Monday, January 27, 2014

Humberto Ak'abal, "From Tongue To Tongue" (trans. Edgar Garcia), from Grito En La Sombra

The fire burned, burned, and at times thundered. “The drawing made by the flames is not the way it is for no reason; the fire is a voice, the fire is a message.”
The pots and blackened cooking-stones, the walls also.  Night did not enter the kitchen because it was darker inside than it was outdoors.
“It’s going to rain; the wind feels cold and dense.”
My mother understood the singing of birds, the voice of the animals, and the language of physical phenomena.
“Don’t go out onto the patio, the storms are coming; it’s not for nothing the dog bites its tail.”
It started to rain. The crack of thunder made it seem that the sky was crumbling. The lightning flashes that came into the kitchen looked like washbasins with silver water. The echo of the storm drowned itself in the ravines and the night disappeared beneath the downpour.
On nights like this our mother told us some story.
“The tree growing behind the house witnessed what I am about to tell you…”
A bit of fear gripped us.
“That pot there”—and she pointed the clay pot that was behind me—“it used to turn into a person; it grew eyes, ears, and stuck out its tongue.”
Little by little I shifted, still listening to her, but moving away from the pot.
“Don’t be afraid. It doesn’t do that anymore.”
“But why didn’t you shatter it to stop it from scaring people?”
“Because that pot was made by the naguals of your grandfathers. If we broke it tonight, tomorrow it would awaken whole again.”
The pot tucked away in a corner was like a dumb, deaf, blind head. The fire died slowly and she scattered its embers.
“Look at this little flame; it’s the fire’s flower. They say that if a person is in their element, in between the embers a bit of gold will appear for them. That’s why you should always scrape the ashes after the wood has burned. If not today, maybe tomorrow.”
In the fireplace only a small string of smoke remained.
The years have passed. My mother is tired.
The house has changed.
When I ask her to tell me some story she sighs and laughs…
“It’s not like it was before. It doesn’t make sense to tell those stories under the electric light. It used to be nice, because the light of the pine-torches was another light. See, even the ghosts have gone away. Now it’s up to you to make up the stories to tell your kids.”

My mother planted in me the restlessness for the word. Here the intent to continue the ways of my elders has grown. 

Monday, January 6, 2014

Rob Nixon, "Slow Violence"

Environmentalists face a fundamental challenge: How can we devise arresting stories, images, and symbols that capture the pervasive but elusive effects of what I call "slow violence"? Climate change, the thawing cryosphere, toxic drift, deforestation, the radioactive aftermaths of wars, oil spills, acidifying oceans, and a host of other slowly unfolding environmental crises confront us with formidable representational obstacles that hinder efforts to mobilize for change.
We are accustomed to conceiving violence as immediate and explosive, erupting into instant, concentrated visibility. But we need to revisit our assumptions and consider the relative invisibility of slow violence. I mean a violence that is neither spectacular nor instantaneous but instead incremental, whose calamitous repercussions are postponed for years or decades or centuries. I want, then, to complicate conventional perceptions of violence as a highly visible act that is newsworthy because it is focused around an event, bounded by time, and aimed at a specific body or bodies. Emphasizing the temporal dispersion of slow violence can change the way we perceive and respond to a variety of social crises, like domestic abuse or post-traumatic stress, but it is particularly pertinent to the strategic challenges of environmental calamities.
Politically and emotionally, different kinds of disaster possess unequal heft. Falling bodies, burning towers, exploding heads, avalanches, tornadoes, volcanoes—they all have a visceral, page-turning potency that tales of slow violence cannot match. Stories of toxic buildup, massing greenhouse gases, and accelerated species loss because of ravaged habitats may all be cataclysmic, but they are scientifically convoluted cataclysms in which casualties are postponed, often for generations. How, in an age when the news media venerate the spectacular, when public policy and electoral campaigns are shaped around perceived immediate need, can we convert into image and narrative those disasters that are slow-moving and long in the making, anonymous, starring nobody, attritional and of indifferent interest to our image-driven world? How can we turn the long emergencies of slow violence into stories striking enough to rouse public sentiment and warrant political intervention, these emergencies whose repercussions have given rise to some of the most serious threats of our time?
