Spotlight: Indigenous People Meet Occupy Wall Street

This week Human Rights Watch reported on violence against peaceful Indigenous protesters in Indonesia.

Indonesian President Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono should immediately establish an independent investigation into the deaths of at least three protesters and the ongoing violence in Papua, Human Rights Watch said today.

On October 19, 2011, Indonesian police and the army fired warning shots to disperse approximately 1,000 Papuans gathered for a peaceful pro-independence demonstration in the Papua provincial capital, Jayapura, after one of the leaders read out the 1961 Papua Declaration of Independence. In an ensuing crackdown by the security forces on the demonstrators, at least three people were killed and dozens were injured. Witnesses said several had gunshot wounds.

This violence is part of ongoing, organized, world wide efforts to subvert the rights of Indigenous people in order to enrich individuals and corporations. It is a continuation of a program of exploitation and genocide developed in Europe and exported to former and present colonies throughout the world.

RCAH492 featured an article  by Samuel Appel, The Downside of Capital Gains, that discussed the impact of capitalism and neocolonialism on indigenous people. The article says, in part:

This divergence between indigenous and capitalist culture can be attributed to many different areas. Capitalism’s individualistic nature conflicts with the collective ideal of the indigenous culture[9]. There is a disconnect between the two cultures. The people within capitalism maintain a misunderstanding of the narrative of the indigenous culture. They have no understanding that “Indigenous People are not a part of any public other then their own enclosed conceptual universe and the piece of territory to which it belongs[10]”. The creation and growth of the indigenous culture outside of capitalism makes it a separate entity. This separate entity of indigenous culture is now being forced to fit within the methodical setup of capitalism. This is like trying to fit a square peg into a round hole. This can create  issues, as an indigenous culture is “simply too performative, too elusive and at the same time too easily be replicated to lend itself to systematic manner[11]”. This clashes with the capitalist idea of a “market system that turns identity into a commodity[12]”. This capitalistic ideal of commodifying identity represents a threat to the traditional norms and forces the indigenous cultures to conform in a manner that puts it’s culture up for sale on the open market.

Of course, the efforts of governments, corporations, and individuals to assure Indigenous people remain marginalized are not limited to armed attacks. Throughout North America, services for Native people are often woefully underfunded.

The National Post  posted an article by Carmen Chai in which she discussed the underfunding of the Native educational system.

As the federal government’s Aboriginal Affairs department shifted its efforts to boosting First Nations’ businesses, child rights advocates criticized Ottawa’s funding for schools on reserves, alleging officials are shortchanging First Nations youth.

While Aboriginal Affairs Minister John Duncan announced new federal funding to aboriginal businesses in Ottawa Monday, critics released a new report calling on the United Nations to review Canada’s treatment of aboriginal children who are forced to attend schools in “deplorable conditions.”

 Each child on a First Nation receives between $2,000 and $3,000 less a year than children at other Canadian schools, say the authors of a shadow report to Canada’s recent submission to the United Nations Committee on the Rights of the Child.

Perhaps more subtly, governments attack Native culture, traditions and values. Often these insults come in the form of degradation of Native sacred sites and subsistence resources. Protect Our Manoomin writes about the legislative threats to Manoomin, wild rice, as a result of pending legislation in the Minnesota legislature.

Today, our manoomin is endangered. On March 29, 2011, the Minnesota House of Representatives passed HF 1010. This legislation changes the sulfate standard for wild rice waters to read: “The water quality standard for sulfates in Class 4A waters is 50 milligrams per liter.” A similar bill, SF 1029, passed the Minnesota Senate, and would suspend the current wild rice sulfate standard. In May, Chapter 46, H.F. 1010 was passed by the Minnesota House. Under Wild Rice Rulemaking and Research, the sulfate standard was suspended.

This group – Protect Our Manoomin – strongly opposes the current bills that affect the natural wild rice stands and ecosystem in northern Minnesota. They are unscientific and culturally and ecologically irresponsible. Therefore, we are resolved, as a group of Anishinaabeg, non-Anishinaabeg, and non-Native, to resist any changes that endanger our manoomin. We will protect our manoomin for the present generation to the Seventh Generation…and beyond.

Efforts to deny the fundamental needs of people are, of course, not limited to those directed against Indigenous people. Rather, increasingly even the Middle Class find themselves targeted as resources. Indeed, the past thirty years have witnessed an enormous transfer of wealth from the Middle Class to the corporations and their allies. One result has been the rise of the Occupy Wall Street movement.Yet, even the brave souls who have shown such spirit in their resistance to corporatism, seem often to forget the legacy of theft and genocide that underlies contemporary North America.

Unsettling America wrote an open letter to the Occupy Wall Street protestors.

Thank you for your courage. Thank you for making an attempt to improve the situation in what is now called the United States. Thank you for your

Occupy Burlington

commitment to peace and non-violence. Thank you for the sacrifices you are making. Thank you.

Which brings me back to your mostly-inspiring Occupy Wall Street activities. On September 22nd, with great excitement, I eagerly read your “one demand” statement. Hoping and believing that you enlightened folks fighting for justice and equality and an end to imperialism, etc., etc., would make mention of the fact that the very land upon which you are protesting does not belong to you – that you are guests upon that stolen indigenous land. I had hoped mention would be made of the indigenous nation whose land that is. I had hoped that you would address the centuries-long history that we indigenous peoples of this continent have endured being subject to the countless ‘-isms’ of do-gooders claiming to be building a “more just society,” a “better world,” a “land of freedom” on top of our indigenous societies, on our indigenous lands, while destroying and/or ignoring our ways of life. I had hoped that you would acknowledge that, since you are settlers on indigenous land, you need and want our indigenous consent to your building anything on our land – never mind an entire society. See where I’m going with this? I hope you’re still smiling. We’re still friends, so don’t sweat it. I believe your hearts are in the right place. I know that this whole genocide and colonization thing causes all of us lots of confusion sometimes. It just seems to me that you’re unknowingly doing the same thing to us that all the colonizers before you have done: you want to do stuff on our land without asking our permission.

I want to second the appreciation of those braving the elements to protest growing inequality here in the U.S., and abroad. Today in Burlington the weather is cold and breezy. Those thin tents must be uncomfortable, and winter is coming.

Thank you, dear reader, for stopping by to read about these writers and issues. I am grateful. If you were engaged or moved by any of these stories, please let the writers know.


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