Jon Lee Anderson writes: “Step by step, we have led Crimeans to realize their dream of returning home to Russia,” Vladimir Konstantinov, the speaker of the breakaway Crimean legislature, told his colleagues recently, as they hastily voted in a new, Russia-friendly constitution. The dream was not universally shared, of course. During the March referendum to rubber-stamp the peninsula’s annexation by Russia, the region’s long-oppressed Tatar minority had launched a boycott. On the eve of the vote, a Tatar man was abducted and tortured to death, presumably by pro-Russian thugs. It was a warning—perhaps an intentional one — of the violence and provocation now occurring in eastern Ukraine, where pro-Russian paramilitaries are increasingly active, with the apparent connivance of the Kremlin. Last week, the Tatars’ historic leader, Mustafa Dzhemilev, who spent years in Soviet prisons for agitating on behalf of his people, went to Ukraine in an attempt to meet with Joe Biden; on the way home, he received papers informing him that he was barred from reëntering Crimea until 2019. The Kremlin and the regional government have denied the ban, and he was eventually let through. But it was a clear sign that the Russian-backed authorities have little sympathy for the Tatars. The acting Prime Minister, Sergei Aksyonov, a former gangster, noted on Twitter that any Tatars who were unhappy with the new order in Crimea should “leave if they don’t like it.”
For the second time in seventy years, the Crimean Tatars are forced to confront a complete upending of their lives. The Tatars, Muslim descendants of Genghis Khan’s Golden Horde, saw virtually their entire community — some two hundred thousand people — uprooted in May, 1944, after Stalin’s forces took Crimea from the occupying Nazis. Stalin justified the occupation by pointing out that some Tatars had fought alongside the Nazis in the war — even though others had fought in the Red Army. Nearly half of the Tatars are thought to have died in the harsh conditions of their deportation and the early years of their exile.
In the late nineteen-eighties, as the Soviet Union opened up a bit, Tatars were allowed to return, and a trickle began coming back from Central Asia. Those who could afford it returned to their villages, but few provisions were made for their reintegration into Ukrainian society, and there was no compensation for the properties they had lost. Many ended up squatting on public lands, where they remain. Known as the “original inhabitants” of the peninsula, Crimea’s Tatars now constitute twelve per cent of the region’s population. They are the poorest and least educated section of society, and the least represented in local government. For all the rhetoric emanating from the Kremlin—and from Kiev—they are effectively the Ukraine’s Lakota Sioux. [Continue reading...]
The Associated Press reports: As head of his village, Prajob Naowa-opas battled to save his community in central Thailand from the illegal dumping of toxic waste by filing petitions and leading villagers to block trucks carrying the stuff — until a gunman in broad daylight fired four shots into him.
A year later, his three alleged killers, including a senior government official, are on trial for murder. The dumping has been halted and villagers are erecting a statue to their slain hero.
But the prosecution of Prajob’s murder is a rare exception. A survey released Tuesday — the first comprehensive one of its kind – says that only 10 killers of 908 environmental activists slain around the world over the past decade have been convicted.
The report by the London-based Global Witness, a group that seeks to shed light on the links between environmental exploitation and human rights abuses, says murders of those protecting land rights and the environment have soared dramatically. It noted that its toll of victims in 35 countries is probably far higher since field investigations in a number of African and Asian nations are difficult or impossible. [Continue reading...]
Aurélie Campana writes: In April 1944, after two and half years of German occupation, the Soviet forces regained control of Crimea. The reconquest was hardly completed when the Crimean Tatars were deported en masse on the false accusation of having collectively collaborated with the Nazis. This Muslim Turkic-speaking minority then represented 19.4% of the population of the peninsula, where Russians represented over 50%.
On May 18, 1944, in the early morning, soldiers of the People’s Commissariat of Internal Affairs (NKVD, the former KGB) entered Tatars’ houses by force and announced to their astonished and incredulous occupants their immediate deportation because of acts of “massive collaboration”. They were given only twenty to thirty minutes to gather some personal belongings. Without further delay, they were then conveyed to several stations, where they were loaded into cattle trains. In the matter of three days, nearly 180,014 Crimean Tatars were deported from the peninsula. At the same moment, most of the Crimean Tatar men who were fighting in the ranks of the Red Army were demobilized and sent into labor camps in Siberia and in the Ural mountain region. The demobilized soldiers were released after Stalin’s death in 1953 and allowed to return to their families in their place of exile.