The long dyings—the staggered and staggeringly discounted casualties, both human and ecological—are often not just incremental but exponential, operating as major threat multipliers. They can spur long-term, proliferating conflicts that arise from desperation as the conditions for sustaining life are degraded in ways that the corporate media seldom discuss. One hundred million unexploded land mines lie inches beneath our planet's skin, from wars officially concluded decades ago. Whether in Cambodia, Laos, Somalia, or Angola, those still-active mines have made vast tracts of precious agricultural land and pastures no-go zones, further stressing oversubscribed resources and compounding malnutrition.
To confront slow violence is to take up, in all its temporal complexity, the politics of the visible and the invisible. That requires that we think through the ways that environmental-justice movements strategize to shift the balance of visibility, pushing back against the forces of temporal inattention that exacerbate injustices of class, gender, race, and region. For if slow violence is typically underrepresented in the media, such underrepresentation is exacerbated whenever (as typically happens) it is the poor who become its frontline victims, above all the poor in the Southern Hemisphere. Impoverished societies located mainly in the global South often have lax or unenforced environmental regulations, allowing transnational corporations (often in partnership with autocratic regimes) the liberty to exploit resources without redress. Thus, for example, Texaco's oil drilling in Ecuador was not subject to the kinds of regulatory constraints the company would have confronted in America, a point highlighted by the Ecuadorean environmental-justice movement, Acción Ecológica.
Our temporal bias toward spectacular violence exacerbates the vulnerability of ecosystems treated as disposable by capitalism, while simultaneously intensifying the vulnerability of those whom the human-rights activist Kevin Bales has called "disposable people." Earlier this month, Brazil gave the green light to the gargantuan Belo Monte Dam, despite opposition from 20 leading Brazilian scientific societies and the nation's Movement of Dam-Affected People. Dams have driven more than over a million poor Brazilians off their land; Belo Monte will further displace an estimated 40,000 mostly indigenous people, while flooding 200 square miles of the forests and clearings on which they have depended. It is against such conjoined ecological and human disposability that we have witnessed, again and again, a resurgent environmentalism of the poor.
Alongside that activism, a diverse group of writer-activists is espousing the causes of the environmentally dispossessed. These writers are geographically wide ranging and work in a variety of forms—novels, poetry, essays, memoirs, theater, blogs. Figures like Wangari Maathai, Indra Sinha, Ken Saro-Wiwa, Abdul Rahman Munif, Njabulo S. Ndebele, Nadine Gordimer, Jamaica Kincaid, Arundhati Roy, and June Jordan have recorded the long-term inhabited impact of corrosive transnational forces, including petro-imperialism, the megadam industry, the practice of shipping rich nations' toxins (like e-waste) to poor nations' dumping grounds, tourism that threatens indigenous peoples, conservation practices that drive people off their historic lands, environmental deregulation for commercial or military demands, and much more.
The strategies these writers adopt are as varied as their concerns. InAnimal's People (Simon & Schuster, 2008), Sinha remodels the picaresque novel to portray life in a fictional version of Bhopal 20 years after the disaster there. His scurrilous, scheming narrator, Animal, pours out lively, gritty, street-level stories about the urban underclass that inhabits the interminable aftermath, in a city where the poisons released by the chemical explosion still course through the aquifers, the food chain, and the people's genes. By contrast, Maathai's memoir, Unbowed (Alfred A. Knopf, 2006), offers an animated account of the successful struggle mounted by Kenyan women against illicit deforestation, a struggle that involved 100,000 activists who planted 30 million trees. They also planted the seeds of peace, creating a vibrant civil-rights movement that linked environmental rights to women's rights, freedom of expression, and educational access.
Some writers have helped instigate movements for environmental justice. Saro-Wiwa, for example, was one of the founders of Nigeria's Movement for the Survival of the Ogoni People; Maathai won the Nobel Peace Prize for her work starting the Green Belt Movement. Others, like Roy and Sinha, have aligned themselves with pre-existing groups like India's Save the Narmada Movement and the Bhopal survivors' movement—thereby giving imaginative definition to the issues at stake while enhancing the international visibility of their causes. None of these writers, however, are committed to some narrow ideology, but are simply sorrowed or enraged by injustices they believe in some modest way they can help expose, silences they can help dismantle through testimonial protest, rhetorical creativity, and by advancing counterhistories in the face of formidable odds. Most are restless, versatile writers ready to pit their energies against what Edward Said called "the normalized quiet of unseen power."
Engaging with writers who give imaginative definition to the slow violence inflicted in the global South can help us reshape the conceptual priorities that animate the environmental humanities. Literary studies has been a major force in the greening of the humanities, but since the growth of environmental literary studies as a field in the mid-1990s, it has suffered from an Americanist bias—in the kinds of authors studied and, most important, in the perception of what counts as environmental writing.
