Good Stories, Indigenous People, and the Resource Wars

I’ve been writing recently about the necessity for acknowledgement and reparation in the healing of individuals, families, and peoples. The first week of June was National Reconciliation Week in Australia. While the life of people in Aboriginal communities remains difficult, there has been movement forward as iDegree reported recently:

May 31, 2011

This weekend marks the beginning of National Reconciliation Week, a time for reflection on the past, an honest assessment of where we’ve got to as an inclusive society, and an opportunity to forge a better future together as Indigenous and non-Indigenous Australians.

It is 43 years last Friday since the 1967 referendum, and this coming Friday is the 18th anniversary of the High Court’s historic Mabo decision. Churches have been at the forefront of engagement with Aboriginal and Islander peoples, not all of it good, but today they are leading the way.

The Baptist churches have released a fresh statement acknowledging the wrongs and hurts of the past, and standing in solidarity with all who pursue justice and mercy for Indigenous people.

Baptists have urged the Australian Government to enact just laws and policies to improve Indigenous health, housing, education and employment; and they urge their constituents to work with Indigenous people to heal the wounds of the past and establish Australian society on a more just and harmonious foundation. Easier said than done, but definitely worth a try….

The colonization of Australia paralleled that of the Americas, with slavery, genocide, and the loss of homelands inflicted upon Indigenous people. Of course, the past five hundred years have featured an extended resource war between non-Indigenous and Indigenous peoples. In this war, Indigenous people have sought to hold on to their local ecosystems and lifeways, while initially, European, and more lately other industrialized countries such as China and India, have sought to seize those resources for their own uses. Actually, this is incorrectly constructed as written, for Indigenous people understand their environs as both spiritually and resource rich, and their relationships to local ecosystems as spiritually constructed. Loud Canary posted a portion of a speech by Winona La Duke. In this presentation, Ms. LaDuke urges persons from the industrialized countries to understand the Indigenous concept of resources and right relationship to place.

“Let me talk a little bit about indigenous thinking, because I believe that is fundamental for understanding the conflicts that exist in the world today. In the world today it is not a conflict so much between the left and right, or the communists and the capitalists, so much as it is the conflict between the indigenous and the industrial.”

Unfortunately, these genocidal resource wars are ongoing. Ms. LaDuke would not, I imagine, be surprised to learn that the Federal Government of Canada has established an extensive program for the surveillance of Indigenous people.IPSMO writes:

Newly exposed internal documents from Indian Affairs and the RCMP show that shortly after forming government in January of 2006, Prime Minister Stephen Harper had the federal government step up intelligence gathering on First Nations to anticipate and manage First Nations political action across Canada…..

To accomplish this task, INAC established a “Hot Spot Reporting System.” These weekly reports highlight all those communities across the country that engage in direct action to protect their lands and communities. They include Tsartlip First Nation, the Algonquins of Barriere Lake, Six Nations, Grassy Narrows, the Likhts’amsiyu Clan of the Wet’suwet’en First Nation, Tyendinaga Mohawk Territory, and many more.

“Rather than listening to the needs of First Nations communities Harper is making plans to use force to stifle the dissent that inevitably arises from chronic poverty and dispossession in Native communities,” said Russell Diabo, Mohawk policy analyst, in response. “First Nations education and housing is chronically under-funded, but policing and surveillance of legitimate Indigenous movements is always a priority.”

The documents reveal that First Nations are a closely monitored population who are causing a panic at the highest levels of the Canadian government.

Canada is rich in “natural resources” as is Brazil. The Amazon is home to many Indigenous nations. It is also the heart of the resources war in Brazil. For many years, this war was led by the Brazilian military who tortured, murdered, and dispossessed many Amazonian Natives. Lately, the government of Brazil has turned to building monumental dams to displace Indigenous communities and nations.  Yet, perhaps the biggest threat to Indigenous people in the Amazon is from multinational corporations and their surrogates, large farmers. Recently, these forces have again turned to murdering local Indigenous leaders, as Monga Bay reports.

Authorities in Brazil have sent an elite police force consisting of 60 officers to offer protection to environmental activists in the Amazon after a series of killings, reports the Associated Press.

The move comes 10 days after Brazil’s Vice President Michel Temer announced the creation of a working group on Amazon violence following the assassinations of three activists in the region in late May. The Brazilian Amazon is no stranger to systemic violence against environmental activists, yet the response from the federal government in the past two weeks is the most significant to date.