Over 151,000 Crimean Tatar deportees were sent to Uzbekistan; the rest of the population was conveyed to regions of the Union of Soviet Socialist Republics (USSR), mostly in Kazakhstan, Tajikistan, the Ural region, the Mari Autonomous Soviet Socialist Republic, and for some, to the region of Moscow (Broŝevan and Tygliânc, 1994: 85). The conditions of the transfer by train were particularly difficult; they were fatal for many of them, especially as the majority of the deportees were women, children and old people. The weakest ones were carried off by malnutrition, thirst, cold, overcrowding and diseases that spread rapidly in packed train carriages. [Continue reading...]
Steven Salaita: I write often about liberating Palestine from Israeli occupation, a habit that evokes passionate response. I have yet to encounter a response that persuades me to abandon the commitment to Palestinian liberation.
I have, however, encountered responses that I consider worthy of close assessment, particularly those that transport questions of colonization to the North American continent. You see, there is a particular defense of Zionism that precedes the existence of Israel by hundreds of years.
Here is a rough sketch of that defense: Allowing a Palestinian right of return or redressing the ethnic cleansing of Palestinians in 1947-49 is ludicrous. Look what happened to the Native Americans. Is the United States supposed to return the country to them?
Israeli historian Benny Morris puts it this way: “Even the great American democracy couldn’t come to be without the forced extinction of Native Americans. There are times the overall, final good justifies terrible, cruel deeds.”
This reasoning suggests a finality to the past, an affirmation of tragedy trapped in the immutability of linear time. Its logic is terribly cliché, a peculiar form of common sense always taken up, everywhere, by the beneficiaries of colonial power.
The problems with invoking Native American genocide to rationalize Palestinian dispossession are legion. The most noteworthy problem speaks to the unresolved detritus of American history: Natives aren’t objects of the past; they are living communities whose numbers are growing.
It’s rarely a good idea to ask rhetorical questions that have literal answers. Yes, the United States absolutely should return stolen land to the Indians. That’s precisely what its treaty obligations require it to do. [Continue reading...]
PolicyMic: A new Pew Poll conducted near the end of 2013 asked Americans which countries they liked and which ones they didn’t. While the results are colored by ongoing events across the world, they also reflect Americans’ long-standing attitudes towards some of our neighbors.
At the top of America’s favorite-country list is Canada, at 81% approval, presumably because Canada is about as inoffensive and friendly a country as you can imagine. Americans also remained steadfast friends with Great Britain at 79% approval, and were big fans of Japan at 70% approval despite the two nations’ economic competition.
Other countries didn’t fare so well on the favorability index. Israel remains largely liked by Americans at 61%, but if a Gallup poll from 2012 is to be believed, that’s down from 68% in 2011 and 71% in 2012 (Gallup’s numbers seem higher than Pew’s, so the spread may be less significant). But it’s now more widely disliked than France at 26% and 24% respectively. The ratings have a partisan spin, with 74% of Republicans and just 55% of Democrats approving of Israel this year. [Continue reading...]
None of these numbers are particularly surprising, but for me the most striking one is a 52% unfavorable view of Mexico.
I’m inclined to assume that American views of Mexico and of Mexicans are firmly intertwined and thus that this unfavorable view of America’s southern neighbor is mirrored in views about Mexicans who live this side of the border.
I used to live in California and was at that time a legal alien but like the many illegal aliens in that state, I was more struck by the fact that we were being branded as aliens rather than which might be deemed legal or illegal.
Moreover, since I was not visibly alien (so long as I kept my mouth shut), the greatest insult in being branded this way was clearly being imposed on the people who were visibly indigenous to this continent.
Whether it’s in North America or the Middle East, the settlers have no right to pass judgement on who belongs on these lands.
The Guardian reports: Several thousand people worldwide have taken part in protests at the Israeli government’s plans to forcibly remove Bedouin Arabs from their villages in the Negev desert.
