« They want us to give up another chunk of our tribal land. This is not the first time or the last time.
They claim this mother of ours, the Earth, for their own use, and fence their neighbors away from her, and deface her with their buildings and their refuse.
The white man knows how to make everything, but he does not know how to distribute it… the love of possessions is a disease in them. »
- Chief Sitting Bull
« Gold mining, lumber and agricultural companies have decided to raze our land with huge machines.
The forest is bleeding, I can feel it in my heart. They pour more poison on the earth than gold. They are like living dead, covered in golden mud.
What you are doing will change the whole world and will destroy our home – and it will destroy your home too.
We call on you to stop what you are doing, to stop the destruction, to stop your attack on the spirits of the Earth. »
- Cacique Raoni Metuktire
The issue is not only colonization in the past, it is the ongoing occupation of and resource extraction on stolen indigenous lands and the continued erasure of indigenous sovereignty.
Before the « Conquest of the Americas » began, millions of native people who had thrived on the land for tens of thousands of years lived across the Americas in many hundreds of different indigenous nations.
Indigenous peoples utilized their ancestral land communally and, according to their traditions, the resources of the earth were for all to use and to protect.
In 1494, the kingdoms of Spain and Portugal divided most of of the « New World » between them as the British and French kingdoms fought over the rest of the territories further north during the following centuries.
The pretext for European colonization of the Americas was that « heathen peoples, » once « discovered, » could be dispossessed of their ancestral lands and resources by Christian Nations. Thus « divinely ordained, » European invaders surged across North America with settlers, ranchers, fur trappers and gold miners engaging in violent conflicts with indigenous nations.
« The right of our Manifest Destiny to overspread and to possess the whole of the continent which Providence has given us » was their colonial « justification » but the objective was essentially mercantile greed.
The discovery of gold in 1828 in Georgia legitimized the 1830 Indian Removal Act in Cherokee lands and the « Trail of Tears ». This U.S. government policy, implemented until 1850, resulted in the forced displacement of over a hundred thousand indigenous people and the deaths of many.
Decades later, gold was discovered in the Black Hills – Sioux hunting grounds – and settlers hoping to strike it rich began invading Sioux lands with U.S. cavalry support. By 1875, thousands of white prospectors were digging and panning for gold in the area. The Sioux protested this invasion of their territory and the violation of sacred grounds but the gold prospectors prevailed, again with U.S. cavalry support.
The slaughter of the bison was a strategy to starve indigenous tribes into submission. U.S. officials proclaimed: « Kill every buffalo you can! – Every buffalo dead is an Indian gone. – We were never able to control the savages until their supply of meat was cut off. »
Once the great bison herds were gone, the U.S. Congress responded to Custer’s defeat at the Little Bighorn with the Appropriations Act of 1876 – threatening to cut off all rations of cattle distributed to the Sioux until the warriors ended hostilities and ceded the Black Hills to the U.S. This action officially appropriated Sioux lands and permanently established « Indian reservations ».
Gold was discovered again, this time in the Rocky Mountains and the Northwest. With gold prospectors rushing into the hills in search of profit, the conflicts with indigenous populations intensified. As agriculture and ranching was expanding in order to meet the demands of the hundreds of thousands of new fortune-hunting settlers, violence toward indigenous peoples also intensified.
In 1887, the Dawes Act allocated mostly arid land to indigenous tribes. Corrupt government officials then classified much of the land that was to be allotted to indigenous peoples as « surplus » and therefore the remaining tribal lands, approximately eighty million acres, were distributed to white settlers.
Then, government officials and the clergy began to force indigenous peoples to assimilate to the dominant culture. Indigenous children were taken from their families and placed in boarding schools where they had to abandon their tribal traditions and become acculturated to European clothes, ideas and Christianity. Religious reformers also targeted adults in order to « bring them to Jesus » by making them abandon their customs and languages.
These practices, along with diseases and hunger, decimated thousands of indigenous communities and their way of life was almost totally destroyed.
The American Indian Movement began in 1968 to protest police violence against indigenous people in Minneapolis, Minnesota.
Next, AIM militants went to Washington D.C. to take over the Bureau of Indian Affairs and ultimately to the United Nations to bring attention to indigenous issues.