Of particular significance here is the way environmental literary studies and postcolonial studies have developed largely along parallel lines. The two fields have emerged as among the most dynamic areas in literary studies, yet their relationship has been, until very recently, dominated by reciprocal indifference or mistrust. Unlike some movements that have come and gone within literary studies (reader-response theory, say, or deconstruction), environmental and postcolonial studies have both exhibited an often-activist dimension that connects their priorities to movements for social change. Yet, for the most part, a broad silence has characterized environmentalists' stance toward postcolonial literature and theory while postcolonial critics have typically been no less silent on the subject of environmental literature. Why? And what kinds of intellectual efforts might deepen an overdue dialogue that is just now belatedly starting to emerge?
In other areas of the humanities and social sciences—notably environmental history, cultural geography, and cultural anthropology—a substantial body of work arose much earlier in the borderlands between postcolonial and environmental studies, work that recognized, among other things, the political and cultural significance of the environmentalism of the poor. One thinks, for example, of Liberation Ecologies (Routledge, 1996), edited by the geographers Richard Peet and Michael Watts; The Varieties of Environmentalism, by the sociologist Ramachandra Guha and the economist Joan Martinez-Alier; and Friction: An Ethnography of Global Connection, by the anthropologist Anna Lowenhaupt Tsing. Yet within literary studies, such crossover work has long been inhibited by a widespread assumption that the subjects and methodologies of the two fields are divergent, even incompatible, not least in their visions of what counts as political.
Let me ground this divergence in two simultaneous events. In October 1995, The New York Times Sunday Magazine featured a story by the literary critic Jay Parini entitled "The Greening of the Humanities." Parini described the rise to prominence of environmentalism in the humanities, especially in literature departments. At the end of the essay, he named 17 writers and critics whose work was central to the environmental-studies boom. Something struck me as odd about the list: All 17 were American.
The unselfconscious parochialism was disturbing, not least because at that time I was involved in the campaign to release Ken Saro-Wiwa, the Ogoni author who was being held prisoner without trial for his environmental and human-rights activism in Nigeria. Two weeks after Parini's article appeared, the regime of Gen. Sani Abacha executed Saro-Wiwa after a military tribunal denied him a fair trial, making him Africa's most visible environmental martyr. Here was a writer—a novelist, poet, memoirist, and essayist—who had died fighting the attritional ruination of his Ogoni people's farmland and fishing waters by European and American oil conglomerates in cahoots with a despotic African regime. Yet it was apparent that Saro-Wiwa's writings were unlikely to find a home in the kind of environmental literary lineage outlined by Parini.
The more ecocriticism I read, the more my impression was confirmed. I encountered some intellectually transforming books, but they tended to canonize the same self-selecting genealogy of American authors: Ralph Waldo Emerson, Henry David Thor­eau, John Muir, Aldo Leopold, Edward Abbey, Annie Dillard, Terry Tempest Williams, Wendell Berry, Gary Snyder. All were authors of influence and accomplishment, yet all were drawn from within the boundaries of a single nation. Environmental literary anthologies, Web sites for college courses, conferences, and special issues on ecocriticism revealed similar patterns.
Literary environmentalism was developing, de facto, as an offshoot of American studies. Moreover, the environmental-justice movement, the branch of American environmentalism that held the greatest potential for connecting outwards internationally—to issues of slow violence, the environmentalism of the poor, race, and empire—remained marginal to the dominant environmentalism that was becoming institutionalized through the greening of the humanities.
The resulting national self-enclosure seemed peculiar: One might surely have expected environmentalism to be more, not less, transnational than other fields of literary inquiry. It was unfortunate that a writer like Saro-Wiwa, who had long protested what he termed the gradual "ecological genocide" of his people, could find no place in the environmental canon. Was this because he was an African? Was it because his writings revealed no special debt to Thoreau, to the wilderness tradition, or to Jeffersonian agrarianism? Saro-Wiwa's writings were animated instead by the fraught relations among ethnicity, pollution, and minority rights and by the equally fraught relations among local, national, and global politics.
Some of the violence he sought to expose was direct and at gunpoint, but much of it was incremental, oblique, and slow moving. Remarkably, the Niger delta has suffered the equivalent of an Exxon Valdez-size oil spill every year for nearly half a century, yet until Saro-Wiwa's rise to prominence, that attritional calamity had attracted almost no international media attention.