In Israeli towns and cities mounted police used teargas, stun grenades and water cannon against demonstrators, in what the Association of Civil Rights in Israel described as a “disproportionate” response to stone-throwing. More than 40 people were arrested at protests across the country, and 15 police officers were injured.
In what was billed as an international “day of rage”, demonstrations were also held in London, Berlin, Rome, Istanbul, Cairo and in the United States.
Binyamin Netanyahu, the Israeli prime minister, criticised the protests. “We will not tolerate such disturbances,” he said in a statement. “Attempts by a loud and violent minority to deny a better future to a large and broad population are grave. We will continue to advance the law for a better future for all residents of the Negev,” he said. [Continue reading...]
Al Jazeera reports: Those passing by Al Araqib may call it a shanty town, but to Sheikh Siah Altori it is a home he says he is prepared to die for. After a reported 62 separate demolitions by state authorities, the remains of the Bedouin community, off the road from Rahat to Be’er Sheva, consists of several portable buildings, and a clutch of shacks and animal pens clinging to a hillside in the north of Israel’s Negev Desert.
Portions of the village’s lands have been designated to be planted with a state-sponsored forest. Al Araqib is one of the Bedouin communities known as an “unrecognised village”, which receive no state services such as electricity, water or sanitation. As many as 200,000 Bedouin live in the Negev, an area comprising 60 percent of Israel’s territory. Under a government proposal known as the Prawer-Begin Plan, $340m has been allocated for land and monetary compensation to move up to 40,000 of the Bedouin into state-sponsored townships.
On Saturday, thousands of demonstrators gathered in more than 30 cilties – in Israel and the occupied Palestinian territories as well as in other countries – to protest the Prawer-Begin Plan.
At Hura, a town in the northern Negev, more than 500 protesters gathered peacefully until youth began throwing stones and police used water cannon, horses and stun grenades to disperse the demonstration. Clashes continued throughout the night as the highway from Be’er Sheva to the Dead Sea was blocked with burning barricades and scores of young people throwing stones and Molotov cocktails.
Earlier, Bedouin were joined by busloads of supporters to voice opposition to the Begin-Prawer Plan. While the Israeli government maintains that the policy will ensure its Bedouin population receive access to basic services and economic opportunities, critics see the plan as an attempt to displace and threaten an indigenous way of life. [Continue reading...]
The New York Times reports: The genome of a young boy buried at Mal’ta near Lake Baikal in eastern Siberia some 24,000 years ago has turned out to hold two surprises for anthropologists.
The first is that the boy’s DNA matches that of Western Europeans, showing that during the last Ice Age people from Europe had reached farther east across Eurasia than previously supposed. Though none of the Mal’ta boy’s skin or hair survives, his genes suggest he would have had brown hair, brown eyes and freckled skin.
The second surprise is that his DNA also matches a large proportion — about 25 percent — of the DNA of living Native Americans. The first people to arrive in the Americas have long been assumed to have descended from Siberian populations related to East Asians. It now seems that they may be a mixture between the Western Europeans who had reached Siberia and an East Asian population.
The Mal’ta boy was 3 to 4 years old and was buried under a stone slab wearing an ivory diadem, a bead necklace and a bird-shaped pendant. Elsewhere at the same site about 30 Venus figurines were found of the kind produced by the Upper Paleolithic cultures of Europe. The remains were excavated by Russian archaeologists over a 20-year period ending in 1958 and stored in museums in St. Petersburg.
There they lay for some 50 years until they were examined by a team led by Eske Willerslev of the University of Copenhagen. Dr. Willerslev, an expert in analyzing ancient DNA, was seeking to understand the peopling of the Americas by searching for possible source populations in Siberia. He extracted DNA from bone taken from the child’s upper arm, hoping to find ancestry in the East Asian peoples from whom Native Americans are known to be descended.
But the first results were disappointing. The boy’s mitochondrial DNA belonged to the lineage known as U, which is commonly found among the modern humans who first entered Europe about 44,000 years ago. The lineages found among Native Americans are those designated A, B, C, D and X, so the U lineage pointed to contamination of the bone by the archaeologists or museum curators who had handled it, a common problem with ancient DNA projects. “The study was put on low speed for about a year because I thought it was all contamination,” Dr. Willerslev said.
