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- by Douglas Nadler

 Recently at a protest I saw an Indigenous woman carrying a poster with the words “Colonialism is Indigenous Genocide.” After 500 years colonialism may have changed its spots, but it continues to be the scourge of the southern hemisphere as well as places such as Ukraine. Of course, the extractive drive of colonialism and neoliberalism has always been moored in dehumanization of specific populations. In 2017 Serge Bouchard published Le peuple rieur: hommage à mes amis innus (also available in English as The Laughing People: A Tribute to My Innu Friends).

. The book chronicles the abuse of the nomadic Québec Innu, beginning in the 17th century with their first encounters with French explorers, politicians, Jesuits and fur traders and continuing with the land grabs and enforced reservations/sedentary life of the 19th century, right through to the forced institutions for Indigenous children in the 20th century, the goal of which was to obliterate both language and culture.

 Languages are far more than words, as ultimately they are what we know and who we know ourselves to be. “When an Innu person is cut off from his/her territory, it deeply severs the bond to his/her identity. It means a loss of living roots, like becoming a stranger to him- or herself. As a result, the words, loaded with context, lose their bearings in the new environment, there is no more silence, there are no roots. It is exactly this kind of broken bond, this deep wound that best describes placing Indigenous peoples in reserves and residential schools, and healing will only be found by a return to the tradition.”[tinyurl.com/tshinanu] Throughout Bouchard’s book we find a resilient and brave people demanding that their language and customs be saved in spite of English and French colonialism.

“In Canada’s Innu communities, although some teaching is now carried out through the medium of Innu-aimun, the Innu language, most is conveyed in English or French. ‘The kids don’t understand us these days when we use old Innu words,’ an Innu man told a Survival International researcher, ‘and we can’t translate, because we don’t understand.’ ” There aren’t many passages in The Laughing People that prompt the reader to laugh, except perhaps in the personal experiences of a few of the author’s Innu friends. Apart from these, his exposé of four centuries of Innu life is mostly a bleak indictment of western abuse of power and abject cruelty.

 Rapacious colonialism only got worse after the beginning of the 18th century and intensified with the industrial revolution. But colonialism was not only affecting humans. With the advent of coal-fired steamships, the slaughter of whales increased significantly, because the hunters could go further. Even the national parks, which emerged in the late 1800s, were and continue to be places that purge Indigenous people from those lands for the pleasure of largely white Europeans and North Americans.

Created by western powers, globalization, powered by fossil fuels, has embedded vast injustices against the natural world as well as impacting non-industrial communities with climate breakdown that will be even worse in the future. For the extreme capitalist exploitation, subjugation and marginalization of Indigenous peoples – in the Amazon for example – fits tragically into a view that doesn’t accept the natural world’s right to exist except under a wealth management scheme. It makes no difference to the capitalist agenda that even though Indigenous societies make up only 5% of the human population they are custodians of 80% of the world’s biodiversity.

As the west began to discover fossil fuels, the predicament for Indigenous peoples only got worse. The massive spike in consumerism and its companion, carbon extraction and its emissions, have set the Indigenous and natural world into a tailspin towards catastrophe. Capitalism, extractivism and a perpetual-growth carbon economy are bringing the world closer and closer towards collapse. It is not by chance that the oil, coal and gas industries are highly centralized and that they push to make renewable localized community decarbonized energy sources such as wind or solar difficult to establish or be a meaningful replacement for carbon energy. Willing governments are absolutely complicit in the drive to accelerate more oil accessibility through subsidies. The concentration of polluting fossil energies in the hands of a dozen multinationals is an extension, a continuation of colonialism’s mantra of a steady source of money to wage wars, epitomised in the 21st century by Russia’s invasion of Ukraine.

Just look at some of the terms that are used to commodify Nature: “ecosystem services,” “natural capital” and its assets ”fish stocks” and “ocean management.” Words that preclude any connection with or compassion for non-human species’ unconditional right to life. It is imperative to find and use a new vocabulary that turns away from biodiversity destruction. Moving the conversation away from the intrinsic value of Nature and replacing it with a commercial value destroys people’s will to fight for Nature. Two countries that have tried to address the rights of Nature in their constitutions are Ecuador and Bolivia. The Ecuadorian Constitution of 2008 declares: “We … hereby decide to build a new form of public coexistence, in diversity and in harmony with Nature, to achieve the good way of living.” (A better translation might be “collective wellbeing.”)

Hence it is no surprise that the words “polycrisis” and “permacrisis” have emerged to expose the convergence of overlapping emergencies that are intensifying as a result of hyper-consumerism and accelerating fossil fuel emissions. According to the Cascade Institute, “Humanity faces an array of grave, long-term challenges, now often labeled ‘global systemic risks. These include climate change, biodiversity loss, pandemics, widening economic inequalities, financial system instability, ideological extremism, pernicious social impacts of digitalization, mounting social and political unrest, large-scale forced migrations, and an escalating danger of nuclear war.

Compared to humanity’s situation even two decades ago, most of these risks appear to be increasing in severity and at a faster rate, while the crises they generate seem to be occurring more often simultaneously. The ultimate result of these converging and interacting systemic risks could be a global polycrisis—a single, macro-crisis of interconnected, runaway failures of Earth’s vital natural and social systems that irreversibly degrades humanity’s prospects.” https://cascadeinstitute.org/research/polycrisis/

Modern-day indefinite-growth capitalism has its antecedents in centuries-old colonialism, and its legacy can be seen across Canada’s human and natural landscape. From coast to coast, present-day oil and gas pipelines that illegally cross Indigenous lands from British Columbia to Newfoundland’s Bay du Nord deep ocean oil extraction tell us that we have become an ethically debased country enthralled to avarice and willing to sacrifice future generations, wilderness and wellbeing.

image: Creator: Diego Delso Copyright: CC-BY-SA 4.0





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