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How Science Ignores The Living World — An Interview With Vine Deloria

This interview of Vine Deloria by author Derrick Jensen, was published in July of 2000, by The Sun Magazine.

Today, it is more relevant – and more important – than when it was published.

Deloria passed away on November 13, 2005.

 

July 2000: Vine Deloria is one of the most important living Native American writers. For more than a quarter century, he has produced an extraordinarily readable critique of Western culture. Central to Deloria’s work is the understanding that, by subduing nature, we have become slaves to technology and its underlying belief system. We’ve given up not only our freedom, but also our relationship with the natural world.

Deloria was born in 1933 on the Pine Ridge Sioux Reservation in South Dakota. For many generations, his family has straddled white and Indian cultures. One of his ancestors, the son of a fur trader and a Yankton Sioux headman’s daughter, had a vision that his descendants would serve as mediators with the dominant society.

Deloria’s father, a Dakota Episcopal priest, took his young son to the site of the 1890 Wounded Knee massacre and pointed out to him the survivors who still lived on the reservation. Deloria left home at sixteen to go to a college-preparatory school in Connecticut. After graduation, he turned down an acceptance to the University of Colorado and bought a used car with his tuition money. He went on to study geology for two years at the Colorado School of Mines (my own alma mater) before enlisting in the Marine Corps reserve. In 1956 he enrolled in Iowa State University, where he met his future wife, Barbara Jeanne Nystrom.

They moved to Illinois so that Vine could attend a Lutheran seminary in preparation for becoming a minister, like his father. For four years, he studied philosophy and theology by day and earned money as a welder at night. Although he completed his education, he grew increasingly disappointed with “the glaring lack of solutions” the seminary provided.

In 1964, Deloria went to work as the executive director of the National Congress of American Indians, and there he began to see the importance of building a national power base for Indians through grassroots organizing. He soon came to appreciate the need for trained Indian lawyers who could defend tribal sovereignty and treaty rights within the legal system, and in 1967 he enrolled in law school at the University of Colorado.

Deloria maintained his ties to Christianity, even being elected to the Executive Council of the Episcopal Church. In one of his books, however, he posed a challenge to the religion of his childhood: “If, as they claim, Christianity is for all people, why not let Indian people worship God after their own conception of Him?” Deloria no longer identifies himself as a Christian, but, if pressed, offers that he is a “Seven Day Absentist.”

Since receiving his law degree in 1970, Deloria has written many books and lectured at colleges all over the country. In both his writing and his speaking, he has never shied away from direct assaults on injustice. It’s as though he doesn’t have time or patience for the polite indirectness that characterizes so much political dialogue today. His book titles alone testify to this directness: Red Earth, White Lies (Fulcrum Books) won the 1996 Nonfiction Book of the Year Award from the Colorado Center for the Book; Custer Died for Your Sins (University of Oklahoma Press) brought accounts of the trail of broken treaties up to date; and God Is Red (Fulcrum Books) remains one of the best books written on Native American spirituality.

Deloria recently retired from his position as a professor of history, law, religious studies, and political science at the University of Colorado in Boulder. He lives in Golden, Colorado, with his wife, who edits much of his work.

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Jensen: What would you say is the fundamental difference between the Western and indigenous ways of life?

Deloria: I think the primary difference is that Indians experience and relate to a living universe, whereas Western people — especially scientists — reduce all things, living or not, to objects. The implications of this are immense. If you see the world around you as a collection of objects for you to manipulate and exploit, you will inevitably destroy the world while attempting to control it. Not only that, but by perceiving the world as lifeless, you rob yourself of the richness, beauty, and wisdom to be found by participating in its larger design.

Science insists, at a great price in understanding, that the observer be as detached as possible from the event he or she is observing. Contrast that with the attitude of indigenous people, who recognize that humans must participate in events, not isolate themselves.In order to maintain the fiction that the world is dead — and that those who believe it to be alive have succumbed to primitive superstition — science must reject any interpretation of the natural world that implies sentience or an ability to communicate on the part of nonhumans. Science insists, at a great price in understanding, that the observer be as detached as possible from the event he or she is observing. Contrast that with the attitude of indigenous people, who recognize that humans must participate in events, not isolate themselves.

Ironically, although science prides itself on being a search for knowledge, Indians can obtain knowledge from birds, animals, rivers, and mountains that is inaccessible to modern science. And Indians can use this knowledge to achieve better results. Take meteorology. Scientists know that seeding clouds with certain chemicals will bring rain, but this method of dealing with nature is wholly mechanical and forces nature to do our bidding. Indians achieved the same results more peacefully by conducting ceremonies and asking the spirits for rain. The two methods are diametrically opposed. It’s the difference between commanding a slave to do something and asking a friend for help.

Being attuned to their environment, Indians could find food, locate trails, protect themselves from inclement weather, and anticipate coming events thanks to their understanding of how all things are related. This knowledge isn’t unique to American Indians. It’s available to anyone who lives primarily in the natural world, is reasonably intelligent, and respects other life-forms for their intelligence. Respect for other life-forms filters into our every action, as does its opposite: perceiving the world as lifeless. If you objectify other living things, then you are committing yourself to a totally materialistic universe — which is not even consistent with the findings of modern physics.

The central idea of science, as it has been developed and applied, is to get machines or nature to do the work human beings don’t want to do. This is immensely practical, but in a shortsighted way.

Jensen: How so?

Deloria: Developing the automobile, for example, allowed people to get quickly from place to place, but at what cost, both in terms of accidents and of damage to the natural world? And what effect have automobiles had on our spiritual life?In a capitalist system, whoever supplies the money determines the technology. This means that science, as it’s applied, is never really for the good of humankind, but instead for the good of the financial elite or the military.

In a capitalist system, whoever supplies the money determines the technology. This means that science, as it’s applied, is never really for the good of humankind, but instead for the good of the financial elite or the military. It also means that science will be dominated by the authorities who have found institutional favor, whether they have the best evidence for their beliefs or not.

When beliefs and knowledge harden and become institutionalized, we turn to institutions to solve all our problems: people purchase food grown by others, settle their conflicts in courts and legislatures rather than by informal, mutually agreed-upon solutions, and wage extended and terrible wars over abstract principles instead of minor battles over the right to occupy land for hunting and fishing. Similarly, beliefs about the world are processed into philosophical and rational principles rather than anecdotal experiences, and religion is reduced to creeds, dogmas, and doctrines.

Now, every society needs educated people, but the primary responsibility of educated people must be to bring wisdom back into the community and make it available to others. Because of hierarchies, European thinkers have not performed their proper social function. Instead, science and philosophy have taken the path already taken by Western religion and mystified themselves. The people who occupy the top positions in science, religion, and politics have one thing in common: they are responsible for creating a technical language incomprehensible to the rest of us, so that we will cede to them our right and responsibility to think. They, in turn, formulate a set of beautiful lies that lull us to sleep and distract us from our troubles, eventually depriving us of all rights — including, increasingly, the right to a livable world. They, in turn, formulate a set of beautiful lies that lull us to sleep and distract us from our troubles, eventually depriving us of all rights — including, increasingly, the right to a livable world.

Rather than trusting our own experiences and senses, we often look to scientists for explanations of the world. In giving explanations, these scientists defer to the dogma and doctrine they learned in universities and colleges. It’s gotten to the point where almost anything anyone with a Ph.D. says is taken as gospel, rather than as someone’s opinion.

One example of this credulity is the widespread acceptance of the notion that Indians came to the Americas across the Bering Strait. Newspapers and textbooks say that archaeologists have proven there were waves of people moving to and fro across the Bering Strait, but they haven’t proven anything of the kind. Assuming that carbon dating is anywhere near accurate, and that the researchers didn’t throw out as “noise” any results they didn’t agree with, all they can prove is that a group of people lived in such-and-such a place, however many years ago. Everything else is just theory and speculation. Respect for other life-forms filters into our every action, as does its opposite: perceiving the world as lifeless. If you objectify other living things, then you are committing yourself to a totally materialistic universe — which is not even consistent with the findings of modern physics.

Jensen: So you view the theory that human beings came to North and South America across the Bering Strait as an article of faith, rather than as fact?

Deloria: I’ve yet to see any remotely convincing evidence to support it. It’s a doctrinal belief that institutional science has imposed on us.

The effort to deny that Indians are native to this land really started with the old Spanish clerics, who tried to identify Indians as either survivors of Noah’s flood or members of the lost tribes of Israel. So modern scientific theories are part of an entrenched line of thought: a Judeo-Christian insistence on seeing the world through Eurocentric eyes. Indians cannot simply be Indians. They have to have come from somewhere in or around Europe.

Jensen: Why is this issue of deep origins important?

Deloria: People want to believe that the Western Hemisphere, and North America in particular, was vacant, unexploited, fertile land waiting to be cultivated according to God’s holy dictates. The hemisphere thus belonged to whomever was able to “rescue” it from its wilderness state. We see the same rationalization at work today in the Amazon and elsewhere. If the Indians were not the original inhabitants of this continent but relative latecomers who had barely unpacked when Columbus came knocking on the door, then they had no real claim to the land and could be swept away with impunity. Thus, science justifies history and eases the guilt over five centuries of violence. Even today, I hear some non-Indians say, “Well, aren’t we all immigrants from somewhere?” The short answer is no. By making Indians immigrants to North America, Westerners are able to deny the fact that this is our continent.

Another way science has assuaged Western guilt is by claiming to prove that Indians are just as destructive as Westerners. You’ve probably heard of the Pleistocene overkill hypothesis, which states, without any real evidence, that as soon as Indians “arrived” here, they started killing everything in sight. When the hypothesis was first proposed some fifty years ago by Carl Sauer, it was shot down almost immediately by Loren C. Eiseley, who raised numerous concerns that have never been refuted. One is the fact that not only large mammals disappeared during the Pleistocene Epoch, but also birds, mollusks, and frogs, which could not have been hunted to extinction. Also, there is no evidence that tribal hunting groups using ancient techniques could exterminate — or even significantly alter — an animal population, unless the hunters and prey were restricted to a very small area. The example of modern tribes who still use Stone Age methods supports this.

So the overkill theory remained dead in the water until the 1960s, when it was revived by a book called Pleistocene Extinctions. Since then, as the destruction of the natural world has become ever more difficult to ignore, Westerners have needed ever stronger salves for their consciences, so the theory has risen up again in full force. Although there is still little real evidence to support it, its ideological function — to prove that destructiveness is part of human nature, and not just the result of a destructive way of living in and perceiving the world — is important enough to justify its admission into the scientific canon.

There’s even a new theory that Indians were responsible for the near extinction of the buffalo. According to this argument, Indian winter encampments deprived the buffalo of feed, and so the population plummeted.

Jensen: How could anyone make that claim?

Deloria: Simple: by ignoring all evidence that contradicts the thesis, such as 1870s newspaper reports of white hunters shipping out trainloads of buffalo hides. In the Dodge City area alone, hunters killed 3 million buffalo in three years.

Jensen: If Indians didn’t cross the Bering Strait, how did they come to inhabit this continent? What do the Indians themselves say?

Deloria: That last question isn’t asked often enough, and points out another problem with the scientific tradition. Somehow it is presumed that scientists, and thus Europeans, know better than the Indians themselves how Indians got here and how they lived prior to Columbus. That attitude is patronizing at best. Instead of digging and analyzing, why don’t researchers just ask the Indians? And then, having asked, why don’t they take the answers seriously?

Indians’ beliefs about their origins vary considerably from tribe to tribe. Many tribes simply begin their story at a certain location and describe their migrations. Others will say they came from another continent by boat. (Of course, archaeologists generally refuse to believe them, because they think Indians couldn’t have built boats, which is absurd.) A number of tribes say that they were created here. A few say they came here through a portal from another world. They walked into a cave or tunnel, for example, until it was completely dark, and they continued walking until a tiny light appeared ahead of them. As they kept moving toward it, it grew bigger, gradually revealing itself to be an entrance to a new world.

Personally, I like the Pacific Northwest tribes’ idea that, in the distant past, the physical world was not dominant, and you could change your shape and experience life as an animal, plant, or bird. Then the world changed, and some people were caught in different shapes and became animals, plants, and so on.