Saro-Wiwa's invisibility in the United States was all the more telling given the role that America played in his emergence as an environmental writer. America buys nearly half of Nigeria's oil, and human-rights groups point to Chevron as a significant Ogoni-land polluter. More affirmatively, it was on a trip to Colorado that Saro-Wiwa witnessed a successful environmental campaign to stop corporate logging. That experience contributed to his decision to mobilize international opinion by voicing his people's claims not just in the language of human rights but in environmental terms as well. Yet it was clear from the prevailing ecocritical perspective in literary studies that someone like Saro-Wiwa—whose environmentalism was at once profoundly local and profoundly transnational—would be bracketed as an African, the kind of writer best left to the postcolonialists.
Postcolonial literary critics, however, had shown scant interest in environmental concerns, regarding them (explicitly or implicitly) as at best irrelevant and elitist, at worst as sullied by "green imperialism." Saro-Wiwa's distinctive attempt to fuse environmental and minority rights, I realized, was unlikely to achieve much of a hearing in either camp. Around the time Saro-Wiwa was executed, the pre-eminent voice of postcolonial studies, Said, in a conversation with me in his office at Columbia University, dismissed environmentalism as "the indulgence of spoiled tree huggers who lack a proper cause." The American transcendentalist literature that dominated the environmental literary canon seemed antithetical to the postcolonial preoccupation with transnational and subaltern histories.
In the decade and a half since Saro-Wiwa's execution, we have witnessed enormous changes in global perceptions of environmentalism—as well as changes in the way environmentalism is being taught and studied in the humanities. Whereas, in the global South, environmental discourse was once typically regarded as a neocolonial, Western imposition inimical to the resource priorities of the poor, such attitudes have been tempered by the gathering visibility of environmental-justice movements that have pushed back against an antihuman environmentalism that too often sought to impose green agendas dominated by rich nations and Western NGO's. We see that shift in Amitav Ghosh's novel, The Hungry Tide, set in the mangrove forests of the Ganges delta. Ghosh, an Indian-Bengali author, exposes the disastrous fallout of metropolitan types trying to impose their narrow views of what counts as environmentalism (Save the Tiger) without regard for the people who must coexist with tigers within the mangrove ecosystem. Crucially, the book does not depict those people as anti-environmental, but as having their own environmental priorities—tied to their, and the forest's, survival.
Western activists are also now more prone to recognize, engage, and learn from marginalized communities that rise up to defend their resources. Some of the credit for that must go to the writer-activists, journalists, and documentary filmmakers who have helped bring news of those struggles to international audiences and, in the process, have underscored the link between social and environmental justice. Indeed, I believe that the fate of the environment—and, more decisively, the character of the biosphere itself—will be shaped significantly in decades to come by the relationship between the environmentalisms of the rich and poor, by what Guha and Martinez-Alier have called "full stomach" and "empty belly" environmentalism.
These changes are also being felt in the classroom. Across a range of intellectual fronts, we are witnessing some heartening initiatives that are challenging the dominant conceptions of what it might mean to green the humanities.
This past year, the first two anthologies to bring postcolonial and environmental studies into the conversation have appeared: Elizabeth DeLoughrey and George B. Handley's Postcolonial Ecologies and Alex Hunt and Bonnie Roos's Postcolonial Green. Upamanya Pablo's superb study of Indian fiction, Postcolonial Environment: Nature, Culture and the Contemporary Indian Novel in English, also appeared in 2010, and the first anthology of African environmental scholarship (bridging the humanities and social sciences) will be published by Ohio University Press in September—Byron Caminero-Santangelo and Garth Myers's Environment at the Margins.
The belated engagement between environmental and postcolonial literary studies is part of a series of energetic exchanges, two of which, in particular, warrant mentioning. First, the transnational turn in American studies, whether hemispheric or more broadly global, is achieving methodological and curricular authority. Such work, while not wholly new, is creating an intellectual climate within American studies in which questions of empire, globalization, and transnational structures of power and resistance are moving front and center. That has clear environmental repercussions: It has the potential to shift the intellectual centers of gravity away from the American exceptionalist tendencies of wilderness literature and Jeffersonian agrarianism and toward more diverse environmental approaches that are, crucially, more compatible with the impulses animating environmental-justice movements worldwide.
