By: Roman Frank and Erin Anderson
BY JOSE BARREIRO
© 2001 NATIVE AMERICAS JOURNAL
Arcticle reproduced with permission of the Native Americas Journal. To subscribe to Native Americas Journal see www.nativeamericas.com
Almost every nation-state border in the Western Hemisphere bisects an indigenous people's ancestral territory. North, South, East and West-borders criss-cross Indian traditional lands, always with serious, sometimes disastrous impacts. The Spring 2001 issue of Native Americas represents an effort to survey a range of those cases, from the Alaska-Russian border that wreaked havoc on the Siberian Yupik throughout the Cold War, to the efforts by the southern Andean Mapuche to reunite across an Argentina-Chile border that is even more intractable than the Andes Mountains themselves.
In North America, new transnational covenants such as the North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA), meant to blur the borders shared among Canada, United States and Mexico, instead became further militarized in a drug war justification.
From the Maya of Central America, and Chiapas, to the Tohono O'odham, Yaqui and other tribes along the U.S.-Mexico border, to the Iroquois and Algonquin of the Northeastern Woodlands and Great Lakes, to the Blackfoot Confederacy of the Northern Great Plains, tribal peoples who have shared familial, geographic and cultural attachments have found themselves unable to visit relatives and to conduct the most basic civic and religious duties.
Navajo journalist Valerie Taliman surveys situations from Tohono O'odham on the Arizona-Mexico border to the Akwesasne Mohawk community on the New York-Quebec border to the Blackfoot Confederacy on the Montana-Alberta border. Aboriginal residence, predating the borders themselves and sometimes articulated in treaties, provides a basis of rightful, unimpeded border crossing, with implications for trade and commerce among tribal nations. Bill Weinberg analyzes several important cases from Central and South America where border-straddling Native peoples suffer in conflicts over national security by the countries that surround them. How Brazil and Venezuela secure their border makes a big difference to the Yanomami, who are situated in the middle and are working to secure their own territories in spite of any potential dispute. The same is true for the Maya nations of the Mexico-Guatemala border region and for the Miskito people, bisected by the Nicaragua-Honduras border-both of whom have had to endure wars that generated internal and external refugees, sometimes numbering into the hundreds of thousands. We also present in this issue the voice of Mapuche activist Nilo Cayuqueo, interviewed at his home in Oakland, Calif. Cayuqueo adds valuable insights on the impacts of borders in his discussion of the Mapuche peoples' quest for reunification.
Presently in the U.S., the Tohono O'odham on the Arizona-Mexico border, are working a bill through Congress that would grant U.S. citizenship to their relatives and tribal members on the Mexican side. At the northeastern end of the country, however, as Tuscarora contributor Richard Hill, Sr. attests, the traditional Haudenosaunee have not accepted citizenship in any country other than their own nation. While asserting treaty-guaranteed, border-crossing rights as a Haudenosaunee, Hill weighs in with some Last Words that critique the widespread trade movement through the border-bisected reservations, assailing individual traffickers who refuse to be regulated even by their own Native governments. We also welcome L. Saunders McNeill's report on the Siberian Yupik of the Bering Sea, who were cut off from each other for the length of the Cold War. Even today, border tensions and bureaucratic impediments severely limit their contact.
There are many other Native border situations not reported in this issue. Aymaras between Chile and Bolivia; Quechuas in Peru and Ecuador; Wayyu divided by Venezuela-Colombia; Ashaninka, between Peru and Ecuador; Emberá between Colombia and Panama; Maya and Nahuatl in El Salvador; on and on it goes. They are places well deserving of greater attention.
There are external and internal borders. For the Guarani Kaiowá of southern Brazil, as reported by Ricardo Funari and Jennifer Hanna, a generation-old quest to return to their traditional lands is starting to become reality. The Guarani gained international attention for committing suicide as a way of protest against a life without their ancestral lands. Much remains to be resolved, but they are living proof that linkage to the land is paramount for indigenous peoples.
"Native Americas is the award-winning publication of Akwe:kon Press of the American Indian Program at Cornell University. It features articles that cover the most important and critical issues of concern to Native (indigenous/ aboriginal) peoples throughout the Western Hemisphere, synthesizing the many voices, perspectives and streams of information that currently permeate the communication highways. Native Americas writers, thinkers and doers are firmly rooted in Native American community life. It is therefore a source of significant and reliable information. Many of the articles in Native Americas feature breaking news from in-depth investigative reporting."
Arcticle reproduced with permission of the Native Americas Journal. To subscribe to Native Americas Journal see www.nativeamericas.com
By Russell Collier
Inspired by a Vancouver Sun Article, February 20, 2001
Reporter: Gordon Hamilton
Will wonders never cease?