His team proceeded anyway to analyze the nuclear genome, which contains the major part of human inheritance. They were amazed when the nuclear genome also turned out to have partly European ancestry. Examining the genome from a second Siberian grave site, that of an adult who died 17,000 years ago, they found the same markers of European origin. Together, the two genomes indicate that descendants of the modern humans who entered Europe had spread much farther east across Eurasia than had previously been assumed and occupied Siberia during an extremely cold period starting 20,000 years ago that is known as the Last Glacial Maximum.
The other surprise from the Mal’ta boy’s genome was that it matched to both Europeans and Native Americans but not to East Asians. Dr. Willerslev’s interpretation was that the ancestors of Native Americans had already separated from the East Asian population when they interbred with the people of the Mal’ta culture, and that this admixed population then crossed over the Beringian land bridge that then lay between Siberia and Alaska to become a founding population of Native Americans. [Continue reading...]
“Before They Pass Away,” by British photographer Jimmy Nelson, is described by an Amazon reviewer as “an essential item on everyone’s coffee table.”
It’s ironically fitting that this description comes from a “place” whose name — at least in the U.S. — now more frequently refers to the online mega-store rather than to the South American region. An indication perhaps that we care more about what we buy that what we breath.
Leaving aside the question as to whether anything can be said to be essential on a coffee table, the fact that a record of vanishing peoples would be trivialized by being ascribed this value says a lot about why they are vanishing.
Are we to superficially mourn the loss of cultures yet simultaneously be glad that something was preserved in the form of exquisite photographs? Content, perhaps, that before their demise we were able to snatch images of their exotic dress and thereby from the comfort of a couch somehow enhance our own appreciation of a world gradually being lost?
One could view cultural loss as a representation of cultural failure — that those under threat are those who proved least capable of adaptation. Or, one can see the failure as ours — that this represents yet another frontier in the destructive impact of those who have claimed global cultural domination and in so doing are busy destroying the atmosphere, the biosphere, and the ethnosphere.
The Guardian reports: Canada’s rush to exploit its tar sands and shale gas resources will destroy the environment “as fast as possible”, according to Noam Chomsky.
In an interview with the Guardian, the linguist and author criticised the energy policies of the Canadian government under Prime Minister Stephen Harper.
He said: “It means taking every drop of hydrocarbon out of the ground, whether it’s shale gas in New Brunswick or tar sands in Alberta and trying to destroy the environment as fast as possible, with barely a question raised about what the world will look like as a result.”
But indigenous peoples in Canada blocking fossil fuel developments are taking the lead in combatting climate change, he said. Chomsky highlighted indigenous opposition to the Alberta tar sands, the oil deposit that is Canada’s fastest growing source of carbon emissions and is slated for massive expansion despite attracting international criticism and protest.
“It is pretty ironic that the so-called ‘least advanced’ people are the ones taking the lead in trying to protect all of us, while the richest and most powerful among us are the ones who are trying to drive the society to destruction,” said Chomsky. [Continue reading...]
Annalee Newitz writes: One thousand years ago, in the place where St. Louis, Missouri now stands, there was once a great civilization whose city center was ringed with enormous earthen pyramids, vast farmlands, and wealthy suburbs. For hundreds of years it was the biggest city in North America. Then a mysterious fire changed everything.
The city that once existed in St. Louis’ current footprint is known today as Cahokia, and its creators are commonly called the Mound Builders because of the 120 or so enormous mounds they left behind. Shaped much like the stone pyramids of the Maya civilization to the south, these mounds rose up hundreds of feet, and were often built on top of tombs. At their summits were ceremonial buildings made from wood and thatch. Unfortunately, many of these magnificent creations were destroyed in the nineteenth century when St. Louis was built. Below, you can see one of the only remaining pyramids, known as Monk’s Mound.
The first evidence of a settlement in the Cahokia area is from the year 600 CE, at a time when the Maya civilization would have been at its peak. But it wasn’t until after the largest cities of the Maya began to fall in the 1000s that Cahokia came into its own. It’s estimated that the city center held as many as 15,000 people (making it comparable in size to European cities of the same era), and reached the height of its productivity between roughly 1000-1300 CE. [Continue reading...]