On May 24th, environmentalist José Claudio Ribeiro da Silva and his wife, Maria, were gunned down near Marabá, Pará, where the couple worked in a sustainable extractive reserve. Only three days later another prominent activist was killed. The leader of the Amazon Peasants Association, Adelino Ramos, was murdered in front of his family in Vista Alegre do Abunã, Rondonia. Both Ramos and da Silva were vocal opponents of deforestation in the Amazon. The deaths of these activists are being compared to the murder of American nun Dorothy Stang in 2005 and rubber trapper Chico Mendes in 1988, considered martyrs by many.

Violence is not always so clear cut and direct. In the U.S., as in Canada, the violence against Indigenous people is often less obvious, as The Voice of the Indigenous points out in her post about a day in Seattle. The day began as a ferry trip to a job interview, and became an Dante like journey through Seattle’s underbelly of racial and cultural violence.

Last week I went into Seattle for a job interview. No big deal, hit the ferry, cross the water and hit the pavement. Nothing new really.

As soon as I got out of the terminal I saw an Indin couple with a little sign, not sure what it said, I didn’t really care, I just saw some people down on their luck. I went up to them and gave them the change in my pocket, asked them the usual Indin questions, where yah from, oh yeah, do you know this person or that person, watcha doin here. They were stranded and were just trying to get home. They said they had been there two days and out of everyone I was the only one who took the time to talk to them other than some cop who asked them to move it along. They smiled, I smiled back, shook their hands and wished them the best……

A different Indigenous journey has come to the stage in Australia. This production, one among a growing number of films and theater performances written and produced by Indigenous people, brings to life the lives of three generations of an Aboriginal family. Williamsonmgt reviewed the show:

A TOUCHING family story is bringing ARIA award-winning singer Christine Anu to Dandenong.

Rainbow’s End, by Jane Harrison, tells the stories of three generations of Koori women living in conservative, rural Australia in the 1950s.

“It’s about their struggles through the hardships of the time, but also about their bond of family and their sense of belonging with each other,” Anu said. “It’s wrapped up nicely with a little love story.”

The three women, Nan Dear (Lillian Crombie), her daughter Gladys (Anu) and granddaughter Dolly (Chenoa Deemal) live in a shack on the banks of a flood-prone river.

Set against the backdrop of the Queen’s visit in 1954 and the Stolen Generation, the play celebrates the family’s optimism as they struggle for community acceptance.

“The floods and stuff would rip up their homes and then when they’d go back down again they’d have to rebuild them,” Anu said.

Amid the stormy conditions, the importance of family is the strongest current that flows throughout the play.

“Regardless of all of that, the material possessions, the things that open and shut, the important thing was the family, and as long as they had each other, they could get through anything in life.”

The cast began rehearsals in April and has been travelling around Australia with the play.

Rainbow’s End provides the first time that Anu, best known for her hit songs My Island Home and Sunshine on a Rainy Day, will tread the boards at the Drum Theatre.

“It’s full of fun and laughter and the story is just captivating the whole way through,” she said

In the end, all stories are about people and places, as is all warfare. In Indigenous thought, all lifeforms on Earth are peoples and nations,  and participate in the life and fate of the community. From this point of view humans must not make decisions that will threaten the livelihoods of any nation, so we try to imagine the community seven generations out. This is challenging, this projecting oneself into the distant future. Yet, when we do imagine that future, we know instantly that if there is to be a future, resource wars must stop, and we must become humble in our desires and generous in our attitudes and behaviors towards others.

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2 thoughts on “Good Stories, Indigenous People, and the Resource Wars

  1. Hi Michael

    I wish that the type of thinking of the Baptist Church’s hierarchy was filtering down to the masses. My husband works for the Baptists, and when he insists that the tradional owners of the land are acknowledged before each meeting they look at him like he is some kind of alien.

    Racism is so entrenched that most people are ignorant of what they are doing to perpetuate it. Even in organisations that claim to be working ‘with’ (rather than ‘for’) Aboriginal people.

    Indigenous talent is becoming much more prominent in Australia now. It’s great to see, and slowly Aboriginal people are not being locked into traditional stereotypes but seen for the modern and adaptable people that they are.

  2. Narelle,

    Yes, racism is deeply engrained in our cultures. I met today with a minister from one of our most socially engaged and liberal religious denominations. I was trying to explain to her that the use of Native religious “texts” without explaining the cultural context, nor the ongoing struggles of Indigenous peoples, is an act of genocide. She is a good person but just dis not get it.

    Sometimes, my heart hurts.

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