Much of the Indian knowledge of origins is revealed in ceremonial settings and involves views of time, space, matter, and cosmic purpose that the scientific perspective considers heretical. Because of this, such accounts are generally dismissed out of hand as superstition: nice campfire stories that have no connection to reality.

Jensen: Philosopher of science Paul Feyerabend has said that “whatever fails to fit into the established category system or is said to be incompatible with this system is either viewed as something quite horrifying, or, more frequently, it is simply declared to be nonexistent.”

Deloria: That’s standard scientific procedure. You throw out the results you don’t agree with, turn to the results that “make sense,” and say, “See, this is proven.” It’s nonsense.

Scientists gather data from what appear to them to be similar sources and circumstances and, after much meditation, announce the discovery of “laws” that govern the universe — with some notable exceptions we rarely hear about. Sometimes these “anomalies” are acknowledged and become the basis for fruitful discussion, but more often they’re simply swept under the rug. The increasing sophistication of scientific measuring instruments continues to reveal flaws in the previously agreed-upon canon, yet this seems not to bother a great majority of scientists, nor the rest of us, who should care far more than we do.

Scientists impose highly restrictive laws upon the natural world, thereby limiting its potential for response. They are asking incomplete questions of nature and, in many cases, irrelevant ones. In my opinion, fields purporting to be scientific should devote considerable time to reexamining what they can really prove and what is speculation, and then restate their principles. Standards of evidence need to be erected. There’s got to be some discipline and courage. Scientists should be willing to speak out when authoritative-sounding pronouncements are being made on the basis of questionable — or nonexistent — evidence.

I like the Pacific Northwest tribes’ idea that, in the distant past, the physical world was not dominant, and you could change your shape and experience life as an animal, plant, or bird. Then the world changed, and some people were caught in different shapes and became animals, plants, and so on.

Jensen: A friend of mine says that science is an even better means of social control than Christianity, because if you don’t believe in Christianity, you’re simply doomed to burn in a hell you don’t think exists, whereas if you don’t believe in science, you’re presumed to be stupid.

Deloria: I think science has replaced Christianity as the dominant religion in our society. You see evidence of this whenever someone goes to court to try to establish or protect religious rights. If science and religion come into conflict, religion always loses. That’s true for everyone from Christian fundamentalists to Indians to Orthodox Jews: anybody who has a religious view that’s unacceptable to scientists.

Jensen: What are some better ways of perceiving and living in the world?

Deloria: I would say one alternative to forcing nature to tell us its secrets is to observe nature and adjust to its larger rhythms. This alternative is practiced by many other cultures, but it scares a lot of people in the West because it derives information from sources that may be tinged with mysticism. For example, many centuries ago, three sisters appeared to the Senecas and said they wished to establish a relationship with “the two-legged people.” In return for the performance of certain ceremonies that would help them to thrive, the sisters would become plants and feed the people. The three sisters became beans, corn, and squash. And the soil of the Seneca farmlands was never exhausted, because these three plants, in addition to sharing a spiritual relationship with one another, also formed a sophisticated natural nitrogen cycle that kept the land fertile and productive.

The white man came later, planted only corn and wheat, and soon exhausted the soil. Then, after conducting many experiments, scientists “discovered” the nitrogen cycle and produced chemical fertilizers to replace the natural nitrogen. But now we know that these chemicals have unpleasant side effects that may be even worse for us than they are for the soil.

The point is that, for every scientific “discovery,” there may exist one or more alternative ways of understanding natural processes. But we can’t know what these alternatives are until we absolutely reject the idea of forcing nature to reveal its secrets and instead begin to observe nature and listen to its rhythms.

Jensen: I’ve heard about South American tribes who can take a poisonous plant and, by some complex process; boiling it three times, skimming off the froth, and so on — turn it into medicine. Usually, the tribes are assumed to have arrived at these processes through trial and error, but this seems ludicrous to me, because the original plant is a deadly poison. By contrast, you’ve written that “getting information from birds and animals regarding plants is an absurdly self-evident proposition for American Indians.”

Deloria: There are plenty of Indian stories where a plant will appear in a dream and speak to someone, or a person is walking through the forest, and suddenly a plant will say, “I’m edible, but you’ve got to do these various things in order to eat me.”

When I was much younger, I would bring Indian plant knowledge to scientists for them to investigate. But they always wanted to take the plant apart, break it down to see what its constituents were. Their efforts were pointless, because that’s not the way the medicine men use it. They use it whole, and then they get the natural product out of it by making a tea, or a poultice. You can’t chemically disassemble it, because it’s the whole of the plant that cures, not any one ingredient.

Jensen: This seems to get at the heart of the fundamental difference between Western and indigenous cultures: seeing the plant as a whole and letting it literally speak to you, versus putting nature, as Francis Bacon said, “on the rack and extracting her secrets from her.”

Deloria: That’s true, although most of the greatest scientists dabbled considerably in spiritual matters and believed that mystical and intuitive experiences provided them with knowledge. This is true even of Descartes, the first materialist, who is famous for articulating the mind/ body, human/nature split. He said an angel came and explained things to him. Heisenberg, Einstein, and Bohr all had sudden insights. What’s the difference between that and the Indian performing a ceremony and hearing the plant say, “Do this”?

Jensen: I’ve heard of ceremonies in which Indians would sing to the corn. How does that help? What does singing do for the plant?

Deloria: We’re giving energy and respect to the plant. It’s kind of like when you’re trying to teach your kid how to play basketball, and even though he can’t hit the hoop, you say, “Hey, that was really a good one.” You’re not only telling the plant, “We respect and appreciate you”; you’re also making a fuss over the fact that it’s growing. It’s a straight transfer of energy.

Any fool can treat a living thing as if it were a machine and compel it to perform certain functions. All that’s required is sufficient force. But the result of force is slavery, both for the victim and for the wielder.

Jensen: In one of your books, you cite the Osage chief Big Soldier on this: “I see and admire your manner of living. . . . You can do almost what you choose. You whites possess the power of subduing almost every animal to your use. You are surrounded by slaves. Everything about you is in chains, and you are slaves yourselves. I fear that if I should exchange my pursuits for yours, I, too, should become a slave.”

Deloria: That’s the best thing any Indian ever said. I teach at the University of Colorado, and so many of my students are convinced that they are free, yet they act just like everyone else. They all do the same things. They all think alike. They’re almost like a herd, or clones. They’re enslaved to a certain way of life. The thing is, once you’ve traded away spiritual insight for material comfort, it is extremely difficult ever to get it back. I see these kids hiking in the mountains, trying to commune with nature, but you can’t commune with nature just by taking a walk. You have to actually live in it. And these young people have no way of critiquing the society that is enslaving them, because they get outside of it only for the occasional weekend. They may see beautiful vistas and develop an aesthetic appreciation of this other world, but they’re not going to get to a metaphysical understanding of who they really are.

In this sense, poor Appalachian whites and rural blacks are much closer to the natural world than my students, because they live in it twenty-four hours a day. These groups also have in common their oppression by industrialization and the destruction of the land on which their lives depend. Their connection to the natural world teaches them who they are. And it’s not just an abstract connection, but a relationship with a particular tree or a particular mountain.

Jensen: How does being in one place for a long time teach you who you are?

Deloria: If you live in one place long enough, you begin to lose the defenses you’ve erected in order to survive in industrial civilization, and you fall into the rhythm of the land. You develop a different sense of the natural world and no longer have to think of things in the abstract. You think, instead, of how the land looks and what it’s telling you. I would think many Appalachian people have this sense, especially the ones who’ve lived back in the hills for five or six generations. They have begun to adjust to the land, as opposed to forcing the land to adjust to them. If you talk to them, you’ll find they don’t have many of the abstract concerns that so-called civilized people have.

Jensen: What sort of abstract concerns?

Deloria: Always wondering who you are. Always trying to prove yourself, to prove that you are good enough, strong enough, rich enough, good-looking enough. Always trying to define yourself in terms of what you do for a living or what your hobbies are or what you can buy. I can see how that would be an effective survival technique in New York City, but if you live in a place where you’re not always having your identity called into question, you don’t need to worry about those things. You can simply be yourself.

Because of the industrial machine, no one really has an identity anymore. So you have to keep giving people numbers and meaningless ways to define themselves. If you look at the bestseller list, you see all these books offering to tell you how to be yourself. Well, when the land gives you a foundation, you don’t have to struggle with that question. If you live a long time in one place, you have an ongoing experiential context. If you don’t, your life is limited to little disconnected experiences. To really feel alive, you’ve got to grab as many of these experiences as you can. Thus, you’ve got MTV and malls and discos.

Why do Western people — and the Near Eastern peoples from whom their religions are derived — need a messiah? Why is their appraisal of the physical world a negative one? . . . Why do they insist on believing that ultimate reality is contained in another, unimaginable realm?

Jensen: How have modern Indians been separated from the land?

Deloria: Obviously, there are some whose tribes came from the swamps of south Georgia, but who live on a reservation in Oklahoma, or on the south side of LA. People my age mostly grew up on reservations or in towns near reservations, but now a substantial number of young Indians grow up in the suburbs. When these kids come back to Indian culture, they are grasping the images rather than the substance. That’s why it’s important to live in one place, or at least to visit your place and your people often: to stay in touch with who you are, you need to know not just your peer group, but your family and your ancestors and the tribe you were born into. Young suburban Indians often can’t distinguish between the Indians of their tribe and all the information put out about Indians in general. Black Elk Speaks has become a kind of bible for a whole generation of Indians, but it’s really only about one Sioux medicine man.

Loss of ethnic identity, of course, is not just an Indian problem. It’s happening in the big cities. Take Roman Catholic churches. It used to be that you would have an Irish Catholic church, and two blocks over an Italian church, and then six blocks down a Lithuanian church. Now, for financial reasons, the three churches have to consolidate into one, and people lose that sense of community based on ethnicity. They become homogenized into one great big church that stands for nothing, because they’ve had to make so many compromises.

We all need to relearn our own cultural traditions. About six years ago, I brought together traditional people of different tribes for several conferences on Indian knowledge. The whole thing was very emotional, almost traumatic. Few of the Indians in the audience had heard real Indian storytellers tell about their own traditions. A storyteller would get up and speak for forty minutes, and the entire audience would be in tears. People would come to me and say, “I’ve never experienced anything like this in my life.” I’d respond, “Well, this is what our ancestors did. They didn’t spend twenty-four hours a day hunting buffalo. They’d kill a buffalo, have a feast, and then take a few days off to sit around the campfire and tell stories.” Those traditions built incredibly strong characters and happy people.

Jensen: How can we revive that sort of community?

Deloria: Well, in my own case, I would start by pulling together what’s been written down and getting to know it reasonably well, but then I would go out and ask some of the elders how accurate it is. Most books tell only part of the story, and some actually get things wrong. The authors just happen to find some Indians who want to talk and write down what they say. Once it’s in print, it becomes absolute: “This is what Sioux Indians believe,” or “This is what Shoshones believe.” But medicine men and elders often know better.

Many of these elders probably reached adulthood in the 1930s. This means their grandfathers did not grow up on reservations, but were the last generation brought up in freedom. Now we’re losing the last people who ever spoke to the last people who were free. We’re at a very dangerous time. When my generation goes, people are not even going to remember rural communities with no paved roads. In the small towns near reservations, there are no longer any benches where people can sit and talk. Where can we find the coming together, the old visiting? Not at the tribal councils, which are just about policy decisions. Not at the powwow, where everyone is trying to win the dance competition. The old kinship responsibilities are all fading away. How many people today, Indian or otherwise, know where their grandparents are buried? There are no family cemeteries anymore. There is no returning to a place where you feel at home.

Jensen: Why do you think the West destroys every traditional culture it can reach?

Deloria: I don’t think those in power want it known that there are other ways of living, because for the industrial state to succeed, all the citizens have to be part of the economic machine. If you have people living out in a rural area pretty much self-sufficiently who spend their time singing and writing poetry, it tempts those who are still part of the machine to try to seek better lives themselves. If you saw the lack of stress in indigenous people, and then looked at the stress created by the industrial machine, you’d realize that the whole system has gone crazy. We don’t control machines; they control us. So the system has got to crush any alternatives.

