I have been working with indigenous leaders for decades and arguing that indigenous nations must take the initiative to take back that which is and always has been theirs: land, resources and freedom to move. What does this mean? For generations indigenous peoples have proclaimed their rights, but have nearly always called upon their oppressor to recognize or grant those rights. Asking for rights from those who have no interest in recognizing those rights is a defeated policy. Taking back your land and resources they stole, as Chief George Manuel urged, is the only alternative to self-destruction.
Indigenous nations small and large (5-150 people as in Australia and the Kalahari to as many as 25 million in India) must take steps to form enforceable alliances between themselves to protect their interest, wealth and ensure their security against voracious states that swing back and forth between benign benevolence and kleptocracy (a government by those who seek chiefly status and personal gain at the expense of the governed). I have argued that no matter what the appearance or political stripe of state rulers, they will ultimately exercise state economic and police power to take indigenous peoples’ lands, resources and other natural wealth. That has been and continues to be the pattern whether through direct state power or permissions given to corporations, organized crime and even trans-state religions.
If indigenous nations do not act to change the rules and create new economic, political and strategic relations between themselves, the kleptocrats will overwhelm individual nations one-by-one. I know, readers of earlier editions of My Word read hopeful and even optimistic narratives, and I remain optimistic. Optimism, however, must not overwhelm realism. The past thirty years have been somewhat encouraging as the UN Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples (UNRIP) received tepid support from UN Member States. The World Conference on Indigenous Peoples generated UN activity to consider “enabling indigenous peoples to be represented at the UN” and the UN Expert Mechanism on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples was given a broader mandate to “monitor implementation of the UNDRIP” even though virtually no country in the world has set about actively seeking to implement provisions or mandates in that noble document.
As a result of political events over the last thirty years, I am convinced more now than ever that the UN will not and cannot protect indigenous peoples rights or interest as much as we hope they will. States will protect their own sovereignty and not that of indigenous nations. International Human Rights laws are essentially dashed by states that say, “Those laws don’t apply to my country! (Read the United States of America with torture, Russia with aggressive territorial occupation by military in Georgia, Ukraine; Mexico builds highways directly through indigenous territories without any consent or discussion; China with island in the China Sea; Australia torturing refugees, the Sudan forcing people from Darfur into Chad; the Saudi government mistreating indigenous peoples just because they are practitioners of the Shiite brand of Islam; Iraq attacking indigenous peoples in the northern area of the country near the Syrian border; Turkey attacking the Kurds in the south and east of the country and more). Which of these states signed on to the UNDRIP?
But, we are faced with the very real fact that in those same 30-years a number of states have virtually collapsed resulting in millions of indigenous peoples becoming refugees (South Sudan, Syria, Iraq, El Salvador, Honduras, Somalia, Ethiopia, Afghanistan, Venezuela, Ukraine, parts of Georgia, Brazil among many others). Indigenous nations are not collapsing, but the states that surround them have been infected with corruption, criminal governance, and violence as politics and klepto-corporate fever demanding land and resources from indigenous territories.
During the last four years, many UN member states have switched from liberal democracy to reactionary fascism as global economic collapse stirs deep fears among the working class and billionaires who willingly give autocrats and dictators license to rule (Consider Brazil, for example). Fear-driven scapegoating targeting many Fourth World nations in Turkey, the Philippines, Venezuela, Burma, Nicaragua, Iraq, the Netherlands, Burundi, Hungary, Russia, France, South Africa, Syria, Peru, Israel, India, and the United States of America escalates daily. Fourth World nations have three alternatives: become chameleon nation’s to hide from attacks; join the scapegoating; or form coalitions with other nations and with states to establish defenses and take control of lands and their wealth.
The United States of America, Canada, Mexico, United Kingdom, Russia, PR China, the Netherlands, possibly France, and Greece have dramatically all become klepto-corporate states (states that are controlled by people and corporate businesses to use state power with a compulsion to steal from others). The British government is actively engaged in kleptostate initiatives to take from the poor and near poor and give to the corporations after the Brexit (exit from the European Union) decision weeks ago. The decision by a fearful population worried about giving money to Europeans from THEIR pockets cast their votes for retrenchment and strengthening the kleptostate and corporations.