A second, related change in the intellectual climate of the environmental humanities is emerging within American Indian studies. The field has, by now, a well-established history of ecocritical engagement. What is novel, however, is the gathering interest among scholars of native literatures in postcolonial studies as a productive interlocutor. This turn becomes a second way of reshaping American studies by advancing comparative approaches to settler colonialism, land rights, environmental racism, resource conflicts, and the transnational circuits of toxicity while drawing on (and reconfiguring) postcolonial studies. Here, analyses of slow violence—and the oppositional movements and literatures that have arisen in response to it—can provide significant political and intellectual common ground between the two fields.
These gathering tendencies in postcolonial, American, and native studies will help advance a more historically answerable and geographically expansive sense of what constitutes our environment—and which literary works we entrust to voice its parameters. For all the recent progress toward that goal, it remains a continuing, ambitious, and crucial task, not least because, for the foreseeable future, literature departments are likely to remain influential players in the greening of the humanities.
To reconfigure the environmental humanities involves acknowledging, among other things, how writer-activists in the Southern Hemisphere are giving imaginative definition to catastrophes that often remain imperceptible to the senses, catastrophes that unfold across a time span that exceeds the instance of observation or even the life of the human observer. In a world permeated by insidious, unspectacular violence, imaginative writing can make the unapparent appear, rendering it tangible by humanizing drawn-out calamities inaccessible to the immediate senses.
Writer-activists can thus help challenge media-reinforced assumptions about violence. They can work within a broad coalition to advance environmental justice. And they can draw on the strategic energies—and empower—more-traditional activist constituencies: indigenous, labor, and student groups, progressive scientists, and campaigners for human rights, women's rights, and civil liberties, as well as organized opponents of unchecked globalization. In so doing, they will serve as a resource of hope in the larger battle to stave off, or at least retard, the slow violence inflicted by globalizing forces.

Gil Scott-Heron and Brian Jackson, "Cane"

Friday, January 3, 2014

Winona LaDuke, "The Indigenous Women's Network: Our Future, Our Responsibility"

Statement of Winona LaDuke, Co-Chair Indigenous Womens Network, Program Director of the Environmental Program at the Seventh Generation Fund, at the United Nations Fourth World Conference on Women, Beijing, China, August 31 1995:
I am from the Mississippi Band of Anishinabeg of the White Earth reservation in northern Minnesota, one of approximately 250,00 Anishinabeg people who inhabit the great lakes region of the North American continent. Aniin indinawaymugnitok. Me gweich Chi-iwewag, Megwetch Ogitchi taikwewag. Nindizhinikaz, Beenaysayikwe, Makwa nin dodaem. Megwetch indinawaymugunitok.
I am greeting you in my language and thanking you, my sisters for the honor of speaking with you today about the challenges facing women as we approach the 21st century.
A primary and central challenge impacting women as we approach the 21st century will be the distance we collectively as women and societies have artificially placed ourselves from our Mother the Earth, and the inherent environmental, social, health and psychological consequences of colonialism, and subsequently rapid industrialization on our bodies, and our nations. As a centerpiece of this problem is the increasing lack of control we have over ourselves, and our long term security. This situation must be rectified through the laws of international institutions, such as the United Nations, but as well, the policies, laws and practices of our nations, our communities, our states, and ourselves.
The situation of Indigenous women, as a part of Indigenous peoples, we believe is a magnified version of the critical juncture we find ourselves in as peoples, an the problems facing all women and our future generations as we struggle for a better world. Security, militarism, the globalization of the economy, the further marginalization of women, increasing intolerance and the forced commodification and homogenization of culture through the media.
The Earth is our Mother. From her we get our life, and our life, and our ability to live. It is our responsibility to care for our mother, and in caring for our Mother, we care for ourselves. Women, all females, are the manifestation of Mother Earth in human form. We are her daughters and in my cultural instructions: Minobimaatisiiwin. We are to care for her. I am taught to live in respect for Mother Earth. In Indigenous societies, we are told that Natural Law is the highest law, higher than the law made by nations, states, municipalities and the World Bank. That one would do well to live in accordance with Natural Law. With those of our Mother. And in respect for our Mother Earth of our relations -- indinawaymuguni took.
One hundred years ago, one of our Great Leaders -- Chief Seattle stated, "What befalls the Earth, befalls the People of the Earth." And that is the reality of today, and the situation of the status of women, and the status of Indigenous women and Indigenous peoples.