This is the legacy of Christianity. The stated Christian ethic is to “love thy neighbor,” but, historically, Christians have been afraid and suspicious of any neighbor unlike themselves. And if those neighbors won’t change, they’ve simply killed them. Certainly, millions of Indians were given the choice of Christianity — and enslavement — or death. The same thing happens today, but it’s generally couched in economic terms, rather than religious ones.

Jensen: How are Indian religions different from Western religions?

Deloria: Most Indian cultures never had a religion in the sense of having dogmas and creeds, nor did they have the sort of all-powerful deity that Christians speak of — a specific higher personality who demands worship and adoration. Rather, they experienced personality in every aspect of the universe and called it Woniya (“spirit”) and looked to it for guidance.

Jensen: So Indians believe everything has spirit?

Deloria: Not exactly. It’s not something they believe. What happens in the different Indian religions is that people become so intimate with their particular environment that they enter into a relationship with the spirits that live there. Rather than an article of faith, it’s part of their experience. I think non-Indians sometimes experience this, too, when they spend a long time in one place.

Indians believe that everything in the universe has value and instructs us in some aspect of life. Everything is alive and is making choices that determine the future, so the world is constantly creating itself. Because every moment brings something new, we need to strive not to classify things too quickly. We must see how the ordinary and the extraordinary come together into one coherent, mysterious story line. With the wisdom and time for reflection that old age provides, we may discover unsuspected relationships.

In this universe, all activities, events, and entities are related. Thus, it doesn’t matter what kind of existence an entity enjoys; whether it is human or otter or rock or star, it participates in the ongoing creation of reality. To Indians, life is not a predatory jungle, “red in tooth and claw,” as Western ideology likes to pretend, but a symphony of mutual respect in which each player has a specific part to play. We must be in our proper place and play our role at the proper moment. Because we humans arrived last in this world, we are the “younger brothers” of the other creatures and therefore have to learn everything from them. Our real interest shouldn’t be to discover the abstract structure of physical reality, but rather to find the proper road down which to walk.

I would also say that another major difference between Western and indigenous religions is that aboriginal groups have never had any need for a messiah. In fact, there really is no place for one in their cosmos.

Jensen: Why is that?

Deloria: If the world is not “a vale of tears,” then there’s no need for salvation. Indians know nothing of a wholly different world — a heaven — compared to which this world has no value. Indian religion is instead concerned, as sociologist Robert Bellah has noted, with “the maintenance of personal, social, and cosmic harmony, and with attaining specific goods — rain, harvest, children, health — as men have always been.” The North American Indians don’t desire transcendence. They simply want to learn more about the reality that confronts them.

Why do Western people — and the Near Eastern peoples from whom their religions are derived — need a messiah? Why is their appraisal of the physical world a negative one? Why do their societies suffer such crises? Why do they insist on believing that ultimate reality is contained in another, unimaginable realm beyond the senses and the span of human life? I don’t understand it. Religion, as I have experienced it, isn’t the recitation of beliefs, but a way of helping us understand our lives. It must, I think, have an intimate connection with the world in which we live, and any religion that favors other places — heaven and the like — over the physical world is a delusion, a mere control device to manipulate us.

Jensen: What, then, to an Indian, is the ultimate goal of life?

Deloria: Maturity: the ability to reflect on the ordinary aspects of life and discover their real meaning.

Now, I know this sounds as abstract as anything ever said by a Western scientist or philosopher, but within the context of Indian experience, it isn’t abstract at all. Maturity is a matter of reflection on a lifetime of experience, as a person first gathers information, then knowledge, then wisdom. Information accumulates until it achieves a sort of critical mass, and patterns and explanations begin to appear. This is where Western science derives its “laws,” but scientists abort the process there, assuming that the products of their own minds are inherent to the structure of the universe. Indians, on the other hand, allow the process to continue, because premature analysis leads to incomplete understanding. When we reach a very old age, or otherwise attain the capacity to reflect on our experiences — most often through visions —we begin to understand how experience, individuality, and the cycles of nature all relate to each other. That state seems to produce wisdom.

Because Western society concentrates so heavily on information, its product is youth, not maturity. The existence of thousands of plastic surgeons in America attests to the fact that we haven’t crossed the emotional barriers that keep us from experiencing maturity.

Jensen: I’m friends with an Okanagan Indian, from British Columbia. I once asked her where dreams come from, and she said, “Everybody knows the animals give them to us.” How would you answer the same question?

Deloria: You have to remember that the Indian relationship to the land is not abstract, but very particular, tied to one piece of ground. My people come from the plains, so we say dreams come from the spirits, not from animals. This is because, if you look around the Great Plains, you see only three large wild creatures: the buffalo, the bear, and the wolf. And you don’t run into them all the time. On the other hand, in the Pacific Northwest, where your friend’s from, there are so many living things that a person is in danger of disappearing into the crowd. So if she says that dreams come from animals, she’s absolutely correct — for her area. If I say dreams come from spirits, I’m correct, but only for the plains.

Jensen: It seems pretty clear to me that if the dominant culture has its way, it will destroy the planet.

Deloria: No question about it.

Jensen: What can we do, then?

Deloria: So long as we perceive science to be a cure-all for everything and a means to overcome nature, there’s nothing we can do. Our answer to increasingly violent weather, for example, is to build cement bunkers to protect us from tornadoes. We’re adjusting to the destructive system rather than abandoning it.

Jensen: You’ve suggested the beautiful possibility that extinction might not be forever, but that, instead, the endangered creatures go away and come back when their habitat is once again being treated properly.

Deloria: About ten years ago, I spoke to members of the Society for Ecological Restoration. I told them that traditional Indian knowledge says that beings never become extinct. They go away, but they have the power to come back. I predicted that, in their restorations, if they were preparing the area right, plants they thought were extinct would begin coming back unaided after four or five years. Plants would come back first, and then animals, and then birds.

Of course, my audience thought I was crazy. But later, when I went to get a cup of coffee, several people followed me. They said, “You’re right. We’re seven years into a swamp restoration in Wisconsin, and all the original plants are back.”

This is not as extraordinary as it might sound. The elders tell us that the buffalo used to go back and forth between two worlds. In the summertime, people would find themselves in the middle of a big herd for weeks. But in the wintertime, there would be only a few buffalo down in the river bottoms, or up in the grasslands. Where were the huge herds? According to the Sioux, they were underground. There were about ten places where they went in or came back out.

When I first heard that, I didn’t believe it. Then I talked to some of the elders, who said, “Of course,” and showed me the buttes where the buffalo used to come out in the springtime. I thought, This is insane, so I scoured the literature, but I couldn’t find any accounts of big buffalo herds in the wintertime. Then, come June, the damn plains were covered with buffalo. In the fall, they started disappearing again.

I’m still working on this one. But that’s what life is all about. You take disparate facts, bring them together, and say, “Now, what’s the real question?” And so often you’re amazed to find that the matter is much deeper than you ever imagined. But the point is to ask the questions, and keep asking them.

WATCH: Victim of the WWF (World Wildlife Fund)

WATCH: Victim of the WWF (World Wildlife Fund)

ZEMBLA – Onderzoeksjournalistiek

Documentary published on May 24, 2019

New Documentary: Victim of the World Wildlife Funds

 

“ZEMBLA investigates the collateral damage of the World Wildlife Fund’s (WWF) battle for nature conservation. ZEMBLA discovers that WWF promotes birth control programs that include contraception and even sterilization for men and women.

The fight against poachers is getting grimmer all the time. ZEMBLA travels to India, where local inhabitants are wrongly accused of poaching, are being tortured and sometimes even killed. On camera, guards from Kaziranga National Park state that they are allowed to shoot unwanted people.” [Source] [Running time: 39:52]

WATCH: Anti-poaching Militias Backed by WWF Inflict Violence on Baka Men & Women

Survival International

2018 Testimonials

 

“In southeast Cameroon, Baka and their neighbors continue to be illegally evicted in the name of conservation, most recently for a game reserve set up last year with the support of the World Wide Fund for Nature (WWF)

In these latest video testimonies, Baka men and women reveal the violence they have suffered at the hands of anti-poaching militias backed by WWF. This debunks WWF’s claims that the situation seems to have improved.

Other victims have written open letters to protest at their unfair treatment.”

Testimonial published October 29, 2018:

 

 

“Paulette describes abuses against Baka people committed by park rangers backed by WWF”

Testimonial published November 15, 2018

 

 

“Suzanne explains how Baka people are being excluded from the forests they rely on to survive”

Testimonial published November 9, 2018:

 

 

“In the Congo Basin, the Baka, Bayaka and dozens of other rainforest peoples are being illegally evicted from their ancestral homelands in the name of conservation. “Their health is plummeting as a result.” [Further reading]

The big conservation organizations that support these conservation projects, like the World Wildlife Fund (WWF), refuse to abide by basic international standards and secure their consent.”

Testimonial published October 29, 2018:

 

 

“Some of the world’s largest logging groups are destroying the Baka’s ancestral forests in the Congo Basin.

This Baka man lives near logging concessions run by the French giant Rougier, one of the World Wildlife Fund’s main partners.

Despite claiming it never partners with logging companies without the Baka’s consent, it has done precisely that for over 15 years.”

Testimonial published October 29, 2018:

 

 

“Baka “Pygmies” are being illegally evicted from their ancestral homelands in the Cameroon and Congo.

This man explains the importance of the forest to Baka life, and recounts how a young girl and elderly man died when their community was attacked by an anti-poaching squad funded by the World Wildlife Fund (WWF).”

Testimonial published October 29, 2018:

 

 

“A Baka father talks about how an anti-poaching squad beat his young daughter, who was just 10 years old, in 2016.

Djami’s community are being illegally evicted from their ancestral homelands to make way for a national park, and face arrest and beatings, torture and death at the hands of these squads, which are supported by the Worldwide Fund for Nature (WWF).

He sadly died shortly after this video was taken.”

Testimonial published October 29, 2018:

 

 

“A Baka man, interviewed in 2015, reports abuse by Cameroonian wildlife guard Mpaé Désiré.

Mpaé Désiré was arrested in 2016 on suspicion of involvement in the illegal wildlife trade.

The Worldwide Fund for Nature (WWF) has funded wildlife guards in this region since at least 2000, despite frequent reports of abuse.”

Testimonial published October 29, 2018:

 

 

“Powerful video testimonies of Bayaka “Pygmies” in the Republic of Congo highlight their intimate connection with their lands and the abuses they face at the hands of wildlife officers and forest guards – who are often funded by large conservation organizations like the Worldwide Fund for Nature (WWF) and the Wildlife Conservation Society. © Jin Lewis/Survival International

The lives of thousands of Baiga tribespeople in India were destroyed after being forcibly and illegally evicted from Kanha Tiger Reserve – home of the “Jungle Book”. Their communities have been scattered and left without land, but tourists are welcomed into the reserve.”

Testimonials published October 29, 2018:

 

Excerpt from The Big Conservation Lie

Book: The Big Conservation Lie

Author: John Mbaria and Mordecai Ogada

Publisher: Lens & Pens Publishing LLC Auburn WA USA 2017

 

 

The Epiphany

John Mbaria’s Encounter With Unseen Injustice

 

 

She was an unmistakable image of deprivation. The emaciated Samburu woman had thrown across her left shoulder a torn shuka, which left parts of her body exposed. She had braved the sweltering Samburu sun that baked the entire place bringing into being mirages of promise that failed to deliver more than that. As she advanced to the river, the woman attempted an upright position. But her stooped frame refused to yield. Nevertheless, this enabled me to peer into her cracked, multilined face. Her look was distant. Her thin hands held onto a cord with which she had strapped the empty twenty-litre water jerrican. Her entire frame talked of many struggles and probably as many defeats. The woman had emerged from a thick bush across the river, itself part of a natural spread dotted here and there by short, sturdy trees and broken, now and then, by awkward-looking hills. Some of the outcrops had been whitened by excrement from birds of prey. The vast, monotonous terrain extended into the distant horizon, giving packs, herds and flocks, and other residents a veritable abode. Some did not just live and let live; they visited local people’s homesteads with danger and intent.  Across the river was a scene removed from the reality of this unforgiving landscape. Under the watchful eyes of armed rangers, a group of us were happily and noisily climbing a rocky landform that formed part of the river’s embankment.

