indigenous people fight to save their forest homes from corporate exploitation
by Jeremy Hance
Condensed by Native Village
(Spoiler Alert: article reveals end of the film, Avatar)
Indigenous tribes across the world are trying to stop mining, logging, oil and gas companies from exploiting their lands. From Peru to Malaysia to Ecuador, their struggles continue.
Sadly. despite many repeated unjustness, such stories rarely reach our mainstream media. Companies continue destroying forests and tribes in the name of economy.
The new blockbuster film, Avatar, parallels true life.
Avatar is about the Na'vi, an alien tribe who lives on a distant plane. The Na'vi are trying to protect their forest home from human invaders. The invaders are a mining company that bring in ex-marines for "security." The companies will stop at nothing -- not even genocide -- to make profits.
While Avatar may be fiction, today's struggle between indigenous people and corporations is not. Like Avatar, today's corporations often have government support. Like Avatar, the corporations are often supported by "security forces" such as ex-military or state police. But unlike the Na'vi who triumph in Avatar, real life indigenous tribes rarely win.
In Avatar the indigenous tribe, called the Na'vi, use poison-tipped arrows to defend themselves against the human invaders' guns, gas, and explosions
2009, violence erupted in
Peru as heavily-armed police
clashed with indigenous
protestors. Some protestors
carried spears. Others were
The tribes were protesting nearly 100 new rules by Peru's government. The rules make it easier for foreign companies to exploit oil, gas, timber, and minerals on indigenous land.
The violent skirmish that followed led to the deaths of 23 police officers and at least 10 indigenous people. The tribes say Peru hid and disposed of bodies to make it appear that fewer natives were killed.
What is known is that at least 120 protestors were injured in the melee. 82 of them suffered gunshot wounds. Protestors say tear gas was used and machine guns were fired at them.
Weeks after the bloodshed, Peru's government allowed Texas-based Hunt Oil to move into Peru's Amarakaeri Communal Reserve. Hunt Oil took in helicopters and large machinery for seismic testing. They plan 300 miles of testing trails, 12,000 explosive charges, and 100 helicopter land pads in the center of an untouched region of the Amazonian rainforest.
The reserve had been created to protect native peoples' homes, Now that land may become a land of oil scars. Indigenous groups say they were never properly consulted by Hunt Oil for use of their land.
Many of Peru's 100 rules have been found to be unconstitutional, but Peru's president, Alan Garcia, plans to move forward with oil and gas development on tribal lands in the Amazon.
International released photos of
an uncontacted tribe in the
Terra Indigena Kampa e Isolados
do Envira, Brazil. Their lands
are near the border with Peru,
The indigenous group is said to
be threatened by oil exploration
in the area.
Areas for development are also home to uncontacted Amazonian tribes. Garcia has repeatedly expressed doubts about any such tribes. However, aerial photos showed uncontacted natives armed with spears near the area in question.
The leases under
protest are a part of the Free
Trade Agreement signed by both
the United States and Canada.
In the film the Na'vi are dismissed as "blue monkeys" and "savages." Both the corporation and their hired soldiers view the Na'vi as less than human
President Alan Garcia
calls indigenous people
"confused savages", "barbaric",
"criminals", and "ignorant". He
has even compared tribal groups
There is no end in sight in the struggle between the indigenous people of Peru and government-sanctioned corporate power.
In March 2006, bulldozers belonging to Interhill reached Ba Abang, a Penan village in the Middle Baram region.
a Malaysian logging company,
For over 20 years, Interhill has been cutting down rainforests in in the Sarawak's Middle Baram region. The Penan people have suffered greatly from these invaders. Not only has the tribe lost forest land and important tribal sites to bulldozers and chainsaws, but the Penan people have faced violence, rape, and even murder.
The logging shows no sign of stopping. In fact, the logged forests have become industrial oil palm plantations. This removes any chance of the natural forest returning.
The Penan are fighting corporate loggers through lawsuits and road barricades. In turn, they face violence from Malaysian police and security forces hired by powerful logging companies.
Penan even fear for their lives.
In 2008 longtime Penan chief,
Kelesau Naan, was allegedly
murdered for his activism
against logging on tribal lands. Prior to
this, two Penan activists
disappeared and Bruno Manswer, a
Swiss-activist who fought hard
for Penan rights, vanished.
Recently, Penan girls have come forward to report abuse by logging employees. A 110-page report by the Malaysian Ministry has documented their stories. Even government investigators state that at least eight allegations were "certainly true". Girls as young as 10 were assaulted and raped, and some become pregnant.
Yet a police investigation went
nowhere due to lack of evidence,
and the government has dismissed
their cases. "Penan are very good
story tellers. They change their
stories, and when they feel like
it." said James Masing,
a Peruvian government official.
Most recently, the Penan people have tried a new strategy. Seventeen Penan tribes declared a "peace park" covering 163,000 hectares of their ancestral home. The Park was meant to raise world awareness of the Penan's plight and pressure Malaysia to block logging in the area.
The government refuses to recognize the peace park, and logging is slated to continue.
30,000 indigenous Ecuadorian plaintiffs have filed a $27,000,000,000 lawsuit against Chevron and Texaco for environmental damage. The case is known as the "Amazon Chernobyl."
In court Texaco
admitted to dumping 18,000,000,000 gallons of toxic waste
inside Ecuador's rainforest from
1964-1990. Evidence proves
contamination at every one of
Texaco's former well sites. The
damages affect an area the size
of Rhode Island. It's 30 times
larger than the infamous
The toxic spill impacted six indigenous tribes, with one of those tribes vanishing completely. The court found that over 1,400 people suffered untimely deaths from cancer due to oil spill contamination.
Despite these facts, Chevron avoids repairing what damages they can. Instead, they sent politicians, including former Senator Trent Lott, to lobby the U.S. to suspend trade with Ecuador until the lawsuit was dropped. But Chevron failed in its attempts use U.S. political power in its favor.
Last September, Chevron then released a video which, they said, proved that the case's presiding judge and Ecuadorian officials were taking bribes. However, the video is a fake. The video's businessman who offers bribes is a convicted drug felon. A person accepting the bribe is an Ecuadorian contractor paid by Chevron. Others appearing in the video say the footage was heavily edited.
Chevron denies that they were in
any way involved in making the
This lawsuit has been ongoing since 2003 and a ruling has not yet been made. Chevron says that even if it loses the case, it won't pay any damages. "We're not paying and we're going to fight this for years if not decades into the future," according to Chevron spokesman Don Campbell.
A documentary named "Crude" details the struggle by indigenous people to hold Chevron accountable. Chevron's responded with a PR campaign to prove the facts were wrong.
ends with indigenous aliens
saving their homelands, on Earth
such outcomes are rare.
The conflicts often drag on for
decades and end with tribes
losing their homes
piece-by-piece. Forests are
cut down, biodiversity is lost,
and vast amounts of
carbon are released into the
atmosphere. The tribes are weakened and destroyed.
So, when you watch Avatar, remember that it clearly alludes to today's injustices here on earth. We don't have to travel across the galaxy to see it.