, to defend themselves against 'bad neighbors.' This is how they try to isolate the people who struggle."

Wait, what did I just read, the logging and hydroelectric companies are manipulating the media and others in the area to gain support and further repress the Mapuche? Sounds like standard business to me.

There are two major issues with globalization that this little snippet highlights. 1) The world is getting smaller, companies that only worked in one country are now working all over the globe. People in southern Chile are feeling the pressure of companies whose products are shipped to Europe or America. Furthermore, many of these same companies are owned (wholly or partially) by Americans, Europeans, and other well-to-do individuals. 2) These multinational companies are resourceful in a multitude of ways. They hire local people to set up dummy organizations so that it appears the company is locally based. They conduct media campaigns to convince consumers that they are environmentally friendly, sustainably extracting resources, working with local populations, and in general conducting all around good business.

Well, for the Mapuche indigenous peoples this is causing great destruction. Sure, for those city dwellers in Santiago, the logging companies and hydroelectric companies may seem fairly benign. Likewise, us Americans - who love our large cars built out of Chilean steel, our Chilean strawberries in the winter, and the beautiful shots of Patagonian wilderness - can only really guess at the destructive forces our habits have. Well, think of this: every time you bite into your strawberries this winter after a long drive back from the ski slopes in your SUV, remember that there is a Mapuche family displaced from their homeland because of your actions (for a good discussion of the problem with eating strawberries in the winter, check out Omnivore's Dilemma).

Shall I set the picture further? Arriving in Concepción, located 500 km south of Santiago the landscape abruptly changes. The narrow valley between the Andean mountain range and the Pacific is planted with the fruit orchards (strawberries anyone?) that make Chile an important agricultural exporter. Timber covers the local hills and mountains; highways turn into paths that snake upward and get lost among pine trees. Then suddenly, a dense white cloud of smoke announces a paper mill, surrounded by immense, extensive green farmland.

Lucio Cuenca, coordinator of the Latin American Observatory of Environmental Conflicts (OLCA), explains that the timber sector grows at an annual rate of over 6%. "Between 1975 and 1994 timberland increased by 57%," he adds. The timber and logging sector accounts for more than 10% of exports, with half sent to countries in Asia. More than two million hectares [five million acres] of tree farms are concentrated in Regions V and X, traditional Mapuche lands. Pine comprises 75%, eucalyptus, 17%. "But almost 60% of planted areas are in the hands of three economic
groups," says Cuenca.

These economic groups include Celulosa Arauco, Celulosa Constitución, Forestal Arauco, Inforsa, Masisa, and Compañía Manufacturera de Papeles y Cartones. On top of this, Chile's timber industry is now in the hands of two large national business groups led by Anacleto Angelini and Eleodoro Matte. In the rest of the continent the industry is in the hands of large European or U.S. multinationals. However, the owners' nationality is much less relevant than the high degree of concentration. In Chile, only 7.5% of timberland is owned by small landowners, while 66% belongs to large owners with at least a thousand planted hectares [2,500 acres]. The Angelini group, for example, has 765,000 hectares [1.9 million acres], and the Matte group's property exceeds half a million [1.25 million acres].

These numbers are sobering. For the Mapuche, timber expansion means their destruction as a distinct cultural people. Each year expanding timber production absorbs some additional 50,000 hectares [125,000 acres]. On top of feeling literally drowned by the tree plantations, the Mapuche are beginning to experience water shortages, changes in the flora and fauna, and the rapid disappearance of native woodland. A report by Chile's Central Bank confirms that in 25 years Chile will have NO NATIVE FOREST left! However, everything indicates that timber expansion is unstoppable.

Pretty bleak picture. Sadly, this picture is largely OUR fault. As one country progresses in terms of material wealth and material consumption, another must fall. What can we do? Well, there are many multinationals working in Chile that are run by American or European bodies. You could avoid their products, their stocks, and their media campaigns that get you to consume, consume, consume (remember, even if it is recycled, eco-friendly consumption, it is still consumption and hurts someone, somewhere). The usual suspects are there: HP, Reuters, JP Morgan, Intel, Coca-Cola, Unilever, Nestle, Kodak, BHP Billiton, IBM, Motorola, Microsoft, Ford, Yahoo, and many more. However, there are also some that you may not know of: Banco Bilbao Vizacaya Argentaria, Chile; Banco Santander; ChileSat Corp S.A.; Compania de Telecomunicaciones de Chile; Cristalerias de Chile; Distribucion Y Servicio D&S; Embotelladora Andina S.A.; Empresa Nacional de Electricidad S.A. and many more. Why do I mention these "Chilean" companies when I was originally talking about American or European companies working in Chile? Well, the ones listed above, plus many more, are all listed on the New York Stock Exchange. That's right, they are directly tied into the American economy and your ability to get a good mortgage on your second home, your ability to buy cheap books, and your ability to eat strawberries in winter.

So, what does all this mean? Am I making a point in this post? I think so, and here it is. The Mapuche people are in a losing battle right now. It's the standard David and Goliath story: a small indigenous group against the giant multinational company. But thanks to globalization (this is the positive side of the globalization debate), the consumer can now play a part (we are the stone in the story). Do we let David throw the stone, allowing it to bounce off the giant body of Goliath? Or do we become consciously aware of our consuming habits and direct the stone at Goliaths eye? The decision is yours, but if you chose the latter, then perhaps the old biblical story will continue to have merit.

I guess no strawberries for me this winter (but atleast I can sleep soundly).

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