This was in 2001, and most of us were young, joyful journalists. We had been sponsored to the Shaba Game Reserve, 314 kilometres northeast of Nairobi, by the Sarova Group of Hotels, one of Kenya’s most prominent hotel chains with eight hotels—many of which are carefully stashed in some of Kenya’s most spectacular, most pristine pieces of wilderness. Located in Eastern Kenya, Shaba is where the popular reality TV adventure series Survivor III was shot in August 2001. Before that, the game reserve hosted Joy and George Adamson, the romantic conservationists who gave the world a reality show of life in the bush before they were tragically murdered. Together with its sister reserve, Buffalo Springs, Shaba boasts of seventeen springs that sojourn along subterranean courses from Mount Kenya—one hundred or so kilometres away—and which gush out there to convert part of this dry wasteland into a veritable oasis. Along its northern boundary flows the Ewaso Nyiro River that, together with the springs, has made the entire place a magnet for gerenuks, Grevy’s zebras, reticulated giraffes, lions, leopards, and hundreds of bird species that live side by side with the Samburu people. We were taken there to savour the unmitigated joy of spending time in a purely wild area. We were expected to reciprocate by meeting our brief—flowery feature stories embellished into captivating narratives that could attract and keep guests visiting the hotel and the reserve. Many of us were poorly paid cub reporters who could hardly afford the European cuisine on offer or the joys of partaking of a game drive atop four-wheel-drive fuel guzzlers. With a monthly pay that either equaled or was slightly more than the cost of spending a night in the extremely comfortable and luxurious hotel, we could not but agree to be spoiled for three days and be blinded by freebies. We roamed the area in vans packed with bites, booze, and soda. For lunch and dinner, three-course meals of continental dishes awaited—a veritable feeding frenzy ensued.

While on game drives, we hoped to spot elephants, dung beetles, and everything in between. Part of our exclusive experience included climbing a rocky landform close to the crocodile-infested Ewaso Nyiro River. It was while doing so that I spotted the elderly Samburu woman. Silently—almost in mime—and removed from my world, she was to take me through a host of lessons that dramatically altered my entire outlook on the grand wildlife conservation program Kenya and other countries in Africa have adopted since the dawn of colonialism.

“A conversation with the Samburu elders during a study on pastoralism, 2017” [Source]

For some reason, I found myself thoughtfully watching her every move. She dipped her jerrican into the river, rapidly filling it with the muddy, unpalatable water. The water notwithstanding, this had me thinking. With a load of European food still fresh in my belly, I could afford to summon some imagination. I conjured images of the immense peril the woman had exposed herself to. But what repeatedly danced in my mind was one image in which a four-metre, several-hundred-kilo crocodile emerged from the water, splashed dirty water into her eyes, and in a lightning move, grabbed the woman’s leg with its massive jaws, its saw-like teeth tearing into her flesh, as it then dragged her limp body into the deeper waters. In my mind’s eye, the croc went on to convert her entire existence into some unsightly bloody mess.

Thank God this did not happen. But in the case it had happened, I figured that it would have resulted in several eventualities: A photojournalist would have captured the bloody scene in a single, award-winning shot. The woman would have paid the ultimate price, ending up as yet another sad statistic. Many of us would have filed copious media reports detailing how “another victim met her death” or “I witnessed the worst case of human-wildlife conflict at the banks of Ewaso.” KWS rangers would have been summoned. And with cocked guns, fingers on triggers, eyes strained to the river, and adrenaline pumping into muscles, they would have first shot in the air to rattle any crocs. The rangers would have found it impossible to identify the culprit. Unable to isolate the life-snatching beast from the rest of the gang, they would have shot one of them—an act of appeasement to sorrowful relatives, tit-for-tat killing, justice delivered to a woman so shunned in life. The conservation juggernaut would have rolled on, as ever deceitful and callously removed from the plight of those who suffer the brunt of what it purports to preserve.

Yes, the woman lived that day, not just to take the dirty water home, but probably to go back to the river and risk her life many more times. Maybe she lived only to fall sick or die from the muddy, parasite-infested Ewaso waters. This is not just a possibility. Neither is it a mere probability or likelihood. It is a circumstance that is replicated countless times across most areas bordering Kenya’s twenty-two national parks and twenty-eight national reserves. Many of the people who live with wildlife in Africa meet their deaths, leaving hordes of orphans with no one to wipe their tears. There are hundreds of women—young and old—who have been denied the comfort of travelling through life with their spouses. There are men who must gnash their teeth in pain and immense anger each time they think of their late beloved spouses and children. There are countless more who live without limbs, just as there are many others who endure torn flesh, broken bones, blindness, destitution, and loss of entire livelihoods occasioned by encounters with wild animals.

In this Samburu woman, I saw the embodiment of a community praised for its traditional conservation ethics that spared for the world vast populations of diverse wildlife, a community, however, shunned by the world, even as acres of paper and decades of airtime are expended by many a conservationist and organization to discuss their welfare.

Upon this revelation, I refused to play along, and I made it my career to expose the rot.

~ John Mbaria, 2014

 

+++

 

 

 

Reclaim Conservation: Activists & Communities Vs. Mainstream Conservation Myths

Reclaim Conservation

December 9, 2017

There are myriad definitions of the term “environmental conservation” and hundreds of ideologies and methods being utilised worldwide in an attempt to conserve habitats and biodiversity. At present, what is clear is that conservation efforts as a whole are failing. While there is increasing, large-scale financial investment in conservation efforts worldwide, positive results from this investment remains to be seen. Indeed, the species extinction crisis, destruction of habitat and climate change continue unabated and pose increasingly severe threats to the natural world.

Mainstream conservation institutions are increasingly modelling themselves on, and indeed directly reliant upon, commercial businesses. Being part of the dominant economic establishment positions these NGOs as conflicted in their ability (and desire) to take effective action against the root cause of environmental degradation which unarguably stems from uncontrolled capitalist exploitation, accompanied by corruption, broken nation states and a burgeoning world leadership crisis. These large NGOs cannot challenge these overarching systems of oppression because they have become part of them. By ignoring the “bigger picture” and the real cause of the problems that they claim to be concerned with tackling and offering superficial, insincere solutions, the big NGOs cause severe damage to our world in that they control the vast majority of resources and funding to ostensibly support conservation efforts, but fail to use it where it is most needed and thus fail to create any meaningful change or positive results.

In order to justify their failure, they have developed discourses blaming local people for being either greedy destroyers of nature or ignorant savages who lack the intelligence or motivation to work to preserve their own environment. Nature is being ascribed economic value and local people are being offered financial “compensation” in order to ensure they do not interfere with the work of the powerful NGOs. Grassroots activism and new, radical approaches to conservation are demonised and accused of “getting in the way” of the “real conservationists” (the large NGOs) in order to distract people from seeing activists’ real potential as capable of creating a new reality. Funds are being blocked from reaching either community conservationists or activists, ensuring that the powerful retain control and those uniquely positioned to dismantle the ineffective and damaging status quo are prevented from accessing the resources and opportunities that are required to make real change.

This situation must change, Reclaim Conservation, through activist work with communities, whistle-blowers and law enforcement, through academia, mass and social medias, will prove and inform the public that:

Conservation is activism

Conservation is against corruption

Conservation is against all kinds of discriminations

Conservation is against right wing, capitalist exploitation

Conservation is compassion

If not, conservation will just not work!

 

www.reclaimconservation.org

The Best Lecture You Will Ever Watch on “Conservation”

Mordecai Ogada, Director of Conservation Solutions Afrika – The Big Conservation Lie

Video published on Mar 27, 2017

“That hot afternoon in Amboseli; I experienced my road to Damascus. I realized that I was part of a system that had no respect for the very bedrock on which it stood. I was a qualified black face put in place to smooth over fifty years of exploitation in two and to create a pleasant backdrop that would allow for the renewal of this insidious arrangement. The technical knowledge I had from all the years and energy I spent studying conservation biology weren’t important here. The Dr. prefix to my name, my knowledge of Kiswahili, my complexion were all props to make things appear honest. These realizations came to me in a merciless flood, and I was momentarily filled with outrage and self-loathing. I was part of a fallacy whose sell-by date was fast approaching.”—Mordecai Ogada

A must watch lecture of Mordecai Ogada presenting on his new book The Big Conservation Lie. Sponsored by CSU SOGES Africa Center and The Department of Human Dimensions of Natural Resources, Warner College of Natural Resources, Colorado State University.”

 

 

Greenwashing Capitalism: Conservation’s Cosy Relationship with Corporations

Conservation Watch

By Chris Lang

March 21, 2017

Since the year 2000, there have been many partnerships between conservation organisations and the industrial corporations responsible for destroying nature. Mining companies are particularly popular.

A new paper by William M. Adams published in the Journal of Polical Ecology explores the “surprising closeness and apparent warmth of the relations between biodiversity conservation organisations and corporations”.

The paper is titled, “Sleeping with the enemy? Biodiversity conservation, corporations and the green economy”, and can be downloaded here.

Adams traces the partnerships between conservation organisations and the mining industry to a series of initiatives starting in the 1990s:

1997: Conservation International published Reinventing the well, a report on “minimizing the environmental and social impacts of oil development in the tropics”.

1998: a Global Mining Initiative, “to provide sustainable leadership for the mining and minerals industry in the areas of our economic, social and environmental performance”.

1999: The World Business Council for Sustainable Development began a Mining, Minerals and Sustainable Development project.

1999: Rio Tinto started working with Conservation International.

2000: Conservation International published a report on large-scale mining, titled, Lightening the lode.

2001: The International Council on Mining and Metals was formed, “to act as a catalyst for performance improvement in the mining, minerals and metals industry”.

2000–2002:The Mining Minerals and Sustainable Development Project, a research collaboration between the WBCSD and IIED.

Adams argues that,

[C]onservationists are turning a blind eye to their own past and to the working of neoliberal capitalism, showing a remarkable willingness to entertain future risks to biodiversity from the outworking of neoliberalism.

Conservation has been transformed by neoliberalism. Instead of looking at how capitalism uses (and destroys) nature, neoliberal conservation presents capitalism as the way of achieving environmental sustainability.

In their 2012 paper, Bram Büscher, Sian Sullivan, Katja Neves, Jim Igoe and Dan Brockington write that,

[N]eoliberal conservation shifts the focus from how nature is used in and through the expansion of capitalism, to how nature is conserved in and through the expansion of capitalism.

Benefits and consequences

Adams highlights the benefits and the consequences of partnerships between conservation organisations and corporations. There are three benefits:

  1. Power: Conservationists see corporations as having the power to make decisions to either conserve or destroy biodiversity. “Conservationists therefore engage because they want influence.”
  2. Funding: Corporations are key financiers of conservation, from sponsorship of NGO activities, to support for partnership activities, to philanthropic support from individuals in corporations, to linked for-profit enterprises, such as conservation-endorsed commodity chains.
  3. Careers: Corporate executives on NGO Boards allows for career mentoring, and access to networks of corporate contacts. “Corporate support also offers opportunities for career development: all NGOs depend on cash income to develop their programmes, and working in a way that aligns your programme with the interests and activities of corporations is a good way to keep your job and grow your program.”

An obvious problem with conservationists partnering with corporations is what Adams calls the “fundamental nature of capitalism”.

Capitalism is parasitic on nature, in that it “continuously gnaws away at the resources base that sustains it”, as Geographer David Pepper puts it in his 1993 book, Eco-Socialism: From deep ecology to social justice.

Corporations need to make only slight changes to their corporate strategies. But for the conservation organisations working with corporations, the ideological and organisational changes are significant. Biting the hand that feeds, by criticising corporate partners, is out of the question.

And conservation organisations that work closely with corporations start to look more like corporations themselves. Mark Tercek, the President and CEO of , previously worked at Goldman Sachs, rising to Managing Director and Partner.

