Saturday, September 15, 2007

Hydrocarbon Prospecting in Peru: Help the Cashibo-Cacataibo Indigenous Peoples

Here is a chance to make a real-world difference when it comes to mitigating the impacts to indigenous peoples in the Peruvian Amazon basin area. A declaration issued by the Federación Nativa de Comunidades Cacataibo objects to the planned hydrocarbon explorations in Peru's Amazonian hydrocarbon Block 107 (WITHIN and adjacent to the Parque Cordillera Azul) has just been issued, and it appears that as usual, this proposed hydrocarbon exploration will infring on reserves (long) proposed for the isolated Cashibo-Cacataibo speaking people.

The explorations are being led by Petrolifera Petrolium Unlimited and will cover approximately 13,000 square kilometers. Peru's Ministry of Energy & Mines' energy project environmental unit, DGAAE, rejected the original 2006 Environmental Impact Assessment, making multiple "observations" (objections). However, the EIA was subsequently approved in May 2007. The first drilling in planned for late 2007 or early 2008.

Now is the time to comment and act. The indigenous Cacataibo speaking peoples have no way of commenting. It is worthwhile to send comments to DGAAE as by regulation, DGAAE is supposed to take "comments" seriously and comments may help their staff understand what the real impacts of the plan will be. The Field Museum is in a position to debate the sketchy impacts described in the L 107 Environmental Impact Assessment on flora and fauna, but help is needed on the impacts to the indigenous peoples of the area.

In the U.S., the International Center for Environmental Rights (Centro Para El Derecho Internacional Ambiental) is taking the lead in this matter and has designated two staff as points of contact:

Marcos A. Orellana, Director, Program of Human Rights and the Environment/Programa Derechos Humanos y Ambiente:
Tel: +1 202-742-5847

Lauren Baker, Asociada, Programa Derechos Humanos y Ambiente:
Tel: +1 202-742-5851

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Thursday, September 13, 2007

Cultural Equity, Indigenous Peoples, and Homogenization: Part III

The last two posts have been concerned with a topic that Victor over at Music 000001 brought up and that we agreed to collaborate on – “cultural equity.” I’ve talked about the term and how I see it applying to indigenous peoples here and here. In this post I want to respond to Post 85 of Victor’s in which he continues this collaborative discussion.

Victor has been talking about cultural equity in terms of music, specifically ethnomusic and the creation and/or hybridization of various forms of so-called traditional music that is happening all over the world today. He brings up a good point when he notes, “Whereas McAllester noted with astonishment the transfer of interest from authentically indigenous to popular music, Moore celebrates the use of popular music as itself a tool for the ‘construction and evocation of indigenism’; and moreso, as an effective means for indigenous performers to ‘challenge western demands for cultural authenticity’” (Victor’s emphasis). This is an interesting line of thought, for what is being implied – at least based on my understanding – is that Moore is contending that various forms of music have become commodified and used in the processes of Western imperialism. Before we can answer the question of exactly how music has been used in the process of Western imperialism, we need to know a little more about where Victor is coming from. Victor is an ethnomusicologist who is interested in all forms of musical heritage; he does not seem to accord more cultural equity to so-called “traditional” forms of music than hybrid or modern forms. For example, Victor quotes a panel from the Ethnomusicology Society’s 2005 annual meetings that “not only offers new research directions; it also inspires much needed reflection on the past and future of our field, and a reflection on the efficacy of rock music as a vehicle of self-advocacy for marginalized voices around the world today.” Responding to this panel Victor rightly asks: “Marginazlied by whom, one is tempted to ask. Could rock music itself be part and parcel of the same global forces responsible for the same marginalization?”

As I’m reading this, Victor is challenging the panel’s attempt to claim that rock music has been commodified and that this commodification process is 1) used in the process of Western imperialism; or 2) used by various groups to combat the forces of Western imperialism. Two very opposing questions – both of which I believe lead us down spurious pathways of deduction. Does it really matter whether rock music has become commodified? Was it ever not a commodity? How is it being used in the process of Western imperialism? When I was living and working in the Dominican Republic out in the campo, when the radio (run off of car batteries since there was no electricity) could pick up a “Western” station, everyone listened and thought it was fine. When it couldn’t, no one complained or griped about having to listen to their traditional music of meringue, bachata, salsa, and so forth. Did the younger people seem to gravitate towards the “Western” music more than their “traditional” island music? Not from my observations. If anything, the listeners were simply looking for new beats, new grooves, new rhythms that they could use to make great dance music (for in the Dominican Republic, dance music is what drives the musical industry and people’s lives, not rock music, not country, not blues… these categories are irrelevant to them, if you can dance it is Dominican music).

And the second possibility – indigenous groups using rock music or “Western” music to fight the tide of imperialism. Sure, some have done so such as Manu Chao, Caf√© Tacuba, Natasha Atlas, Peter Tosh, Bob Marley, and in fact the entire roots reggae genera, along with many, many others. But just like in the roots reggae genera, when Peter Tosh and Bob Marley borrowed certain licks, beats, and rhythms from Southern Blues and early Country that they got off of the radio, they did not copy these musical styles in an attempt to fight “Western” imperialism. No, they took what they found new, innovative, interesting and made their own music. They also didn’t directly attach “Western” imperialism with their “hybrid” music style, rather they did what they had always done, advocated for cultural equity. As Jimmy Cliff sung, “We all are one people.”