The Russian government became a kleptocratic state within two years of the Soviet Union collapse in 1991 by selling off state owned institutions, creating individual billionaires overnight, and establishing a dictatorship of the kleptocratic leaders in President Putin and other billionaires. The Putin government seemingly seeks to export its view of kleptocracy to other countries as well. Indigenous nations were declared to be “Russians” and the Russian government claimed it did not have any indigenous people even though 150 indigenous nations remain in the Russian clutch. Russia could see no use for a UNDRIP and basically called for the international community to step away from recognition of indigenous rights. Russia has been stealing indigenous resources, lands and wealth ever since—claiming the right of the state, but truthfully to enrich the kleptocrats.
Following in lock step we now see the fearful United States population installing a government of greed that seeks to privatize anything and everything for the benefit of billionaires and at the expense of the general population’s tax pockets. Trumplicans (led by business man Donald Trump from New York with no ideology except greed and power) have replaced the milder versions of greedy kleptocracy practiced by the George W. Bush and Ronald Reagan governments. The Trumplicans promise to strip away human rights, ignore international responsibilities and commitments, and “make deals” to enrich themselves throughout the US (check out their infrastructure proposals and repeal of the countries social safety nets—social security, Medicare, Affordable Care Act. The promise is to expand oil and coal production that increases risks of adverse climate change while destroying precious lands and natural wealth largely owned by indigenous peoples. Trumplicans now promise to ransack government coffers by creating an infrastructure program that mainly enriches the already rich, expand the military-industrial complex to further enrich the rich and borrow massive sums to expand the US deficit to transfer borrowed money to the rich.
How does this all relate to the interests of indigenous nations? Virtually all of the work by indigenous leaders in the United States to build constructive relationships with states and central governments and the United Nations are now utterly at risk of collapse and reversal. Trumplicans will likely become the ultimate “Anti-Indian Movement” in the United States since leaders of that movement now hold seats in Congress, the Senate, the Supreme Court and the Executive Branch as well as thirty of the fifty states. The lands and resources slowly reclaimed in the last ten years will fall under the powerful influence of Trumplican officials who seek to privatize those lands and resources leaving tribal communities without the natural wealth on which to build their own security. Oil pipelines (such as the one pressing through Lakota country threatening cultural sites and precious water), oil and gas fields will spring up in Indian Country and hazardous waste as well as nuclear waste will pile up at a more vigorous pace in indigenous territories.
On mainland Europe the governments of the Netherlands, Hungary, Greece, France, Serbia, Denmark and the Czech Republic and Slovenia are moving to become Trumplican Kleptocracies with the results of current elections and elections coming in the next few months. Indigenous populations in these states (including the Roma) are not very conspicuous; they are nevertheless being targeted by the greedy followers of Trumplican Kleptocracy.
And now the so-called “liberal” Canadians are themselves rapidly moving to adopt Trumplican Kleptocracy by pressing for the privatization (government/corporate) of infrastructure much the same as the Americans propose. Following the lead of his father Pierre Trudeau who took steps in 1968 to lease most of Canada’s natural wealth and that of the First Nations too to Canadian corporations under 99 year leases Justin Trudeau now feels compelled to sidle up to corporations to give them control over a public trust that risks the lands, rights and interests of every First Nation in the country. Canada’s policy of giving corporations a free hand at confiscating indigenous lands and resources in Guatemala, Honduras and elsewhere is devastating indigenous peoples—Trudeau’s promise to recognize the UNDRIP be damned.
The conclusion I come to is that indigenous nations either join the kleptocracies and steal from other indigenous nations, try to hide like a chameleon or persist as bedrock nations establishing a new political order between indigenous nations and sub-regional governments to obtain political control over their territories. By so doing they ensure protection and prosperity for their peoples, and organize sufficient security to prevent kleptocratic states, corporations, criminal cartels and trans-state religions from practicing their greed and crimes against human beings. It is risky for nations take control of their own life, but it is riskier still to allow the Trumplicans to rule Indian Country and indigenous nations around the world. I am optimistic that many nations will take the former course of national political control.
Indigenous Peoples are putting their bodies on the line and it's our responsibility to make sure you know why. That takes time, expertise and resources - and we're up against a constant tide of misinformation and distorted coverage. By supporting IC you're empowering the kind of journalism we need, at the moment we need it most.