Adams points out that corporate partnerships “do not in any obvious way ‘work’ for conservation, in terms of systematically addressing the fundamental drivers of biodiversity loss”.

Adams writes that the partnership between conservation organisations and corporations is a Faustian bargain, “a deal with the devil to acquire power in exchange for the soul”. Adams adds,

If conservation is Faust, the power it wins by its bargain with capitalism is inevitably trivial and transient: ultimately, in the face of capitalism’s destruction of nature, conservation will lose.

And he concludes that,

The reframing of nature as natural capital and the reinvention of conservation as the management of capital flows through market-based instruments, might make a close engagement between neoliberal conservation and corporations look unproblematic. Such a relationship offers the lure of financial resources and power. But conservationists considering getting into bed with corporations should remember the tale of Faust’s bargain. The story takes many forms, but in none of them does the pact turn out well.

 

[Conservation Watch is run by Chris Lang (conserwatch@gmail.com). The views expressed on Conservation Watch do not necessarily reflect the formal positions of any organisations or individuals, except when this is clearly stated. Conservation Watch is funded by the Rainforest Foundation UK.]

Fundación Pachamama is Dead – Long Live ALBA Part VIII [Final Segment]

February 1, 2016

Part eight of an investigative report by Cory Morningstar

Fundación Pachamama Investigative Report Series [Further Reading]: Part IPart IIPart IIIPart IVPart VPart VIPart VII  • Part VIII [Final Segment] 

 

guayasamin

“Maternidad” by Oswaldo Guayasamin

Cultural Imperialism, Trends & Expanding Markets

“Cultural imperialism is defined as the cultural aspects of imperialism. Imperialism, here, is referring to the creation and maintenance of unequal relationships between civilizations favoring the more powerful civilization. Therefore, it can be defined as the practice of promoting and imposing a culture, usually of politically powerful nations over less potent societies. It is the cultural hegemony [1] of those industrialized or economically influential countries, which determine general cultural values and standardize civilizations throughout the world.” [Source] In this way, Eurocentric NGOs serve as the faux social constructs avec philosophic roots as key instruments of social-class domination.

Cultural imperialism can take various forms, so long as it reinforces cultural hegemony. Ecotourism easily fills the role of an opaque vellum that attempts to cover cultural imperialism.

[C]ultural imperialism promotes the interests of certain circles within the imperial powers, often to the detriment of the target societies … or forms of social action contributing to the continuation of Western hegemony…. Cultural imperialism can refer to either the forced acculturation of a subject population, or to the voluntary embracing of a foreign culture by individuals who do so of their own free will…. According to one argument, the “receiving” culture does not necessarily perceive this link, but instead absorbs the foreign culture passively through the use of the foreign goods and services. Due to its somewhat concealed, but very potent nature, this hypothetical idea is described by some experts as “banal imperialism.” For example, it is argued that while “American companies are accused of wanting to control 95 percent of the world’s consumers,” “cultural imperialism involves much more than simple consumer goods; it involves the dissemination of American principles such as freedom and democracy,” a process which “may sound appealing” but which “masks a frightening truth: many cultures around the world are disappearing due to the overwhelming influence of corporate and cultural America. [Source]

One could quite easily make the argument that Pachamama Alliance is a specialized, elite tourist agency that employs brilliant, emotive marketing strategy targeting today’s wealthy spiritual capitalists – all under the guise of a tax-exempt NGO – in essence, what amounts to a bourgeois front and agreed upon alibi for the shared white guilt espoused by the white saviours.

Kaypocoke

We convince the Indigenous to participate in their own demise by encouraging and teaching them to replicate our models and become consumers. For, as we consumers (formerly known as citizens) lose what little remains (if anything) of our own culture, we seek to not just taste, but devour other cultures … because we, collectively as consumers, have become insatiable in an unprecedentedly ugly way. We long to devour what we have collectively destroyed.

In the book Ecotourism and Conservation in the Americas, Arnaldo Rodriguez remarks that the difference in principles between the community and private enterprise can be so conflicting that, at times, the community prefers to destroy the enterprise, even if it belongs, in part, to them, noting that communities in the Amazonian region are very hesitant to create enterprises where benefits are not distributed immediately and equally, making it very difficult for them to partner with private enterprise.

Rodriguez concluded that community?based ecotourism in the Amazon was subject to an overdose of enthusiasm and that the time and cost involved in partnering with communities is substantial.

One can imagine the difficulty a healthy capitalist would have in appreciating the concept of the sharing of all wealth equally. Private economic “solutions” (which protect the capitalist system at all costs) always protect the Eurocentric, white-privileged mode of life: market-based, deregulated, with ever-expanding commodification.

It is said that today, after a slow and difficult process, 70-86% (reports are conflicting) of the Kapawi Ecolodge (cooks, cleaners, waiters, boatmen and guides, i.e., service industry positions) are Achuar (“32 staff at the reserve and two at the urban offices,” Source). One must ask who holds the remainder of positions (30%). It is likely that the more prestigious, decision-making positions are held by foreigners (espousing and upholding Western ideologies) who are likely paid high wages, in stark contrast to what the Achuar are paid.

As an example, personnel who were contracted outside of the Achuar, such as Kapawi Ecolodge general manager Andres Ordoñez, still maintain their positions today. [Source]

Andres Ordoñez

Ronald Sanabria, Vice President of Sustainable Tourism, Rainforest Alliance (left), and Andrés Ordóñez, General Manager, Kapawi Ecolodge & Reserve Source: The Rainforest Alliance 2013 Annual Gala

One “cultural management challenge” for Canodros was that of time, an imaginary concept that keeps the West in a stranglehold of productivity: “In the first six months after the lodge first opened, the Achuar did not appreciate the importance of the concept of time to the guest of the lodge. When guests at the lodge book a tour, the tour guide is expected to be at the designated place at the agreed upon time. When the tour guide is not there, guest satisfaction declines precipitously. This problem was resolved through lots of meetings, and lots of explanation. Canodros provided watches to the employees, but ultimately time is a philosophical concept, and the Achuar could not understand why the outsiders were always in a hurry. Now the Achuar accept the outsiders’ philosophy of time and work within the philosophy….”

Here it is critical to note that the Achuar are/were a dream-based culture. That is, every aspect of their daily lives is lived through the interpretation of their dreams – meaning there is no sense of time, destiny, or fate in their beliefs. [Source] [emphasis added]

Many of the Achuar employed by the Kapawi development must travel several days by foot to get to the lodge. They then work for approximately one month before returning to their community. In a 1999 study it was reported that “[A]t Kapawi, employees work on a 22 day cycle, and off for eight days to help with families and community needs.” If one considers the travel to the lodge takes up to 3 days (one way), the eight days off to help with families and communities is in reality, tantamount to a mere 2 days per month.

Because of the long excursion (4 full days of travel to and from the lodge), it is reasonable to assume that eventually Kapawi employees may decide to purchase a canoe similar to the Kapawi’s motorized canoes (diesel engines and at least one solar: “our canoes are equipped with four-stroke outboard motors“) used for the tourists. Perhaps this is already occurring. It must be acknowledged that prior to the Kapawi development, there was no development whatsoever: no motorized canoes, no generators, no diesel. Upon opening the development, diesel (pollution) to transport, entertain (canoes) and serve (generators) the wealthy was introduced to the communities. The Canodros Tours website boasts that “in addition, the update and improvement of the photovoltaic system was made, which will allow a saving of 1,500 gallons of diesel consumption per year.” The actual consumption of diesel per year is not publicly disclosed. Solar provides 60% of the electricity as of December 2012.

Further to the introduction of diesel into an area formerly free of pollution, airplane flights were also introduced as each and every guest must fly in. The private flight (about one hour each way) over the rainforest is part of the exclusive allure. One blog writer comments that 5 planes were employed to transport her and her group to the Kapawi development.

Does anyone recognize the irony in the development of an “eco” resort that created and perpetuates a new dependency upon fossil fuels among the Achuar? In a development where 1800 visitors are required each year just to break even, the more “successful” the development, the more fossil fuels required to fly in the international tourists. Although the foundation for these developments is said to be “eco-tourism as an alternative economic model to the exploitation of oil,” the eco-tourist developments are in fact absolutely dependent on the further expansion of oil. These developments do not replace the market – rather, they participate in expanding the market.

The number of tourists to visit Kapawi is approximately 550-1000 per annum (the highest reported number found being 1500). The goal of the Achuar, now fully responsible for the corporation, is to increase the number of tourists to 2,000 per year. Perhaps they will achieve this. Perhaps they will achieve 3,000 per year. Yet does this constitute success? More oil, more diesel, more flights, more canoes, more lodges, more dependence on the purchase of outside supplies to accommodate the Euro-American tourist. This represents an unintentional, yet very real, strengthening of the very system annihilating our planet and her most vulnerable peoples; a strengthening of the very system that demands ever-expanding exploitation of pristine living ecosystems and locations such as Achuar territory.

Rainforest Alliance is just one NGO that openly works with capital in “reaching new markets.” In this conference (Innovations in Sustainability and Certification, sponsored by Citibank, May 15, 2013) on the discussion: “Innovations in Travel: Reaching New Markets – Panelists discuss consumer trends towards experiential tourism,” the stage is shared by Andrés Ordóñez, General Manager, Kapawi Ecolodge & Reserve, and a consultant for Rainforest Alliance.

Yet another new market (aside from environment markets, certification, REDD – Reducing Emissions from Deforestation and Forest Degradation, etc.) is the Ecuadorean Amazon’s “vast network of slow-moving, interconnected river ways.” Recognizing this market, a group is currently designing and constructing a system of solar-powered boats and recharge stations on the rivers of Achuar Territory. [“Our project will not only sustain the welfare of a nation and protect a biodiverse ecosystem, but will also provide an innovative model that can be replicated around the globe.”] To make this venture possible, the group is working with the Pachamama Foundation with a grant from the Foreign Ministry of Finland. Further development in formerly untouched and pristine territories (“new markets”) – as the world burns.

Deutsche Gesellschaft für Internationale Zusammenarbeit (GIZ) is identified as one of the national and international funders that provided the Kapawi Corporation with the bulk of the finance capital for the development of this project, which resulted in the first solar engine canoe announced on June 14, 2012. GIZ is a federally owned organisation. It works worldwide in the field of international cooperation for sustainable development and its mandate is to support the German Government in achieving its development objectives. The GIZ has been criticized on various occasions for being engaged in funding projects and programmes that are violating the human rights of the people actually living in the countries being “developed.” In March 2013, it was criticized by human rights groups for its engagement with Namibia’s Land Reform programmes and policies, that are violating the rights of indigenous peoples as outlined in the United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples, by dispossessing Himba people and Zemba off their traditional lands and territories. [Source]

Experiential tourism is a new product of the tourism industry. “Catering to the imaginations of experience-seekers, personalized, customizable or theme innovations that stimulate imagination or cater to fantasies are enticing consumers looking for uncommon experiences. The addition of an unconventional ‘experience’ piques interests and raises the perceived value of a good or service.” This new trend fits well with the 21st century trend of spiritual capitalism.

Recently, the Kapawi development has expanded with a secondary location in the village of Ti’inkias. In the Pachamama Journeys itinerary for June 7-19th, 2014,it states the following: “Head to the nearby town of Shell where we’ll take a 45-minute flight deep into the Amazon rainforest to the Achuar village of Chichirat. After a traditional Achuar greeting with their traditional beverage, nijaamanch (known as chicha) and visit with the local elder and his family, we’ll walk to the Bobanaza river for a beautiful motorized canoe ride down to the village of Ti’inkias.” The cost of this trip, per person, is $3,475.00 not including your flight to Ecuador. An additional charge of $10.00 (per guest) will go directly to the Achuar community.

Such ventures quench incessant desires not unlike heroin or any other self-indulgent drug: a self-absorbed search for the affirmation of one’s superiority. In the age of a starved and toxic Western commodity culture, induced by an acquiescent, pathological, collective insanity, even a taste will suffice.