I've just been reading a Vancouver Sun article in Tuesday, February 20th's edition. In it, Weyerhauser's VP, Linda Coady, representing four major coastal forestry companies, has said that the four companies are ready to try "a new ecosystem-based approach to logging" in an effort to bring peace to the central coast. She goes on to say that since this is the case, it's time for Greenpeace to call off its marketing campaign targeting BC products in Europe.
I recall a story of Islam's founder, Mohammed, wherein that holy man, in a demonstration of his power, commanded a mountain to come to him. It did not. It finishes with him saying, "If the mountain will not come to Mohammed, Mohammed will come to the mountain." Except, in the context of my article today, it appears the mountain moved after all.
Coady mentions four sets of talks currently under way, the government-sanctioned LRMP, the coastal First Nations' initiative called Turning Point, talks between the province and coastal First Nations, and talks between forest companies and environmental groups. She said there is a framework agreement being formulated by all players in the region, which is expected to be ready by the end of March. The framework will cover:
- new protected areas;
- ecosystem-based forest planning;
- what areas can and cannot be logged until ecosystem-based planning is in place;
- agreements between the BC government and First Nations over development issues; and
- how to deal with the cost of the changes.
I have been following this talk series for several months now, and I have to say, from a First Nations perspective, this is all very encouraging. There are at least two important principles at the heart of First Nations concerns.
The first is that we have watched the rate of resource extraction accelerate within our territories while treaty-making drags on. There is the very real fear among First Nations that government and industry have shown an attitude of 'plunder what you can get today, before the natives get it tomorrow'. An ecosystem-based approach, which seeks to factor in fish and wildlife habitat needs, the long-term sustainability of any resource extraction, and human needs within those ecological limits, fits nicely with ensuring there is something left for BC's natives after the dust settles.
The second principle is that BC's First Nations have said repeatedly, that we feel a duty to protect the long-term health of our territories. Many First Nations leaders would say we have a sacred duty, handed directly to us by our Creator. That this is a rich land, capable of supporting many people, but that this is also a land under terrible stress, which cannot continue indefinitely. It may be hard for industrially-trained people to understand the depths of such a duty, how important it is to our cultures. But it's true, and an ecosystem-based approach will help us do our duty while maintaining a scientific rationale for changing from 'business as usual'.
Further down in the article come a series of 'tit-for-tat' comments between Coady and Gavin Edwards, a spokesperson for Greenpeace. Essentially, it's Coady saying it's time for Greenpeace to back off, and Edwards saying Greenpeace will not until they see changes in logging practices on the ground. On balance, I have concluded that Greenpeace is correct in this instance. That BC's First Nations cannot afford to trust the promises of government and the central coast forest companies just yet.
We have seen a lot of trust betrayed over the past several years. This marketing campaign has been the lever that has moved the mountain. So far, the mountain has grumbled and shifted some, publically said it is going to move, but it has not actually covered much distance. Promises are wonderful, but many promises made in the heat of the night are gone and forgotten by morning. I think it would be wise of Greenpeace to maintain its pressure at this point.
This is particularly since it is widely expected we're going to re-enter the Dark Ages come the next election, with a BC Liberal victory. Promises made in newspapers, or in meeting rooms might or might not stick past this next election. Gordon Campbell has made it clear he is targeting both environmental and First Nations's organisations as enemies of big business. If this round of pre-election promising is simply the last gasp of an out-going political party, we could soon see an ultra-right backlash against these progressive ventures.
It has taken a lot hard work by a lot of people to get us this far. I would hate to see the hard work of moving this far lost. And so, I'd like to thank all those who have contributed their time and energy to these talks. I would specifically include industry people like Linda Coady, who, although they cannot accurately be described as "green", are still willing to explore ways for all of us to get along.
I appreciate it is not easy for a giant, like a major forest company, to change its ways. But I am also convinced that this kind of change will help resolve long-standing conflicts on all sides. And in conclusion, I would encourage the mountain to continue to come to Mohammed.
CBC RADIO - DAYBREAK NORTH
6:43 a.m. "Interview with Assembly of First Nations vice-chief, Herb George re recording oral histories of First Nations for use in court"
Host: Laura Chapin
CBC: BC's vice-chief to the Assembly of First Nations is going from coast to coast, asking aboriginal people to record their history. Part of the 1997 Delgamuukw Supreme Court decision ruled that legends and songs passed down from generation to generation are admissible in court. And Herb George is trying to breath life into that decision. He joins me now from his home, in Hagwilget. Good morning.
GEORGE: Good morning.
CBC: What difference does this part of the Delgamuukw decision make?
