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Excerpt from Strangely Like War

Theft of Indigenous Land (p. 16)

From chapter "Forest Dwellers"

Theft of indigenous land is not ancient history, something that only happened a long time ago, something to express our regrets over as we continue to profit from their land. It happens today, all over the planet. Anywhere there are indigenous people living traditionally in forests, they are being threatened, harrassed, arrested, dispossessed, killed, and their forests are being cut down. Here are a few current examples among far too many.

Africa: The Bayanga Wood Company deforests the homeland of the Ba’Aka (pygmies) of the Central African Republic. The Ba’Aka are forced into settlement camps at the fringes of their dying forests. The transnational timber corporations Rougier (French), Danzer (German), Feldmeyer (German), Wonnemann (German), and the Dutch-Danish-German consortium Boplac deforest the Congo. Pan African Paper Mills, Raiply Timber, and Timsales Ltd. are entering—and destroying—the forests of the Ogiek people of Kenya, who are being evicted from where they have lived, hunted, and gathered honey forever. In 1967, the World Bank decided that the Gishwati forest, home to the Batwa (pygmies), should be cleared to use for potato farming and cattle raising. The Batwa were not, of course, consulted. As a sixty-one-year-old Batwa says: “We were chased out of our forest, which was our father because it provided us with food through gathering and hunting. . . . The State chased us out of the forest and we had to settle in the fringes, where we die of starvation. All the development projects that were carried out in Gishwati forest have done nothing for us and no Batwa has even received the benefit of a job.”….

Back to the “developed” world. North America. Canada granted huge timber concessions to the timber giant Macmillan-Bloedel, which made billions of dollars by clearcutting nearly all of Vancouver Island. In 1999, Mac-Blo, as it is commonly known, was bought out by the US-based transnational timber corporation Weyerhaeuser, which had already liquidated forests in Wisconsin, Minnesota, Washington, Oregon, the Philippines, and Indonesia. Weyerhaeuser, like Mac-Blo before it, is clearcutting like mad, in part because the First Nations of Canada have never extinguished title to the forests being clearcut and are suing the Canadian government to exercise their rights to sovereignty over this land, including not allowing it to be cut. The Haida have sued Weyerhaeuser for illegally clearcutting their land in the Queen Charlotte Islands. Guujaaw, chief of the Haida in British Columbia, said about Weyerhaeuser, “They’ve come and wiped out one resource after another. . . . We’ve been watching the logging barges leave for years and years, and we have seen practically nothing for Haida.”

South America. The Guarani living in forests in Argentina do not believe land can belong to anyone: How can human beings, who are only passing through life, be owners? The Mocona S.A. Forestry Company, which is not a human being but a corporation, a legal fiction, is cutting down their forests. The company offered each community seventy-four acres on which they were to live. The Guarani rejected the possibility that the land could have any owner and found it absurd that they were being offered seventy-four acres of those communal lands where their ancestors had lived and where they themselves were already living, land they were, according to their worldview, borrowing from their children. The corporation raised the offer to about 500 acres, and continues to cut.

The Wichí have lived on the same land (in what is now called Argentina) for at least 12,000 years; now through depradations of timber and agricultural corporations, their homeland has been reduced from more than 170,000 acres to less than sixty-seven. The remaining sixty-seven acres are an oasis of green amidst a now-barren landscape.

The Mapuche of Chile have lost more than 95 percent of their original 27 million acres, and now logging companies are coming for the rest. Police murder children who protest the logging.

Asia. The Karen in Burma are under attack from Canada’s Ivanhoe Capital Corporation, which in 1994 reached an agreement with the Burmese military regime to run the Monywa copper mine. Safety measures are completely absent. Miners threaten to blow up local residents who complain about water pollution and skin problems. The Karen are also under attack by the United States’ Unocal corporation, which along with the military has used forced labor to construct the Yadana gas pipeline. Mass murder and mass rapes are useful tools for enslaving a people and forcing them to destroy their own landbase. And the Karen are under attack by the Thai dam-building company GMS Power and the Electricity Generating Authority of Thailand, which are building a huge dam at the Salween River, the only remaining free-flowing major river in the area. One hundred and seventy-five villages will be relocated. Or perhaps not. The Burmese Army has begun a program of extermination.

The Togeans of Indonesia have taken to torching logging equipment of the transnational timber corporation destroying their home.

In the Philippines, logging companies and the military have taken over the forests of the Agta, who are now homeless and still menaced: a spokesperson for the Agta recently stated, “A certain colonel warned us that if we do not vacate our land, our tribe will be exterminated.”

The Penan of Malaysia have been struggling for their lives and for the life of their forest for many years. But life was not always a struggle. As Ngot Laing, Chief of Long Lilim, Patah River, said, “In the past our life was peaceful, it was so easy to obtain food. You could even catch the fish using your bare hands—we only needed to look below the pebbles and rocks or in some hiding holes in the river.” Urin Ajang concurred, “In the past, we did not fall sick, we did not have scabies, the water was clean. We did not have all these puddles that breed mosquitoes.” But now, Ngot says, “The people are frequently sick. They are hungry. They develop all sorts of stomach pains. They suffer from headaches. Children will cry when they are hungry. Several people including children also suffer from skin diseases, caused by the polluted river. Upper Patah used to be so clean. Now the water is like Milo, sometimes you can even find oil spills floating downstream.” Another Penan, Lep Selai, said, “Living a settled life is just not our way. We are used to the forest. Besides, I do not know how to farm.” This doesn’t mean the Penan are too stupid to become farmers. The real point is, as Peng Megut put it, “We know that if we agree to settle down, it would in effect be a trade-off for our forest. The government is asking us to settle down, as if once when we are settled, they can do anything to our forest.” Ayan Jelawing sums up, “We were the first people of this Apoh area. The waters did not have a name then, not until we gave it a name in our language. . . . The logging companies first entered into the Apoh area in the 1980s. When the Penan communities went to meet the companies’ managers they would simply say that the Penan do not have any rights to this area. How could this be?” Ajang Kiew states, “We asked for forest reserves. We asked for school for the village. We asked for clinics. Instead they gave us the logging companies. Now it is oil palm plantations. We would end up as labourers for hire. The profits would only make other people rich. But the land they work on is land belonging to the Penan.” And finally, Nyagung Malin gives a solution: “We are used to living in the forest. And life did not use to be difficult. If we needed to build our huts, we could easily find the leaves in the forest. If you really want to give us development, then do not disturb our forest.”

The people of the forests aren’t stupid, backward, or stubborn; they are loyal to the source of life.