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Bringing It All Back Home


Choudry

"We

are faced with a two-fold challenge, to struggle as best we can to deal with the

immediate consequences of globalisation. Secondly, and more difficult, to

contextualise those problems within the 500-year-and-more history of the culture

of colonisation"

- Moana Jackson,

Ngati Kahungunu/Ngati Porou,

lawyer and Maori sovereignty advocate

"For

us, as Indigenous Peoples, we have noticed an interesting thing happening in the

last twenty years. We see the colonisation process has been redirected. It is

now directed towards the non-Indigenous citizens. The companies are

cannibalising their own settlers. Now, the shoe is on the other foot. Where do

you go for help against the multinationals who are going to swallow up your jobs

and your lifestyle? Indigenous Peoples are not really interested in keeping

companies within Canadian control. These companies have been abusing our lands.

What does it matter if the company is Canadian or American or German or Japanese

owned? All these companies are abusing our lands and resources. Why should

Indigenous Peoples help non-Indigenous People protect their jobs and security

when these same people have been destroying our lands and waters? Globalisation

for us is colonisation continued without any letup. The question is to the

colonisers. What are the colonisers doing about addressing the issues of

colonisation and its continued oppression of Indigenous Peoples?"

- Sharon Venne,

Cree lawyer and scholar

 

Many

on the left point out that opposition to free trade and the neoliberal agenda is

not necessarily anti-capitalist. They’re right, of course – it comprises a

diverse range of organisations, movements, motivations, agendas and goals.

Among

anti-globalisation networks there is widespread coinage of the terms "colonisation"

or "recolonisation" to describe the current manifestations of globalisation. But

does that mean that the mobilisations and activism against globalisation are

anti-colonial? For the most part, I don’t think so.

If

those of us living in colonial settler states like New Zealand, Australia,

Canada, and the USA are prepared to take on transnational corporations, the

Bretton Woods institutions, and the neoliberal agenda we must also address

Indigenous Peoples’ struggles for decolonisation and self-determination.

There

are relatively few anti-globalisation initiatives where the perspectives and

struggles of Indigenous Peoples located in the "western democratic" colonial

settler states have taken centre stage. Their analyses and challenges are

all-too-often relegated to the anti-free trade movement’s equivalent of a social

clause or an environmental side agreement; side issues to be partitioned off

into a different space from unity statements and conference declarations which

tend to articulate noble-sounding demands about people power, taking back "our"

country, regulating corporations, genuine participatory democracy, etc.

In

his recent book, Human Rights Horizons, Richard Falk writes of the USA’s

"perpetual rediscovery of its own perceived innocence….Despite the

dispossession of the Indigenous Peoples of North America, despite slavery and

its aftermath, despite Hiroshima and Vietnam, this self-proclaimed innocence

remains untarnished". I’ve talked with activists from several countries about

this kind of phenomenon as it impacts on the perspectives of "civil society" in

the USA, Canada, Australia and New Zealand. Many social justice campaigns, NGOs

and activists in these countries operate from a state of colonial denial and

refuse to make links between human rights abuses overseas, economic (in)justice,

and the colonisation of the lands and peoples where they live.

The

doomsday scenario of corporate rule, transnational plunder, environmental and

social disaster which many opponents of the global free market economy warn of

has long been everyday reality for many Indigenous Peoples. Modern transnational

corporations are after all the heirs to the Hudson Bay Company, the New Zealand

Company, the East India Company – major players in earlier waves of colonisation

and the commodification of peoples, lands and nature.

In

our meetings, analyses, speeches and demonstrations we can talk about

transnationals, the WTO, globalisation as recolonisation, and perhaps even the

neoliberal agenda in the context of colonialism in the Third World. But to

advocate Indigenous Peoples’ right to self determination closer to home often

seems a surefire way to fasttracking one to extremist or pariah status – even

among social and environmental justice activists. It might "alienate" people,

I’ve been told.

Many

struggles against globalisation taking place in the South are connected to

anti-imperialist, anti-colonial mass movements with long histories. However, the

voices heard most loudly and insistently in the international media and at most

major international gatherings opposing the neoliberal agenda and building

alternatives are rarely those of grassroots community activists from the South,

let alone Indigenous Peoples in the countries of the global North.

Well-resourced NGOs and trade unions usually based in the West, tend to command

considerable power to set the parameters of the debate and direction of the

campaigns against corporate globalisation.

Far

too many times have I heard the history of globalisation – and the resistance to

it – compressed into the last two or three decades, and related in a way which

downplays or ignores anti-imperialist movements in the South and especially the

resistance of indigenous nations in territories claimed by Canada, New Zealand,

Australia, and the USA. In Canada and the USA I have shared platforms with North

American speakers who curiously trace the history of globalisation back to the

Trilateral Commission. Here in New Zealand, I have seen white environmentalists

accuse Maori of "reverse racism" for daring to assert their rights to protect

indigenous flora and fauna under threat from bioprospectors and the TRIPs

agreement. At other international conferences on globalisation, activists have

dismissed Indigenous Peoples’ perspectives on globalisation as "narrow" and "nativistic",

arguing that they do not attach enough importance to class analysis.