AIM members participated in the 1969 – 1971 occupation of Alcatraz Island, the site of a former prison in San Francisco Bay.
In 1973, AIM took over Wounded Knee, on the Pine Ridge Reservation, in a protest against the U.S. government and the agencies representing them. This armed takeover led to a 71-day standoff with federal agents. The deaths of two agents were attributed to Leonard Peltier who is still being held in prison.
These actions brought attention to the problems of broken treaties, unfair treatment of indigenous peoples by the authorities and degrading conditions on reservations.
AIM, along with other organizations and Native Americans from many tribes have been involved in protests over oil pipelines for years. Many peaceful protests have been met with violence by law enforcement agents.
On June 9, 2021, TransCanada (TC Energy) announced that it is terminating its 1,200-mile long Keystone XL pipeline project after President Joe Biden revoked a vital permit.
The project had been delayed for the past 12 years because of opposition from Native American tribes, environmentalists and landowners on the U.S. side. Rosebud Sioux Tribal representatives said: « This is great news for the Tribes who have been fighting to protect our people and our lands. The treaties and laws guarantee us protections, and we are committed to see that those laws are upheld. » – « We were not willing to sacrifice our water or safety for the financial benefit of a trans-national corporation. »
Other struggles against oil pipelines that are projected to run through indigenous communities’ sacred sites or water sources are still ongoing.
Thousands of people, including Native American tribes from across the country gathered near Cannon Ball, North Dakota, to protest the construction of a an oil pipeline near the Standing Rock Sioux Reservation, the Dakota Access Pipeline (DAPL). The Standing Rock Sioux Tribe has opposed DAPL since construction began near their North Dakota reservation in 2016 and argue that the pipeline’s operations endanger their water supply where it crosses the Missouri River.
Line 3 is a proposed pipeline expansion to carry around a million barrels of tar sands daily from Alberta, Canada to Superior, Wisconsin. In 2014, Enbridge, a Canadian pipeline company that was responsible for the largest oil spill on U.S. soil, proposed to build a new pipeline through pristine wetlands in the territory of Anishinaabe peoples, through the Mississippi River headwaters to Lake Superior.
Wild rice is a staple of the Anishinaabe and it grows in many of the watersheds Line 3 would cross. Manoomin (wild rice) is lead plaintiff in a « Rights of Manoomin » lawsuit filed against the Minnesota Department of Natural Resources. This agency permitted Enbridge to take 5 billion gallons of water during a drought to build Line 3.
The pipeline was scheduled to be completed in 2017, but militants and legal issues have slowed the progression of the project.
Protesters blocked the entrance to an Enbridge pump station with vehicles and a few dozen militants chained themselves to construction equipment, chanting « Water is life! » – « Honor the Treaties! »
In British Columbia, Canada, Wet’suwet’en protesters have been blocking Coastal GasLink pipeline sites to protect their water sources while the RCMP intimidate and arrest them on their un-ceded land.
Indigenous-led resistance to 21 fossil fuel projects in the U.S. and Canada over the past decade has stopped or delayed an amount of greenhouse gas pollution equivalent to at least one-quarter of annual U.S. and Canadian emissions, according to reports by the Indigenous Environmental Network and Oil Change International.
« Recognizing Indigenous Rights protects the water, land & our futures » – « What Indigenous peoples are providing is a roadmap for our allies and supporters to adopt as a way to address the climate crisis. »
« The first principles of conquest are repeated, but like all repetitions, it takes place in a different way at each pacification. »
- Souza Lima
In Brazil, as the Portuguese confiscated indigenous lands and enslaved indigenous peoples, a similar application of Pope Innocent IV’s « Doctrine of Discovery » was applied. Settlers, gold miners, ranchers, loggers and others engaged in violent conflicts with indigenous peoples.
After many centuries of oppression and exploitation of native peoples, the Brazilian government acknowledged in the 1988 constitution that indigenous peoples, as the original inhabitants of Brazil, have the right to live with their own customs, traditions and languages without coercion to assimilate. But, previous legislation that contradicts this constitution has still not been revised and new legislation to enforce these constitutional rights has not been passed. Most legislation that has been passed during the last 10 years erodes indigenous rights specifically concerning the demarcation of ancestral lands.