In the US states of North and South Dakota, the land of the Lakota Indians is under siege due to the intense fracking boom in the Bakkens. And yet US Big Greens do not assist these communities. Why the need to travel thousands of miles to the jungles of the Amazon located in a sovereign state when the natives on the soil we walk upon are under siege? It’s simple: the Lakota are not “exotic,” they are not easily co-opted by the non-profit industrial complex. When Americans collectively acquiesce to the development of Bakken oil to continue rampant consumptive patterns, corporations/foundations/oligarchs need not destabilize their own governments whom they fully control and run.

While in theory (marketing/branding is perhaps more precise) Pachamama voices the necessity for the modern world to heed the vision of the Achuar, in reality they have transferred and continue to transfer Western ideologies, standardization, and values onto the Achuar – slowly altering the Achuar to reflect us. There are no signs whatsoever of the Achuar culture and knowledge influencing the Western mindset or culture in any meaningful way. At the end of the day, the white saviours – the foundations, NGOs and academia – believe that we understand how the world must work better than the Achuar, better than anyone.

If you want to help the Amazon rainforest and her peoples, then help. To name just a few tangible actions, get off the grid, use public transit, transition to a plant-based diet, plant a garden, and stop consuming – separating what is essential to a healthy life from mere wants that are not necessities whatsoever. One thing is certain. Flying to any luxury resort (in the name of ecology no less) will only escalate our accelerating planetary collapse. It is also certain that this kind of consumption guarantees and expands the exploration for and drilling of oil – the very fossil fuel we claim to wish to keep in the ground. Above all, say no to imperialism.

And finally, in an age of Western peak consumption/commodification, let us also share one of the most disturbing displays of our commodity culture, waste and decadence… yet which must be considered correct and beneficial from our perspective and pedestal of whiteness and superiority:

“The children of the Amazon according to their culture and beliefs did not celebrate Christmas, after the entrance of the Catholic Church, this has been changing but with a low impact, and as a company each year we organize a celebration for the children not focused in the Christmas celebration but dedicated to them, in the year of 2010 I had the opportunity to participate in the organization of the event with donations of friendly companies to give the Achuar children a small present. [Source] Dec 11, 2010

 

“On December 15th of 2012 we did at Kapawi Ecolodge & Reserve the Christmas party for all the communities, we had more than 250 people that belong to different communities which surround the hotel. It was a day full of emotion and joy, because we did many games not only for children but for adults too.” [Source]

One must wonder if the introduction of Christmas is to “give” to the Achuar or appease the wishes of the tourists.

ChristmasGifts

Photo: “With our co workers in Quito, we organized the program with many games, surprises and the distribution of gifts for the kids that went to Kapawi. After a formal invitation that is transmitted by radio to the communities, around 250 children came with their representatives. We were lucky to have with ourselves a television program cast called Vele Vele Vele helping us with the animation of this main event.” [Source]

Like a Greek tragedy, concerned and well-intentioned citizens (including the majority of self-proclaimed environmentalists and activists) seek the solutions for an unprecedented ecological crisis from the very institutions that have contributed the most to unparalleled ecological devastation, running hand in hand with the ongoing genocide of indigenous peoples on a global scale. The non-profit industrial complex makes palatable the unpalatable on behalf of the establishment, whom they answer to and depend upon for their existence.

Rather than break away from the unprecedented destructiveness of industrialized capital or Western culture, tragically and willingly, we in the North collectively contribute to its re-articulation.

Wealth for the Chosen (Predominantly White) Few

 

tourism

Ecotourism was and continues to be big business. Lead authors in this field have gone on to consult for influential organizations (such as the UN, the Nature Conservancy, USAID, state governments), lecture, found prosperous organizations and opened tourism-related businesses, and become senior fellows of prestigious institutes, professors, directors, and authors of best-selling textbooks and guidebooks. The International Ecotourism Society (TIES), founded in 1990, is the oldest and largest non-profit organization in the world “dedicated to making ecotourism a tool for sustainable tourism development worldwide.” [TIES was founded by Megan Epler Wood who founded the firm EplerWood International in 2003.]

In the mid-1990s, the TIES organization launched a national review of community benefits of ecotourism in Ecuador. Dr. David Western, TIES founding president/chairman, recently appointed as the new Director of the Kenya Wildlife Service (KWS), would insist on bringing his “international expertise” on ecotourism in Kenya to improve community ecotourism development methodologies in Ecuador. The conference that followed (Ecotourism at the Crossroads) was then both funded and managed by KWS in partnership with TIES. [Source] KWS is somewhat notorious for corruption and scandals as well as complicity in “conservation” deals, more recently, one in which Kenya’s Samburu peoples were violently evicted from their land.

Kenya Wildlife Services has become one of the more parasitic NGOs working in partnership with USAID and Nature Conservancy. (“The court has turned a blind eye to the pleas of the Samburu community and allowed these illegalities to subsist. The transfer [of the land to the KWS] is totally unlawful and it’s in flagrant violation of the interests of the Samburu community.” | Source)

“We decided that a national conference could galvanize interest from industry in more community involvement in development on community managed lands. This conference came to be known as Ecotourism at the Crossroads. It was funded by KWS and managed by KWS and TIES…. By the end of 1998, TIES had galvanized national forums on community benefits from ecotourism in two landmark countries, Ecuador and Kenya.” — Community Ecotourism on the Frontiers of Global Development Part 1, part of our special series Ecotourism Then and Now, commemorating the 20th anniversary of The International Ecotourism Society (TIES) |Source

Daniel Koupermann (Amazon guide at EcoTrek, later to be an executive at Canodros and Pachamama co-founder, see Part I ) has established Andean Paths, an Ecuadorian travel company. According to Ecuador Travel Vacations website, Koupermann was “one of the first developers of ecotourism in Ecuador. The designer and builder of Kapawi Eco-Lodge…” This statement is misleading to some extent considering that 140-150 men (the majority Achuar) devoted two years of their lives in building Kapawi. (“He has developed strong relationships with most of the leaders and the powerful shamans in Achuar territory. In addition, he has been involved with yacht operations in the Galapagos Islands, the development of a community-based tourism program on Isabela Island and the implementation of a condor-viewing program in Cajas National Park. He is President of Fundación Pachamama (www.pachamama.org.ec), the Ecuadorian arm of The Pachamama Alliance, (www.pachamama.org) which is a well-known non-profit organization that supports the indigenous groups in the Amazonian Region of Ecuador.”)

Soft Power: Eco-Colonial Tourism

“The historical legacy of colonialism frames tourism in a way that is based on an economy in which the host culture continues to be extracted. Culture tourism is a new form of extractive resource colonialism.” — Devon Peña

 

“The hardest part of the transition process is to change their way of thinking, their culture.” – Miguel Carrera, Kapawi Lodge [Source]

 

“The tremendous lack of communication and trust between indigenous groups and the private sector has been the foremost hurdle for development in Latin American countries. Indigenous organizations have seen private enterprises as abusive institutions eager to exploit indigenous culture and resources. The private sector, on the other hand, tends to consider indigenous people untruthful and indolent. If these misunderstandings are resolved, a new niche for socially responsible development will evolve….” — Arnaldo Rodriguez, Pachamama Founder, 1999

Tourism has always been culturally destructive and exploitative by nature. In most cases, if not all, this seems inevitable. The reality is that when a tourist meets the Achuar, the encounter is a commercial transaction. This cannot be disputed. As the commodity (and main selling feature) within the exclusive “package” being sold is the Achuar people themselves, it would be difficult to argue that the Achuar identity is being commodified, appropriated, and sold for consumption to the bourgeoisie classes.

The production and consumption that ecotourism embodies could only be considered sane in a world of planetary crisis where risk of total annihilation now appears a blasé certainty. The spectacle is of an unbridled privileged class for whom care and regard for future generations is secondary to fulfilling one’s own material desires and ego.

The global economic context of ecotourism is created on a foundation upholding centuries of colonialism, imposed slavery, misery, violence and ethnocentrism. While on the surface the rhetoric ratifies the claim that eco-tourism ensures local participation, autonomy, and global democracy, below the surface, critical social and environmental crises are not only simply and brilliantly re-articulated, they are also being perpetuated.

“It took time but now we are about to select the best [of the Achuar employed by Kapawi] and send them away to learn English and management skills” [Source]

“Equally, the Himba in Namibia survived everything that a hostile arid environment could throw at them for centuries until they became a tourist attraction in the 1970s. Their communities were overrun and many Himba are now beggars and alcoholics. These days, tribes are regularly diminished in the name of economic advancement. The refugee Burmese Kayan women in Thailand, who wear brass coils round their necks, each year attract thousands of tourists, who pay to visit them in their camps. Their communities are disintegrating as alcoholic dependency grows.” [Source]

Could such cultural degradation and disintegration happen to the Achuar?

coke1

2010: Amazon indigenous leaders in Quito to see “Avatar” on the big screen in 3D.

Indeed, signs of disintegration showed themselves almost from inception. In 2004, disintegration was shared by Chalalan, Posada Amazonas, Kapawi (Achuar) representatives. Dire warning signs were documented in a 2003 study group paper titled Lessons in Community-based Ecotourism, funded by the Critical Ecosystem Partnership Fund (CEPF). CEPF is a joint program of l’Agence française de développementConservation International, the European Union, the Global Environment Facility, the Government of Japan, the MacArthur Foundation and the World Bank. [The role of WWF: In a 2 year study, WWF coordinated the preparation of an Ecosystem Profile for the Caucasus ecoregion with the help of 130 “international and regional experts”.] Private sector partners included De Beers Namaqualand Mines in South Africa, Kuapa Kokoo Farmers Union in Ghana and Unilever in the Philippines.

In the paper, the troubling signs (which aptly mirror a deteriorating Western society) were minimized by using the terminology “*perceived threats.” The very real threats/warnings, shared by the Indigenous participants, were documented as follows:

  • Less time with family
  • Distance from family, saving money and they go to the city to have fun instead of returning home to family
  • Less time for family work: in the chacra and house and so now there’s a need to contract labor
  • Customs about family gifts, such as food have disappeared. Family solidarity is missing.
  • The mingas before were more common in the community of Kapawi; now they want money for community work
  • Abandoned children
  • Tourism has taken time away from the Community Council to address other community matters
  • More drunkenness
  • There is a greater number of decisions to make but the process remains slow
  • Greater separation between parents and children
  • Because they work in the lodge, people believe they are richer and so they get charged more for things
  • Now we change money for communal work, with individual contracts, or, alternatively, we pay to get out of communal work obligations.
  • Greater neglect of families
  • Some engage in fewer everyday activities, such as hunting, fishing, farming and extraction because they are waiting for profits from tourism and other opportunities for work.
  • Some have misunderstood how much they were going to benefit from ecotourism, and so they do nothing.
  • Instead of tending to their chacra, etc., there are just waiting for tourism money.
  • Personal interests for developing ecotourism apart from the community enterprise

Aside from the Indigenous peoples in such “experiments” adopting aspects of neoliberalism (erosion of cooperation, rise of competition), we can safely assume that the manifestations of Western culture since this publication of this paper in 2005 have only further amplified.

“One of the main challenges of our work is finding a balance between respecting the Achuar culture and way of living, while at the same time having them respect the needs of the business. You have to be patient and have limits. Often things come up. Someone comes from community, misses his family, or needs to go hunting. They tell me, ‘You white people need money, but I don’t need it.’ Then they take a machete and just go in the forest. I’ve had cases when I have to go and do a job for them.” — Gabriel Jaramillo, longtime administrator at Kapawi

 

“No-one yet knows whether today’s children, armed with 21st century skills, will still want to preserve their traditional way of life.” [Source]

The socially appeasing terminology “monitoring impacts” has given licence to implement and study the further expansion of globalized markets under industrialized capitalism, Western influence and its effects on Indigenous populations and cultures – via NGOs.