Jason Coppola reports: On June 4, 2013, a draft complaint was delivered to United Nations Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights officials Giorgia Passarelli and Rekia Soumana in New York City regarding the removal of thousands of Native American children from their families and tribes in South Dakota.
It has been carried out in a manner which, says the Great Sioux Nation, could be defined as genocide. This charge is based on section 2 (e) of the UN genocide convention of 1948 and the Federal Genocide Implementation Act of 1987. It states:
“(a) Basic Offense – Whoever, whether in time of peace or in time of war and with the specific intent to destroy, in whole or in substantial part, a national, ethnic, racial, or religious group as such –
(1) kills members of that group;
(2) causes serious bodily injury to members of that group;
(3) causes the permanent impairment of the mental faculties of members of the group through drugs, torture, or similar techniques;
(4) subjects the group to conditions of life that are intended to cause the physical destruction of the group in whole or in part;
(5) imposes measures intended to prevent births within the group; or
(6) transfers by force children of the group to another group;
shall be punished…”
The draft complaint was hand-delivered by Daniel P. Sheehan, Chief Counsel to the Lakota People’s Law Project, in response to the more than 700 Native American children removed from their homes and placed in foster care each year in South Dakota. Of those children, about 87 percent are placed with non-native families or group homes, far from their Indian communities, culture, and ceremonies.
This, the Sioux charge, is in violation of the Indian Child Welfare Act (ICWA) passed by Congress in 1978 which was intended to protect Indian nations, families, and culture by allowing children to remain with their extended families, a central theme in their indigenous belief system, even if in foster care.
The taking of Indian children has a long and disgraceful history in the Americas.
According to a report prepared for congress by Indian Child Welfare Act directors from South Dakota’s nine American Indian tribes, with assistance from the Lakota People’s Law Project, “For the Lakota, Nakota, and Dakota (Sioux) people of South Dakota, the absorption into state care began with the 1868 Fort Laramie Treaty”.
The Fort Laramie Treaty guaranteed the Sioux Nation “the absolute and undisturbed use and occupation” of their ancestral lands spanning five US States including South Dakota. The treaties have been broken by the US Government ever since the discovery of gold in the Black Hills. [Continue reading...]
Survival International: Amazon Indians from Peru and Brazil have joined together to stop a Canadian oil company destroying their land and threatening the lives of uncontacted tribes.
Hundreds of Matsés Indians gathered on the border of Peru and Brazil last Saturday and called on their governments to stop the exploration, warning that the work will devastate their forest home.
The oil giant Pacific Rubiales is headquartered in Canada and has already started oil exploration in ‘Block 135’ in Peru, which lies directly over an area proposed as an uncontacted tribes reserve.
In a rare interview with Survival, a Matsés woman said, ‘Oil will destroy the place where our rivers are born. What will happen to the fish? What will the animals drink?’
The Matsés number around 2,200 and live along the Peru-Brazil border. Together with the closely-related Matis tribe, they were known as the ‘Jaguar people’ for their facial decorations and tattoos, which resembled the jaguar’s whiskers and teeth.
The Matsés were first contacted in the 1960s, and have since suffered from diseases introduced by outsiders. Uncontacted tribes are also at extreme risk from contact with outsiders through the introduction of diseases to which they have little or no immunity. [Continue reading...]
Joshua Hammer writes: On a cloudless afternoon in the foothills of the Andes, Eliana Martínez took off for the Amazon jungle in a single-engine Cessna 172K from an airstrip near Colombia’s capital, Bogotá. Squeezed with her in the tiny four-seat compartment were Roberto Franco, a Colombian expert on Amazon Indians; Cristóbal von Rothkirch, a Colombian photographer; and a veteran pilot. Martínez and Franco carried a large topographical map of Río Puré National Park, 2.47 million acres of dense jungle intersected by muddy rivers and creeks and inhabited by jaguars and wild peccaries — and, they believed, several isolated groups of Indians. “We didn’t have a lot of expectation that we’d find anything,” Martínez, 44, told me, as thunder rumbled from the jungle. A deluge began to pound the tin roof of the headquarters of Amacayacu National Park, beside the Amazon River, where she now serves as administrator. “It was like searching for the needle in the haystack.”