GEORGE: Well it makes a tremendous difference, given that when the Gitxsan and Wet'suwet'en went into court at trial, in 1987, and the subsequent decision of Chief Justice McEachern. In that decision a lot of the evidence that was given by our elders and chiefs were considered to be hearsay and therefore inadmissible as evidence, or if it was admitted, then very little weight would be given to it. And with the1987 decision in Delgamuukw, the Supreme Court of Canada has made it clear that our histories - aboriginal histories which are passed down orally, must be admitted as good evidence and must be given due weight, just as anybody else's history in the world.
CBC: What does due weight mean?
GEORGE: Well it means that you have to - you have to consider it and give it sole consideration, as opposed to just simply dismissing it as hearsay.
CBC: If that had been allowed in the past, what difference do you think that would have made to decisions?
GEORGE: Well I firmly believe that if this were the case when we went to trial on Delgamuukw, that we would have won. Clearly that was the basis on which a retrial was ordered, in the 1987 decision of Delgamuukw, because in the court's - in the Supreme Court of Canada's view, Chief Justice McEachern had so badly mishandled the evidence that we had put forward, that the Supreme Court ordered a new trial.
CBC: What happens in a case like the Nisga'a and the Gitanyow, where each of the group's histories conflict with one another - they don't match?
GEORGE: Well I can't comment on that. I mean that's something that's ongoing between them and it's not for me to comment on that.
CBC: Is there a way that the history could be questioned or is it accepted without question?
GEORGE: Well I think the important thing in terms of the work that I'm trying to do, is to get people to realise that given the decision in Delgamuukw and the admissibility of our oral history as evidence, and given the test that it was in that decision to prove title, for example; we need to put our histories together. So what I've been doing is saying to people 'You need to start to record your history and transcribe it and get it down, for your own use.' And what I say is that 'You have to put it together for your own use, so that your children can learn their history and they can have it for their children.' And secondarily that 'You need to have it in case you need to go into trial to prove title or something to that effect. You have to look at it as if you were putting it into a trial situation and to try to predict what the objections of the other side might be and the kind of attack that they might make on it, and to be prepared for that.' And one of the areas, for example, is if you have a history about a particular or peculiar place and you put that evidence forward, you need to also establish a reputation of the evidence that's being put forward, so other people have got to be able to corroborate what you're saying about that particular place.
CBC: That it's just not one person?
GEORGE: Yes. So I mean you have other people to corroborate it. You have surrounding nations to corroborate it. You have the historical archival record to corroborate it, and you've got to look at all of those things.
CBC: How many different forms can this history take?
GEORGE: Well the most obvious one for us is of course, the oral part of it. But in other ways you can show or depict by other means, for example, in our area here with totem poles, with different ceremonial garb, different carved pieces. So it's a very broad area.
CBC: How time consuming is this, gathering all this history?
GEORGE: Well that's the problem with it in a lot of people's eyes, is that it's time consuming. But what I'm saying is that 'Yes, it is time-consuming, but if you never start, you'll never get it done.' So it's important for people to realise that it's as simple as picking up a tape recorder and starting to record the histories that our elders hold.
CBC: What have reactions been like when you have gone to different places across the country?
GEORGE: Well what I've found is that more often than not, this hasn't been done, and people have this perception that it's such a complex, difficult and time consuming task, and costly, that they just - you know, seem to have this problem with it. And when I come in and say 'Look it. It's as simple as picking up a tape recorder and recording your elders and recording your histories, and transcribing it, putting it in order, in terms of what the people are saying to the land, and putting it in terms of the maps and starting to make those connections.'So once people learn that it's not all that difficult as it seems, people are very excited because they know they have to do it.
CBC: How much are you fighting the sands of time passing through the hourglass, in this case?
GEORGE: Well that's one of the most difficult areas for us, given that -you know, we've gone now - I believe like we're third, fourth generation removed from the whole residential school situation, where our people were - you know, barred from speaking their own language, where our cultural traditional practices were outlawed. We have to come up against that. And our elders, a lot of them have passed on, before they've had a chance to tell their histories so they can be recorded. So that's really a problem that we have, right across the country, and it's a problem that - that's why in the work that I'm doing, I'm saying 'You need to start now. As we speak you have to start. You can't let it go.'
CBC: Has the decision come too late, do you think?
GEORGE: No, I don't believe so. I think that everywhere I've been across the country and within the province here, that the historical record is still there and it's just a matter of us getting busy and putting it together.
CBC: Mr. George, thanks for taking the time this morning.
GEORGE: I appreciate it very much. Thank you.
CBC: Herb George is BC's vice-chief to the Assembly of First Nations