“Eco-tourism is a transformative policy of inclusion and democratization, as well as a product of racialized justification for modernization, in which marginalized peoples are subject to a new dependency and a new colonialism.” – The PostColonial Exotic, Marketing the Margins

Competition to gain access to Western commodities (guns, etc.) has created tension, disputes and violence between neighbouring Indigenous tribes for many decades. It is telling that for almost two years after Canodros signed the contract with the Achuar, tensions and dissatisfaction arose due to a key misunderstanding. The Achuar were under the impression that Canodros was an NGO. (“The company assumed the role of an NGO, and people from the communities went for books and medicines.” “One of the first areas for disagreement was that the Achuar thought Canodros was a NGO and should provide health care and other services.”) Thus, the Achuar (in thanks to conditioning of the missionaries and non-profits) were expecting that “gifts” would commence after signing the contract. It took at least two years of dialogue before this misconception was resolved. This perhaps shows that it is merely healthcare and very basic services (education, agricultural support, etc.) that the Achuar/Indigenous desire. Indeed, one researcher estimated that the said need for monetary income was probably less than $300 per family, per annum (Rodríguez, 1996).

Perhaps the greatest threat to the oligarchs is that with left-leaning governments gaining power, these governments will be (and increasingly are) finally able to provide these basic needs – thereby making the acceptance and embracing of imperial non-profits and missionaries obsolete. No imperial NGOs/missionaries on the ground effectively means no access. Thus, ensuring people’s basic needs are met (which is only possible when states are sovereign and free from foreign interference) must be considered an invaluable and key tool against destabilization efforts by imperial forces.

If neocolonialism is defined as the practice of using capitalism, globalization, and cultural forces to control a country (usually former European colonies in Africa or Asia) in lieu of direct military or political control, then surely REDD and carbon market mechanisms fall under this definition. Further, if such control can be economic, cultural, or linguistic, by promoting their own culture, language or media in the colony, corporations embedded in that culture can make greater headway in opening the markets in those countries, so surely ecotourism can also fall under this term.

Going yet further, if neocolonialism can be considered the end result of relatively benign business interests leading to deleterious cultural effects, then surely this applies to Indigenous populations all over the planet that have, via good intentions and misplaced trust, tragically been manipulated, thus succumbing to the jaws of predatory institutions such as USAID, Conservation International, the World Bank, etc., and now live with the consequences slowly taking hold.

In the spirit of role-playing, once again, imagine this same scenario where it is the Arabs “helping” the Achuar. Imagine the Muslims were teaching the Achuar adults and children Arabic. It is safe to conclude that such a scenario would unleash an angry outcry from the Western world, where the falsehood of Euro-American superiority and racism are invisibly woven into the very fabric of society. This begs the question (or perhaps it answers the question) as to why these concepts/developments, initiated and guided by Euro-Americans, are embraced and applauded by the global community, with no objections to be found.

Let it be noted: we object.

The Irony

“So it is clear to us that imperialism is not a product of capitalism; it is not capitalism developed to its highest stage. Instead, capitalism is a product of imperialism. Capitalism is imperialism developed to its highest stage, not the other way around…. Finance capital, the export of capital, monopoly, etc., are all articulations of a political economy rooted in parasitism and based on the historically brutal subjugation of most of humanity…. This is not something that only happened a long time ago. The world’s peoples are suffering the consequences of capitalist emergence even now…. Today’s white left is also locked into a worldview that places the location of Europeans in the world as the center of the universe. It always has.” — Omali Yeshitela

The left does not wish to acknowledge that under an industrialized capitalist system, everything depends on infinite expansion of capital – capital with far higher value than the interests of the people. The supremacy of capital ensures alternative political processes (as we witness in ALBA states: Bolivia, Cuba, Ecuador, Nicaragua, Venezuela and several Caribbean countries) are counteracted on both the national and international level by international / corporate media, international capital, and the oligarchy that seeks to subdue sovereign states and lock them within the confines of imperialism.

Until there is a global conversation as to how we are going to achieve a true virtual zero carbon existence in the near-term future, judging Venezuela, Ecuador, or any other petro-state is nothing but denial, ignorance or bravado. All roads lead to the Global North and to the US specifically, with the entire infrastructure entirely dependent on oil, gas and coal. Vulnerable states can give up their resources with their own conditions, or by force. Citizens of the Global North are not about to give up their Western lifestyles, which is tantamount to giving up one’s privilege.

Consider that “America’s debt-to-GDP ratio is 105 percent. Ecuador’s debt-to-GDP ratio is 23 percent. The real problem lies in those who run the economy, who run the society, because they protect the interests of the financial capitalists. It’s the capital, financial capital in particular, that runs the economy. The real problem is that the capital owns the society, it owns the people.” [Source]

And as the US administration continues to demonize Venezuela, millions of US citizens have to choose between paying the heating of their homes or covering other basic needs. The irony is that in order to help, the government of Venezuela implemented a programme, in collaboration with state-owned oil company PDVSA’s largest subsidiary CITGO, which provides heat to 500,000 US citizens annually. The program was initiated in 2005. [Published on Dec 13, 2013 teleSUR] Video (running time: 1:28)

 

 

Coming full circle back to Pachamama Alliance’s co-founder John Perkins, the message from Perkin’s link on his Dream Change website to “buycott” is most profound:

“Have you ever wondered whether the money you spend ends up funding causes you oppose?”

For once we agree.

We consider the closure of the U.S. Fundación Pachamama by the Ecuadorian government a small victory against imperialism and a victory for all Ecuadorians. We applaud all governments taking measures to do the same. Anyone who is against imperialism / colonialism should support such efforts.

The future of capitalism (strengthened or dismantled?) will be determined by the collective resolve bound with struggle against parasitism and imperialism. Yet perhaps the best determining factor of whether or not we succeed in dismantling and obliterating capitalism will be our smashing of the pedestal within the ivory tower, upon which capitalism depends for its survival.

One could argue that the authors of this paper demonstrate paternalism in rejecting the notion that the Achuar were/are free in all decision-making capacity and have embraced Western values of their own free will. There is no doubt that these dynamic men, women and communities embody an ethical intelligence far exceeding any intellect claimed by the Euro-American. That being said, an ethical intelligence is no match for the pathology espoused by defenders of and believers in a predatory capitalist system dependent upon infinite growth, where white “values” embodied in the global economy are forever sacrosanct and must/will always dominate and prevail.

The colonization of Latin America has never ended. Like a chameleon, it simply changes its colours. Like a parasite, it simply changes its hosts.

One may argue that Western writers/thinkers/activists/citizens have no right to make judgments on whether or not such cultural influences and shifts, brought on by projects teeming with ethical and philosophical conflicts, are to be tolerated or accepted. Yet this line of debate effectively shuts down the urgent need to look at these interactions under a much needed critical light, thereby effectively securing and protecting the very hegemonic power structures that slowly erode and deteriorate autonomous nations via soft-power manipulation.

In real life, we call this well-orchestrated genocide.

+++

I hear you cry, “Save the Amazon!!!”

Yet if I tell you that capitalism must be defeated, you smirk and walk away.

I hear you cry, “Save the Amazon!!!”

Yet you acquiesce to the voice of the colonizer while you dismiss the Indigenous voice with an unspoken superiority.

I hear you cry, “Save the Amazon!!!”

Yet you accept that the words and thoughts of Indigenous Peoples must be conveyed by way of white mouths.

I hear you cry, “Save the Amazon!!!”

Yet I witness your acceptance of blatant, highly financed, white paternalism.

I hear you cry, “Save the Amazon!!!”

And I know you are a liar.

 

END

 

[Cory Morningstar is an independent investigative journalist, writer and environmental activist, focusing on global ecological collapse and political analysis of the non-profit industrial complex. She resides in Canada. Her recent writings can be found on Wrong Kind of Green, The Art of Annihilation and Counterpunch. Her writing has also been published by Bolivia Rising and Cambio, the official newspaper of the Plurinational State of Bolivia. You can support her independent journalism via Patreon.]

Edited with Forrest Palmer, Wrong Kind of Green Collective.

The Colonial Origins of Conservation: The Disturbing History Behind US National Parks

Truthout

August 25, 2015 

By Stephen Corry

Yosemite National Park. Beginning with the 1864 Yosemite Grant Act, Native Americans were evicted from almost all US park lands.

Yosemite National Park. Beginning with the 1864 Yosemite Grant Act, Native Americans were evicted from almost all US park lands. (Photo: Tamara Evans/Flickr)

Iconoclasm – questioning heroes and ideals, and even tearing them down – can be the most difficult thing. Many people root their attitudes and lives in narratives that they hold to be self-evidently true. So it’s obvious that changing conservation isn’t going to be an easy furrow to plow.

However, change it must. Conservation’s achievements don’t alter the fact that it’s rooted in two serious and related mistakes. The first is that it conserves “wildernesses,” which are imagined to be shaped only by nature. The second is that it believes in a hierarchy, with superior, intelligent human beings at the top. Many conservationists still believe that they are uniquely endowed with the foresight and expertise to control and manage so-called wildernesses and that everyone else must leave, including those who actually own them and have lived there for generations.

These notions are archaic; they damage people and the environment. The second also flouts the law, with its perpetual land grabs. For nature’s sake as well as our own, it’s crucial to expose how these ideas grew and flourished, to understand just how mistaken they are. There’s an ongoing attempt to wipe from the map the quagmire around conservation’s wellspring, to pretend it’s all now transparent and sunlit. It isn’t.

Some conservationists, usually those lower in the pecking order, have the morality to face reality. They must prevail. With enough support, they will propel the industry from below toward a radically different approach, one that stands a far better chance of saving the environment and one using far smaller sums of money to do so.

This iconoclastic revolution is urgently needed, and there’s no better time: 2015 is the 125th anniversary of Yosemite National Park, and 2016 completes a century for the United States National Park Service. These are highly symbolic anniversaries: Conservation dogmas were rooted in colonial conquest and were inextricably bound up in the genocide committed against Native Americans. Both lies – that of the wilderness and that of the inferiority of some human beings – were in full flower by 1916, though they were seeded earlier when the US began to invent the parks model that is still, all too harmfully, exported around the world.

The Eviction of the Ahwahneechee People From Yosemite

The conservation movement (and its problems) really began with the 1864 Yosemite Grant Act. Conservation leaders like John Muir believed that the indigenous people who had inhabited Yosemite for at least 6,000 years were a desecration and had to go. Muir deemed them “lazy” because their hunting techniques yielded a good living without wasted effort. Such prejudice is alive and well today: An official in India said that tribal people don’t want to leave their forest because they get “fodder and income … for free” and are too lazy to work, so must be evicted.

White invaders saw the land as pristine wilderness because it didn’t conform to their European industrial image of productivity. In reality, Yosemite had long been an environment shaped by its inhabitants through controlled undergrowth burning (which created its healthy forests with big trees and a rich biodiversity), tree planting for acorns as a food staple, and sustainable predation on its game, which ensured species balance.

In the 19th century, the newcomers didn’t hesitate to send in the army to police this wilderness and get rid of everyone else. One historian, Jeffrey Lee Rodger, is sympathetic to the cavalrymen, but admits their “improvised punishments … were clearly extralegal and may have veered into arbitrary … force.” He might have compared such “punishments” with those still supported by conservation today, particularly in Africa and Asia, where tribal people are routinely kicked out of parks and beaten, even tortured, when they resist.

Native Americans were evicted from almost all the American parks, but a few Ahwahneechee people were tolerated inside Yosemite for a few more decades. They were forced to serve tourists and act out humiliating “Indian days” for the visitors. The latter wanted the Indians they saw in the movies, so the Ahwahneechee had to dress and dance as if they were from the Great Plains. If they didn’t serve the park, they were out – and they all did finally die or leave, with their last dwellings deliberately and ignominiously burned down in a fire drill in 1969.

As Luther Standing Bear declaimed, “Only to the white man was nature a wilderness … to us it was tame. Earth was bountiful.” The parks were and are supposed to preserve their “wilderness,” but they’ve never been very successful. In the case of Yosemite: over a thousand miles of often-crowded roads and hiking trails were constructed; trees were felled to make viewpoints; the balance of species was altered as animal and human predators were eliminated; trout were introduced to delight anglers; a luxury hotel was built; bear feeding areas were established to thrill visitors, so conditioning the animals to scavenge for human food; and hoteliers carried out a “firefall” for a century, in which burning wood was pushed over Glacier Point to cascade thousands of feet into the valley (the scars remain visible nearly 50 years after it was halted).

