by Rhodri C. Williams
Its November 25 and I find myself in the center of what was once the Powhatan Confederation, commemorating the humanitarian impulses of the Wampanoag tribe further north by eating an improbably huge bird in the community of my large, wonderful and distinctly non-Native American family. Not a bad time to reflect on the ongoing struggles of indigenous groups worldwide to maintain the autonomy and connections to their land they long since lost on the East Coast of the USA. To that end, a few interesting recent articles:
– The New York Times ran a long piece the week before last on ‘Bushmen’ in Botswana. At the heart of the piece – and the controversy there – is whether continued adherence to an authentically indigenous lifestyle is an appropriate condition to impose for allowing indigenous groups to remain on traditional lands envisioned as nature reserves. In Botswana, the government has pushed Bushmen off such a reserve based on the allegation that they have given up traditional sustainable livelihoods and are damaging the ecosystem (and optics) of the park as a result. Are such conditions compatible with the right of indigenous groups to determine their own development path? Is this right to be interpreted more narrowly in areas deemed nature reserves? All questions for a future decision by the African Commission (or Court!) of Human and Peoples’ Rights, no doubt…
– Well outside the purview of the ACHPR, the Minority Rights Group blog describes use of land confiscation and ‘mega-plantations’ by the Indonesian authorities to allegedly alter the ethnic balance in West Papua by importing workers from elsewhere. In the words of an indigenous activist, “Indonesia doesn’t want our people, they just want our land.” More on displacement in West Papua in a recent update by IDMC.
And finally, on a far more hopeful note, OpenDemocracy carries the story of the Anishinabe (more colloquially known as the Ojibwe or Chippewa) in Wisconsin. In the 1980s, the Anishinabe began asserting their usufructuary rights to land ceded under long-forgotten treaties by resuming traditional spear-fishing on ponds. By the time I went to college in Minnesota in the early 1990s, the result was an extremely tense standoff with a hardcore group of sport fishermen (more colloquially known as rednecks), in which both sides were refusing to back down. In the above-cited piece, Tom H. Hastings describes how the persistence of the Anishinabe eventually prevailed.