While I am from one nation of Indigenous peoples, there are millions of Indigenous people worldwide. An estimated 500 million people are in the world today. We are in the Cordillera, the Maori of New Zealand, we are in East Timor, we are the Wara Wara of Australia, the Lakota, the Tibetans, the peoples of Hawai'i, New Caledonia and many other nations of Indigenous peoples. Indigenous peoples. We are not populations, not minority groups, we are peoples. We are nations of peoples. Under international law we meet the criteria of nation states, having a common economic system, language, territory, history, culture and governing institutions. Despite this fact, Indigenous Nations are not allowed to participate at the United Nations.
Nations of Indigenous people are not, by and large, represented at the United Nations. Most decisions today are made by the 180 or so member states to the United Nations. Those states, by and large, have been in existence for only 200 years or less, while most Nations of Indigenous peoples, with few exceptions, have been in existence for thousands of years. Ironically, there would likely be little argument in this room, that most decisions made in the world today are actually made by some of the 47 transnational corporations and their international financiers whose annual income is larger than the gross national product for many countries of the world.
This is a centerpiece of the problem. Decision-making is not made by those who are affected by those decisions, people who live on the land, but corporations, with an interest which is entirely different than that of the land, and the people, or the women of the land. This brings forth a fundamental question: What gives these corporations like CONOCO, SHELL, EXXON, DIASHAWA, ITT, RIO TINTO ZINC,and the WORLD BANK, a right which supersedes or is superior to my human right to live on my land, or that of my family, my community, my nation, our nations, and to us as women? What law gives that right to them? Not any law of the Creator, or of Mother Earth. Is that right contained within their wealth? Is that right contained within their wealth, that which is historically acquired immorally, unethically, through colonialism, imperialism, and paid for with the lives of millions of people, or species of plants and entire ecosystems? They should have no such right, that right of self-determination, and to determine our destiny, and that of our future generations.
The origins of this problem lie with the predator-prey relationship industrial society has developed with the Earth, and subsequently, the people of the Earth. This same relationship exists vis a vis women. We, collectively find that we are often in the role of the prey, to a predator society, whether for sexual discrimination, exploitation, sterilization, absence of control over our bodies, or being the subjects of repressive laws and legislation in which we have no voice. This occurs not only on an individual level, but, equally, and more significantly on a societal level. It is also critical to point out at this time that most matrilineal societies, societies in which governance and decision-making are largely controlled by women, have been obliterated from the face of the Earth by colonialism, and subsequently industrialism. The only matrilineal societies which exist in the world today are those of Indigenous nations. We are the remaining matriliineal societies. Yet we also face obliteration.
On a worldwide scale and in North America, Indigenous societies historically, and today, remain in a predator-prey relationship with industrial society, and prior to that colonialism and imperialism. We are the peoples with the land -- land and natural resources required for someone else's development program and the amassing of wealth. The wealth of the United States, that nation which today determines much of world policy, easily expropriated from our lands. Similarly the wealth of Indigenous peoples of South Africa, Central, South American countries, and Asia was taken for the industrial development of Europe, and later for settler states which came to occupy those lands. That relationship between development and underdevelopment adversely affected the status of our Indigenous societies, and the status of Indigenous women.
Eduardo Galeano, the Latin American writer and scholar has said:
In the colonial to neocolonial alchemy, gold changes to scrap metal and food to poison, we have become painfully aware of the mortality of wealth which nature bestows and imperialism appropriates.
Today, on a worldwide scale, we remain in the same situation as one hundred years ago, only with less land, and fewer people. Today, on a worldwide scale, 50 million indigenous peoples live in the world's rainforests, a million indigenous peoples are slated for relocated for dam projects in the next decade (thanks to the World Bank, from the Narmada Project in India, to the Three Gorges Dam Project, here in China, to the Jasmes Bay Hydro Electric Project in northern Canada).
Almost all atomic weapons which have been detonated in the world are also detonated on the lands or waters of Indigenous people. This situation is mimicked in the North American context. Today, over 50% of our remaining lands are forested, and both Canada and the United States continue aggressive clearcutting policies on our land. Over two thirds of the uranium resources in the United States, and similar figures for Canada are on Indigenous lands, as is one third of all low-sulphur coal resources. We have huge oil reserves on our reservations, and we have the dubious honor of being the most highly bombed nation in the world, in this case, the Western Shoshone Nation, on which over 650 atomic weapons have been detonated. We also have two separate accelerated proposals to dump nuclear waste in our reservation lands, and similarly over 100 separate proposals to dump toxic waste on our reservation lands.