The Native Americans’ own fires, their ancient practice of seasonal and controlled undergrowth burning, was stopped. One result is the devastating conflagrations that now plague California; those simply wouldn’t have happened on the Natives’ watch.

This wasn’t preservation, it was reshaping the environment to extract tourist dollars. In spite of this, and the fact that the National Park Service has presided over a loss of biodiversity and dozens of species extinctions, many conservationists have continued to believe they’re better at protecting environments than the tribal peoples who live in them.

Scientific Racism in the Conservation Movement

The conservation movement’s historically dismissive attitudes toward indigenous people were intertwined with the ideas of scientific racism and eugenics that were just beginning to emerge when the Yosemite Grant Act was passed. Charles Darwin had published The Origin of Species five years before the passage of the act, and Darwin’s cousin, Francis Galton, was beginning to develop his racist ideas of eugenics, declaring, “The feeble nations of the world are necessarily giving way before the nobler varieties of mankind.” Eugenics enthusiasts in Britain included writer H.G. Wells and playwright George Bernard Shaw, who thought those he saw as genetically inferior, who couldn’t “justify their existence,” should be humanely gassedJohn Maynard Keynes, William Beveridge and Marie Stopes joined up, together with most of the liberal intelligentsia.

In the US, eugenics and conservation were born twins. Wealthy big-game hunters, including Teddy Roosevelt and his friend Madison Grant, both major conservationists, were among the most enthusiastic to embrace the racist creed. Their initial priority was to conserve the herds that provided their sport, and the easiest way to do that – so they thought – was to remove the “predators” who were killing the game to eat (and for its leather) rather than to hang horns on the wall. But these predators were principally human hunters – both Native Americans and poor colonists trying to eke a living from an unfamiliar world.

Ousting these subsistence hunters had the opposite of the desired effect. Elk herds in Yellowstone, for example, grew beyond the carrying capacity of the land. (The same is happening now, with elephants in Botswana.) Weak animals, once the first to fall from hunter’s arrow or wolf’s fang, started reaching reproductive age. The herd grew, but the animals sickened as hunger took its toll. Seeing their precious trophies fading through their bungling, the elite came up with ideas of “game management,” still applied today. The key is to cull, keeping the herd smaller but stronger.

They then turned their attention to the human “herd,” which was expanding rapidly from European immigration. Following Galton, they categorized humankind into hierarchical “races” and feared the country being swamped by what they considered to be lower races, including “Mediterraneans,” “Alpines,” and Jews.

The big-game hunting boys saw themselves as a different ilk. As the “Aryans” from northern Europe, they saw themselves as the creators of “true” civilization, science, culture, religion and wealth. They believed that racial mixing would threaten their “race” and what they saw as its irreplaceable talents. They passed laws to reduce immigration to the United States from “non-Aryan” countries, they outlawed interracial marriage and imposed segregation wherever possible, and they coercively sterilized anyone they could get their hands on who didn’t fit their bill; no one with a mental, physical, or even social, problem was safe, particularly the poor.

The most important hunter-turned-conservationist, Madison Grant, was also their principal writer. He was a key supporter, often founder or leader, of a dozen or so conservation groups that still exist, though he barely appears in their official histories. Among the most prominent were the Save the Redwoods League; the New York Zoological Society (now the Wildlife Conservation Society, WCS); and the National Parks Association (now the National Parks Conservation Association).

His book, The Passing of the Great Race, was published in the year the National Park Service was founded. Science Magazine’s glowing review enthused over its “solid merit.” Thirty years later, it would be cited by German Nazis who couldn’t understand why they were on trial: They were, they pleaded, simply emulating the United States, where scientific eugenics had long been used to shape society. Grant had sent a translation of his book to Hitler, who called it his Bible.

Widespread Support for Eugenics

Scratch the record anywhere in the early conservation movement, and eugenics sounds loud and clear: Alexander Graham Bell, who falsely claimed to have invented the telephone and who was one of the founders of the National Geographic Society; two charter members of the Sierra Club, David Starr Jordan (founding president of Stanford University) and Luther Burbank were all prominent members of the movement. George Grinnell, founder of the Audubon Society (and Edward Curtis’ mentor) was Madison Grant’s close friend for nearly 50 years. The National Park Service’s first director, mining magnate Stephen Mather, was backed by Charles Goethe, of the Audubon and Kenya Wildlife Societies, regional head of the Sierra Club and outspoken advocate of Nazi eugenic laws.

In 1937, Goethe wrote to Otmar Freiherr von Verschuer, director of “racial hygiene” in Frankfurt, saying, “I feel passionately that you are leading all mankind herein,” according to Garland E. Allen’s 2012 essay, “Culling the Herd,” in the Journal of the History of Biology. Verschuer was doctoral supervisor and collaborator of Josef Mengele, infamous for his barbaric experiments on children in Auschwitz. He continued to excel after the war, as professor of genetics at Münster.

In one article, “Patriotism and Racial Standards” published in a 1936 issue of Eugenical News, Goethe enthused, “We are moving toward the elimination of humanity’s undesirables like Sambo, the husband to Mandy the ‘washerlady.’ ” In 1965, on his 90th birthday, Goethe was dubbed the state’s “number one citizen” by California’s governor. He fought immigration from Mexico, making the racist argument that Mexicans have low IQs.

Eugenics grew into the establishment belief of the first half of the 20th century and didn’t falter seriously until 1945, when an American battalion stumbled into Buchenwald, just after its prisoners had seized it from fleeing camp guards.

When the Nazis had built it, their second concentration camp, an oak tree growing inside its fences had consciously been conserved. It was symbolic, though not about nature: Goethe (no relation to the conservationist) had written poetry, including some of Faust, under its branches.

The military defeat of Nazism was to unveil scientific eugenics as a true Faustian pact, absurdly false and grotesquely violent. That should have been its end. But as with much in this history, the fog of obfuscation hangs over the landscape: Eugenic affiliations are continually denied or censored.

Acclaimed figures in post-war European conservation included former Nazis like Prince Bernhard, a founder of WWF (who joined the allies before the war), and Bernhard Grzimek, the self-proclaimed “savior of the Serengeti,” cofounder of Friends of the Earth Germany, and former director of the Frankfurt Zoological Society – one of Europe’s biggest conservation funders. He made sure the Maasai and other tribes were expelled.

So did Mike Fay of the Wildlife Conservation Society, the creator of the Nouabalé-Ndoki Park in the Congo, which kicked out the Mbendjele people, using US taxpayers’ money. The Wildlife Conservation Society trained the guards who now beat Mbendjele people for suspected poaching. Given the way they’re treated, it’s frankly not surprising that those who once lived on and from the land “poach” if the opportunity arises: Conservation breeds poachers.

When today’s environmental leaders press for curbs on immigration and population, it can only call to mind this violent past. Did David Brower, for example, founder of both Friends of the Earth and Earth Island Institute, have to assert that having children without a license should be a crime – given that he had four of his own?

Few environmentalists protest at the theft of tribal lands or stand for indigenous rights. For example, John Burton, of the World Land Trust, formerly of Friends of the Earth, and Fauna and Flora International, openly opposes the very idea, though other key players, some in Greenpeace for example, have signaled support for tribes.

The unexpurgated history of conservation matters because it still shapes attitudes toward tribal peoples. Conservationists no longer pretend to be saving their “race,” but they certainly claim to be saving the world’s heritage, and they mostly retain a supercilious attitude toward those they are destroying.

Such attitudes must change. Conservation nowadays, particularly in Africa and Asia, seems to be as much about land grabbing and profit as anything else. Its quiet partnerships with the logging and mining industries damage the environment. Tribal people are still abused, even shot, for poaching, when they’re just trying to feed their families, while “conservation” still encourages trophy hunting. The rich can hunt, the poor can’t.

In spite of the growing evidence to the contrary, many senior conservationists can’t accept that tribal peoples really are able to manage their lands. They’re wrong. It’s a great con trick and it’s time it was stopped.

Other conservationists are keen to do better. They deserve to know there’s a groundswell of public support behind them, pushing for a major change in conservation to benefit, finally, tribal peoples, nature, and us all.

[Stephen Corry is the director of Survival International, the global movement for tribal peoples’ rights. The organization has a 46-year track record in stopping the theft of tribal lands. Survival’s work on conservation has wide endorsement from environmentalists.]

Cameroon: WWF Complicit in Tribal People’s Abuse

Survival International

October 6, 2014

Baka in southeast Cameroon face serious abuse at the hands of anti-poaching squads supported and funded by WWF.

Baka in southeast Cameroon face serious abuse at the hands of anti-poaching squads supported and funded by WWF.
© Selcen Kucukustel/Atlas

Survival International, the global movement for tribal peoples’ rights, has uncovered serious abuses of Baka “Pygmies” in southeast Cameroon, at the hands of anti-poaching squads supported and funded by the World Wide Fund for Nature (WWF).

The Baka are being illegally forced from their ancestral homelands in the name of “conservation” because much of their land has been turned into “protected areas” – including safari-hunting zones.

Rather than target the powerful individuals behind organized poaching, wildlife officers and soldiers pursue Baka who hunt only to feed their families.

Watch Baka recount the abuse they suffer at the hands of anti-poaching squads supported by WWF:

Baka suffer abuse in the name of conservationIn southeast Cameroon, many Baka are being illegally forced from their ancestral homelands in the name of “conservation.”They are accused of “poaching” because they hunt their food.

They face arrest and beatings, torture and death at the hand of anti-poaching squads supported by WWF.

Many Baka (such as the woman speaking in this video) in fact refer to anti-poaching squads as “dobi-dobi” (WWF), since they do not distinguish between WWF and Cameroon’s Ministry of Forests and Fauna.

The Baka and their neighbors accused of “poaching” face arrest, beatings and torture. Many Baka claim that friends and relatives have died as a result of the beatings.

Cameroon’s Ministry of Forests and Fauna, which employs the wildlife officers, is funded by WWF. WWF also provides officers with technical, logistical and material assistance. Without this support the anti-poaching squads could not function.

UN standards require WWF to prevent or mitigate “adverse human rights impacts directly linked to its operations” even if it has not contributed to them, but the giant of the conservation industry appears reluctant to acknowledge this. Despite the evidence that the anti-poaching squads have grossly abused the rights of the Baka, WWF continues to provide its crucial support.

As a result of the loss of their land and its resources, many Baka have reported a serious decline in their health and a rise in diseases such as malaria and HIV/AIDS. And they fear going into the forest that has provided them with everything they need for countless generations.

The Baka fear going into the forest which has provided them with everything they need.

The Baka fear going into the forest which has provided them with everything they need.
© Survival International

A Baka man told Survival, “The forest used to be for the Baka but not anymore. We would walk in the forest according to the seasons but now we’re afraid. How can they forbid us from going into the forest? We don’t know how to live otherwise. They beat us, kill us and force us to flee to Congo.”

Survival’s Director Stephen Corry said today, “Tribal peoples are the best conservationists and guardians of the natural world. They know more about their lands and what happens on them than anyone else. If conservation is to work, organizations like WWF need to stick to international law, uphold tribal peoples’ land rights, ask them what help they need in protecting their land, listen to them, and then be prepared to back them up as much as they can. A major change in thinking about conservation is urgently required.”

 

UPDATE 16 October: WWF has responded angrily to Survival’s campaign. Read the facts behind the headlines.

 

Notes to editors:

– “Pygmy” is an umbrella term commonly used to refer to the hunter-gatherer peoples of the Congo Basin and elsewhere in Central Africa. The word is considered pejorative and avoided by some tribespeople, but used by others as a convenient and easily recognized way of describing themselves. Read more.

– Survival has submitted a request to the Cameroonian National Commission on Human Rights and Freedoms asking it to investigate these abuses.

– Many Baka (such as the woman speaking in the video) refer to anti-poaching squads as “dobi-dobi” (WWF) since they do not distinguish between WWF and Cameroon’s Ministry of Forests and Fauna.

– Visit Survival’s Parks Need People page for other examples of tribal peoples evicted from their ancestral homelands in the name of “conservation”.

 

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