Continuing with Post 85, Victor agrees with me at the end, asking the truly relevant question: “what’s most important is not whether Rock or Country is more or less valid, meaningful or “authentic” than any other type of music, but what sort of role it plays in today’s world.” Exactly, academics often want to contemplate “what if” or “how about” possibilities, mental exercises that work great in certain circles, but that have little to no real world value. No, as Victor rightly asks, what sort of role does music play in terms of cultural equity in today’s globalized, hybridized, every changing world? This leads Victor to the final question of Post 85: “If there is such a thing as ‘human rights’ or ‘cultural rights,’ then what about the rights of young people to choose for themselves the type of culture and the type of society they’d prefer.” I’m going to focus on this question in the next post as it seems to be the crux of what is being discussed here: how is cultural equity formed, passed on, and held in today’s world where everything changes in a heartbeat, where today’s youth are able to pick and choose what cultural practices they want to partake in, where a “culture” is no longer defined by an on-the-ground collective of people, but rather by a series of traits, practices, or beliefs that are shared by people who may have never actually met each other.

It seems we have almost come full circle. We have argued that cultural equity is essential in today’s world. That valuing culture’s in terms of their unique, idiosyncratic, and learned knowledge helps us create a more diverse, exciting, and ultimately better world. In terms of music we have argued that all forms of creative expression have legitimacy: from old traditional folk songs to new dancehall beats. The question that remains to be tackled in the next post is how we are to view and understand cultural equity in the contemporary world. How are we to grapple with the fact that “culture” no longer carries its historic meaning of pseudo-objectivity, but rather now refers to something that is diaphanous, ephemeral, non-local? How are we to form equity when the culture doesn’t “physically” exist? Hopefully Victor and I can tackle this in the next post or two.

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Sunday, September 9, 2007

Cultural Equity, Indigenous Peoples, and Homogenization: Part II

In Post 83, my colleague Victor continued to discuss the idea of “cultural equity” and the work of Alan Lomax. Victor wondered if Lomax had also considered the term “equity,” not just in relation to justice or equality, but as it is used today in the rapidly globalizing world – namely as an investment in a stock. Victor muses that “cultural equity” can be thought of “as a sort of ‘common stock’ in which our ancestors have been investing since the dawn of humanity, and in which we all share an interest.”

I could not agree more with Victor’s ponderings – for this is an ingenious means of looking at “cultural equity” today, especially in terms of the current issues effecting indigenous peoples. In the last post I talked about homogenized goo and what would happen if cultures became uniform as a result of the homogenizing forces of colonialism and imperialism. Cultural equity, and its use, is just what we need to fight these processes and to ensure that the world maintains it’s flavor, spice, and crunch. However, I could not agree more with Victor that cultural equity must also be thought of in this larger global – human – sense. Indigenous peoples, their culture, and their knowledge must be considered a form of “cultural equity” that needs to be protected and given stock. As Victor eloquently states, it must be thought of as “but the preservation of a common heritage, that infinitely precious cultural ‘equity’ of incalculable value to every living human being.”

Now in such an argument, a cautionary note must be included. We must be very careful in how we wield the “cultural equity” baton, for we do not want to allow for reverse cultural equity to take place, substituting what is valued now with another thing in some form of post-colonial role reversal. Rather, as Lomax and Victor argue – and I concur – we must simply strive for equal voice, equal rights, equal cultural appreciation and value.

There is a song by reggae great Jimmy Cliff that speaks to the idea of “cultural equity” as I see it. It is called We All Are One.

We all are one, we are the same person
I'll be you, you'll be me (Oh, yeah)
We all are one, same universal world
I'll be you, you'll be me

No matter where we are born,
We are human beings
The same chemistry
Where emotions and feelings
All corresponding in love

You can't get around it,
No matter how hard you try
You better believe it
And if you should find out
That you are no different than I

We all are one (We all),
We are the same person (Same person)
I'll be you, you'll be me (I'll be me, you'll be you)
We all are one (We all), same universal world
I'll be you, you'll be me

The only difference I can see
Is in the conscience
And the shade of our skin
Doesn't matter, we laugh, we chatter
We smile, we all live for love

And the feelings that make
All those faces always renew
So true, so true
And would you believe that I have
All those same feelings too
The same as you

We all are one, we are the same person
I'll be you, you'll be me (I'll be me, you'll be you)
We all are one (We all), same universal world
I'll be you, you'll be me (Mmm, hmm, mmm, hmm)

We all are one (We all),
We are the same person (Same person)
I'll be you, you'll be me (I'll be me, you'll be you)
We all are one (We all), same universal world
I'll be you, you'll be me

Look at the children, they're having fun
With no regards to why
They all look different but deep inside
Their feelings of love they don't hide, they don't hide
They don't hide, they don't hide

We all are one, we are the same person
I'll be you, you'll be me (Oh, yeah)
We all are one, same universal world
I'll be you, you'll be me

What I really like about this Jimmy Cliff song in terms of cultural equity and the arguments being put forth is that we are not talking about only certain forms of equity, or equity of a particular structure or function. That is, I am not arguing for indigenous peoples’ cultures to be frozen in time, locked in some romantic fiction that never existed. No, rather as Jimmy Cliff sings, I’m simply arguing that indigenous peoples and their culture (whatever that may be at any given time and place) deserves an equal place in what is considered valuable and important to humankind.

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