Martínez and Franco had embarked that day on a rescue mission. For decades, adventurers and hunters had provided tantalizing reports that an “uncontacted tribe” was hidden in the rainforest between the Caquetá and Putumayo rivers in the heart of Colombia’s Amazon. Colombia had set up Río Puré National Park in 2002 partly as a means of safeguarding these Indians, but because their exact whereabouts were unknown, the protection that the government could offer was strictly theoretical. Gold miners, loggers, settlers, narcotics traffickers and Marxist guerrillas had been invading the territory with impunity, putting anyone dwelling in the jungle at risk. Now, after two years’ preparation, Martínez and Franco were venturing into the skies to confirm the tribe’s existence — and pinpoint its exact location. “You can’t protect their territory if you don’t know where they are,” said Martínez, an intense woman with fine lines around her eyes and long black hair pulled into a ponytail.
Descending from the Andes, the team reached the park’s western perimeter after four hours and flew low over primary rainforest. They ticked off a series of GPS points marking likely Indian habitation zones. Most of them were located at the headwaters for tributaries of the Caquetá and the Putumayo, flowing to the north and south, respectively, of the park. “It was just green, green, green. You didn’t see any clearing,” she recalled. They had covered 13 points without success, when, near a creek called the Río Bernardo, Franco shouted a single word: “Maloca!”
Martínez leaned over Franco.
“Donde? Donde?” — Where? Where? she yelled excitedly.
Directly below, Franco pointed out a traditional longhouse, constructed of palm leaves and open at one end, standing in a clearing deep in the jungle. Surrounding the house were plots of plantains and peach palms, a thin-trunked tree that produces a nutritious fruit. The vast wilderness seemed to press in on this island of human habitation, emphasizing its solitude. The pilot dipped the Cessna to just several hundred feet above the maloca in the hope of spotting its occupants. But nobody was visible. “We made two circles around, and then took off so as not to disturb them,” says Martínez. “We came back to earth very content.”
Back in Bogotá, the team employed advanced digital technology to enhance photos of the maloca. It was then that they got incontrovertible evidence of what they had been looking for. Standing near the maloca, looking up at the plane, was an Indian woman wearing a breechcloth, her face and upper body smeared with paint.
Franco and Martínez believe that the maloca they spotted, along with four more they discovered the next day, belong to two indigenous groups, the Yuri and the Passé — perhaps the last isolated tribes in the Colombian Amazon. Often described, misleadingly, as “uncontacted Indians,” these groups, in fact, retreated from major rivers and ventured deeper into the jungle at the height of the South American rubber boom a century ago. They were on the run from massacres, enslavement and infections against which their bodies had no defenses. For the past century, they have lived with an awareness — and fear — of the outside world, anthropologists say, and have made the choice to avoid contact. Vestiges of the Stone Age in the 21st century, these people serve as a living reminder of the resilience — and fragility — of ancient cultures in the face of a developmental onslaught. [Continue reading...]
The Guardian reports: A United Nations investigator probing discrimination against Native Americans has called on the US government to return some of the land stolen from Indian tribes as a step toward combatting continuing and systemic racial discrimination.
James Anaya, the UN special rapporteur on the rights of indigenous peoples, said no member of the US Congress would meet him as he investigated the part played by the government in the considerable difficulties faced by Indian tribes.
Anaya said that in nearly two weeks of visiting Indian reservations, indigenous communities in Alaska and Hawaii, and Native Americans now living in cities, he encountered people who suffered a history of dispossession of their lands and resources, the breakdown of their societies and “numerous instances of outright brutality, all grounded on racial discrimination”.
“It’s a racial discrimination that they feel is both systemic and also specific instances of ongoing discrimination that is felt at the individual level,” he said.
Anaya said racism extended from the broad relationship between federal or state governments and tribes down to local issues such as education.
“For example, with the treatment of children in schools both by their peers and by teachers as well as the educational system itself; the way native Americans and indigenous peoples are reflected in the school curriculum and teaching,” he said.
“And discrimination in the sense of the invisibility of Native Americans in the country overall that often is reflected in the popular media. The idea that is often projected through the mainstream media and among public figures that indigenous peoples are either gone or as a group are insignificant or that they’re out to get benefits in terms of handouts, or their communities and cultures are reduced to casinos, which are just flatly wrong.”