The limited segment of indigenous lands that have been officially registered, a protracted and complex process, and are considered as « protected » by the government, are constantly assailed by gold miners, loggers, ranchers and land-grabbers. These illegal activities and industries deforest areas, deplete them of natural resources, contaminate the earth and water sources and leave the indigenous lands they invade in a condition of desolation.
Indigenous leaders have petitioned the government for help against land invasions but officials have been mostly unresponsive. The only indigenous member of parliament and a representative of Roraima state, Joenia Wapichana, says that « The Funai used to be a friend of the indigenous people. Now that Bolsonaro has appointed a federal police officer with connections to agribusiness as head of the Funai, they oppose demands by indigenous communities and have the police investigate indigenous leaders who are critical of them. »
In 1998, Brazil’s current president Bolsonaro said: « It’s a shame that the Brazilian cavalry hasn’t been as efficient as the Americans, who exterminated the Indians. »
In 2015, he said: « There is no indigenous territory where there aren’t minerals. Gold, tin and magnesium are in these lands, especially in the Amazon, the richest area in the world. I’m not getting into this nonsense of defending land for Indians » – « The Indians do not speak our language, they do not have money, they do not have culture. They are native peoples. How did they manage to get 13% of the national territory? »
Brazil’s ruralist-leaning Congress, responsible for demarcating indigenous lands, is influenced by the private interests of mining companies, logging companies and agribusiness.
And now, to make the situation even more precarious, legislative bill 490 proposes to open indigenous lands for exploitation by mining and other extractive industries, construction of roads, hydroelectric dams and industrial agriculture. Even remote un-contacted indigenous communities who have chosen to live isolated in the forest could have their territory invaded and pillaged.
Bill PL490 has been approved by Brazil’s Constitutional Affairs Committee and will next be debated in Congress and then the Senate.
Final passage of bill PL490 would result in environmental destruction and genocide!
In June 2021, Indigenous peoples from across Brazil gathered in Brasília to protest against the Time Limit Trick and PL490. Police responded to this peaceful protest that included elders and young children with Shock Troops, teargas bombs and rubber bullets.
On August 22nd, the Articulation of Indigenous Peoples of Brazil (APIB) organized a gathering of more than 6,000 native people from 176 indigenous nations at the « Struggle for Life » camp outside Brazil’s Supreme Court in Brasilia to demand that the justices rule in their favor and respect their territorial rights by rejecting the « time limit » date of 1988.
The « time limit » was adopted by the government in 2016 and is promoted by the agribusiness, cattle ranching, logging and gold mining sectors.
Three indigenous attorneys presented legal arguments at the Brazilian Supreme Court against the proposed « time limit » as an unconstitutional maneuver to legalize historical land theft.
For more details, please read:NO to the « Time Limit Trick » – An aberration!
The justices voted on September 9th and again on the 15th. Minister Edson Fachin voted against the « time frame » and in favor of Indigenous Peoples’ Constitutional rights. Minister Nunes Marques voted in favor of the thesis of the « time frame » , the ruralist and agribusiness agenda, and against indigenous peoples’ interests. Brazil’s Supreme Court suspended the case after one of the justices, Alexandre De Moraes, asked for more time, with no new date for when it will revisit the issue – again delaying justice indefinitely for the indigenous peoples of Brazil.
For more details, please read:« Land for the indigenous people has no commercial value, as in the private sense of civil possession. It is a relationship of identity, which includes spirituality and existence, and it is possible to affirm that there is no indigenous community without land »
The final ruling will either reinforce the protection of indigenous peoples and lands as defined by the constitution or, as Bolsonaro wants, give power to the agribusiness, cattle ranching, logging and gold mining industries to deforest and exploit and extract natural resources in indigenous lands, threatening the existence of indigenous peoples and of the Amazon Rainforest itself…
It is essential to comply with the Constitution and demarcate all indigenous lands, since indigenous peoples, with their ancestral knowledge of how to live in harmony with nature, are the best caretakers of the forest – and protecting the Amazon region’s forests is vital to regulating the climate for all humanity!
« The Trail of Tears » is taking place once again:
The Genocide of Indigenous Peoples in North America THEN is happening in South America NOW!
If we buy gold, palm oil, soy, meat, exotic wood or other products from deforestation, this time we are complicit!