We understand clearly the relationship between development for someone else, and our own underdevelopment. We also understand clearly the relationship between the environmental impacts of types of development on our lands, and the environmental and subsequent health impacts of in our bodies as women. That is the cause of the problems.
We also understand clearly, that the analysis of North versus South is an erroneous analysis. There is, from our perspective not a problem of the North dictating the economic policies of the South, and subsequently consuming the South. Instead, there is a problem of the Middle Consuming Both the North and the South. That is our situation. Let me explain.
The rate of deforestation in the Brazilian Amazon, is one acre every nine seconds. Incidentally, the rate of extinction of Indigenous peoples in the Amazon is one nation of Indigenous peoples per year. The rate of deforestation of the boreal forest of Canada is One Acre Every Twelve Seconds. Siberia, thanks to American corporations like Weyerhauser, is not far behind, In all cases, indigenous peoples are endangered. There is frankly no difference between the impact in the North and the South. Uranium mining has devastated a number of Indigenous communities in North America.
Uranium mining in northern Canada has left over 120 million tons of radioactive waste. This amount represents enough material to cover the Trans-Canada Highway two meters deep across the Country. Present production of uranium waste from Saskatchewan alone occurs at the rate of over one million tons annually. Since 1975, hospitalization for cancer, birth defects and circulatory illnesses in that area have increased dramatically -- between 123 and 600 percent in that region. In other areas impacted by uranium mining, cancers and birth defects have increased to, in some cases, eight times the national average. The subsequent increases in radiation exposure to both the local and to the larger north American population are also evidenced in broader incidences of cancer, such as breast cancer in North American women, which is significantly in the rise. There is no a distinction in this problem caused by radiation, whether is is in the Dine of northern Canada, the Laguna Pueblo people of New Mexico, or the people of Namibia.
The rapid increase in dioxin, organichlorides, and PCBs (polychlorinated byphenots) chemicals in the world, as a result of industrialization, has a devastating impact on Indigenous peoples, Indigenous women, and other women. Each year, the world's paper industry discharges from 600 to 3200 grams of dioxin equivalents into water, sludge and paper products according to United States Environmental Protection agency statistics. This quantity is equal to the amount which would cause 58,000 to 294,000 cases of cancer every year, based on the Environmental Protection Agency's estimate of dioxin's carcinogenicity. According to a number of recent studies, this has significantly increased the risk of breast cancer in women. Similarly, heavy metals and PCBs contamination of Inuit women of the Hudson Bay region of the Arctic indicates that they have the highest levels of breast milk contamination in the world. In a 1988 study, Inuit women were found to have contamination levels up to 28 times higher than the average of women in Quebec, and ten times higher than that considered "safe" by the government.
It is also of great concern to our women, and our peoples, that polar bears in that region of the Arctic have such a high level of contamination from PCBs That they may be facing total sterility, and forced into extinction by early in the next century. As peoples who consider the Bears to be our relatives, we are concerned also, significantly about ability to reproduce, as a consequence of this level of bio-accumulation of toxins. We find that or communities, like those of our relatives, the Bears, are in fact, in danger of extinction.
Consequently, it is clear to us that the problems also found in the south, like the export of chemicals and bio-accumulation of toxins, are also very much our problems, and the problems clearly manifested in our women. These are problems which emanates from industrial societies mis-treatment and disrespect for our Mother Earth, and subsequently are reflected in the devastation of the collective health and well-being of women.
In summary, I have presented these arguments for a purpose. To illustrate that that these are very common issues for women, not only for Indigenous women, but for all women. What befalls our mother Earth, befalls her daughter -- the women who are the mothers of our nations. Simply stated, if we can no longer nurse our children, if we can no longer bear children, and if our bodies, themselves are wracked with poisons, we will have accomplished little in the way of determining our destiny, or improving our conditions. And, these problems, reflected in our health and well being, are also inherently resulting in a decline of the status of women, and are the result of a long set of historical processes. Processes, which we as women, will need to challenge if we will ultimately be in charge of our own destinies, our own self-determination, and the future of our Earth our Mother.
The reality is that all of these conditions -- those emanating from the military and industrial devastation of our Mother the Earth, and subsequently, our own bodies, and the land on which we live -- are mimicked in social and development policies which affect women. It is our belief, at Indigenous Womens Network, the following:
1.Women should not have to trade their ecosystem for running water, basic housing, health care, and basic human rights.
2.Development projects, whether in the north or in the south, whether financed by the World Bank, or by the coffers of Rio Tinto Zinc and Exxon, often replicate patriarchy and sexism, and by and large cause the destruction of matrilineal governance structure, land tenure, and cause a decline in the status of women. By denying us the basic land on which we live, and the clean food and streams from which to eat, and instead offering us a wage economy, in which privilege is often dictated by class, sex and race, indigenous women are frequently moved from a central role in their societies to the margins and to refugee status in industrial society.
3.The intellectual knowledge systems today often negate or deny the existence and inherent property rights of Indigenous people to our cultural and intellectual knowledge by supplanting our knowledge systems. Industrial knowledge system call us "primitive" while our medical knowledge, plants, and even genetic material are stolen (as in the Human Genome Project) by transnational corporations and international agencies. This situation affects Indigenous women, as a part of our communities. But on a larger scale it has affected most women.
4.Subsequently, our women find that the basic rights to control our bodies are impacted by all of the above through development policies aimed at non-consensual or forced sterilization, medical testing, invasive genetic sampling, and absence of basic facilities and services which would guarantee us the right and ability to control the size of our families safely and willingly. These same development policies often are based on tourism which commodifies our bodies and cultures (the Pacific and Native America are prime examples), and causes the same with women internationally.
Collectively, we must challenge this paradigm. In this international arena, I call on you to support the struggle of Indigenous peoples of the world for recognition, and to recognize that until all peoples have self-determination, no one will truly be free. Free of the predator and free to control our destiny. I ask you to look into the United Nations' International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights, PART 1, Article 1, which provides that "All peoples have right to self-determination. By virtue of that right they may freely determine their political status and freely pursue their economic, social, and cultural development."
All peoples, should be constructed to mean, Indigenous peoples have that right to self-determination. And, by virtue of that right, they may freely determine their political status and freely pursue, their economic, social and political development. Accord us the same rights as all other nations of peoples. And through that process, allow us to protect our ecosystems, their inherent biodiversity, human cultural diversity, and those matriarchal governments which remain in the world.
And with the Unrepresented Nations and Peoples Organization (UNPO), we reaffirm that definition of self-determination provided in Article 1 of the International Covenant on Social Economic and Cultural Rights, further recognizing that the right to self-determination belongs equally to women and to men. We believe that the right of all peoples to self-determination cannot be realized while women continue to be marginalized and prevented from becoming full participants in their respective societies. The human rights of women, like the human rights of Indigenous peoples, and our inherent rights to self-determination, are not issues exclusively within the domestic jurisdiction of states. For further discussion of these, please see the international agreements and accords struck by hundreds of Indigenous nations, such as the Karioka document and the Matatua document.
Finally, while we may, here in the commonness of this forum, speak of the common rights of all women, and those fundamental human rights of self-determination, it is incumbent upon me to point out the fundamental inequalities of this situation. So long as the predator continues, so long as the middle -- the temperate countries of the world -- continues to drive an increasing level of consumption, and, frankly continue to export both the technologies and drive for this level of consumption to other countries of the world, there will be no safety for the human rights of women, rights of Indigenous peoples, and to basic protection for the Earth, from which we get our life. Consumption causes the commodification of the sacred, the natural world, cultures, and the commodification of children, and women.
From the United States position, consider the following. The US is the largest energy market in the world. The average American consumes seven times as many wood products per capita as anywhere else in the industrialized world. And overall that country consumes one third of the world's natural resources. By comparison Canada's per capita energy consumption is the highest in the world. Levels of consumption in the industrial world drive destruction of the world's rainforests and the world's boreal forests, drive production of nuclear wastes, production of pcbs, dioxin and other lethal chemicals, which devastate the body of our Mother earth, and our own bodies. Unless we speak and take meaningful action to address the levels of consumption, and subsequently, the exports of these technologies, and levels of consumption to other countries (like the international market for nuclear reactors), we will never have any security for our individual human rights as Indigenous women, and for our security as women.
If we are to seek and struggle for common ground of all women, it is essential to struggle on this issue. It is not that the women of the dominant society in so-called first world countries should have equal pay and equal status, if that pay and status continues to be based on a consumption model which is not only unsustainable, but causes constant violation of the human rights of women and nations elsewhere in the world. It essential to collectively struggle to recover our status as Daughters of the Earth. In that is our strength and the security; not in the predator, but in the security of our Mother, for our future generations. In that we can ensure our security as the Mothers of our Nations.