Naturally we feel outrage at security clampdowns against popular mobilisations

in Auckland, Vancouver, Seattle, Melbourne, Quebec City, and Washington DC. But

shock and surprise? Colonial governments have always used police and military as

an army of occupation against Indigenous Peoples. State-sanctioned abuses

against indigenous communities have long been a dime-a-dozen but have frequently

failed to register with many folk.

I

have heard the fairy story, told with passion, authority, and a touch of

nostalgia, by non-indigenous New Zealanders, North Americans, and Australians

who speak earnestly of the freedoms and democratic rights enjoyed in their

countries. Apparently things were pretty good until the neoliberal ideologues

and big business seized control, opened up the economy, started hocking

everything off to the transnationals, and saw Joe and Jill Citizen dispossessed

of things that they thought were theirs. So say dozens of activists, academics,

and politicians as they state their opposition to the neoliberal agenda. This

version of history begins when globalisation started impacting non-indigenous

peoples. The words "democracy" and "sovereignty" crop up time and time again in

their talks, and in anti-globalisation literature and campaigns in these

countries. What do such appeals to democratic traditions, concepts, and values

mean when they ignore past and present-day realities of colonisation in these

countries?

While

attending the 1997 Peoples Summit on APEC in Vancouver I remember being struck

by how speaker after speaker attacked transnationals, and identified them as the

driving force behind APEC, yet utterly ignored struggles like that of the

Lubicon Cree Nation in Northern Alberta – the next province – against gas, oil,

and timber transnationals invading their unceded territory with the complicity

of the Canadian state. Nor did the fact that a "liberal democratic" government

of Canada, like the one which through hosting APEC hoped to influence Asian

trading partners with "Canadian values", had sent more armed forces against

Mohawk people defending their lands in the 1990 standoff near Oka, Quebec than

it sent to the Gulf War rate a mention. But then again, the Vancouver Peoples

Summit itself was part-funded by the same NDP British Columbia provincial

government which in 1995 initiated a massive military operation at Gustafsen

Lake only a few hours drive away, against a small group of Indigenous Peoples

defending their sacred lands.

Many

critics of globalisation play down the role and relevance of the nation-state,

attributing power almost solely to transnational corporations and international

institutions like the Bretton Woods triplets. Yet this takes the focus away from

the nature and power of the state and even romanticises it. Such global

campaigns run the risk of distracting people’s gaze from long-standing

injustices underfoot. In delegitimising these global actors we must be very

aware of the dangers in uncritically legitimising nation-states which are

themselves based on the dispossession of Indigenous Peoples. We cannot ignore

the centuries of resistance by many indigenous nations against incorporation

into the colonial state. We cannot ignore the colonial foundations of the

countries in which we live. To do so is to mask the true nature of our

societies, and the extent to which they are built on colonisation and

exploitation.

How

can Indigenous Peoples be expected to validate, affirm and seek incorporation

into national or international movements dominated by non-indigenous activists,

organisations and agendas which are reluctant to address domestic issues of

colonisation with the same vigour and commitment that they put into fighting

transnational capital or the WTO?

Of

course some important alliances have been forged between Indigenous Peoples and

non-indigenous organisations confronting globalisation. Many (usually small,

underresourced) activist groups struggle hard to draw the connections between

corporate globalisation and colonisation, to support local indigenous

sovereignty struggles and educate non-indigenous peoples about these issues.

Movements to expose and oppose corporate globalisation have a very real

potential to mobilise support from non-indigenous people for meaningfully

addressing the issues of colonisation in New Zealand, Australia, Canada and the

USA. We should be challenging the jurisdiction of these colonial settler state

governments as they move to sign international trade and investment deals, in

the light of their continued denial of Indigenous Peoples’ rights, jurisdiction,

and title.

The

centuries-old culture of colonisation holds the key to understanding and

defeating the current wave of globalisation. If we understand how "democratic"

governments like Canada can sanction the ongoing assault on indigenous lands and

communities it isn’t hard to understand why such governments subscribe to

freemarket international trade and investment policies.

In

determining the values and foundations on which we build alternatives to the

neoliberal agenda our movements must be prepared to examine our own propensity

to oppress. We cannot build alternatives to globalisation on the rotten

foundations of the denial of occupying indigenous lands and the ongoing

suppression of Indigenous Peoples’ rights. "The colonisers are always building

rotten foundations and expecting us to step into a completed building" says

Sharon Venne.

If

anti-globalisation activists and organisations do not address these questions

with some urgency then I fear that the growing resistance to neoliberalism in

the global North risks being as inherently colonialist as the institutions and

processes which it opposes. Our usage of the term colonisation will be little

more than empty rhetoric if our analysis does not acknowledge the context in

which corporate globalisation – and the worldwide opposition to it – is taking

place.

Those

of us active in anti-globalisation struggles in Canada, the USA, New Zealand,

and Australia need to examine our role in the colonisation and globalisation of

the earth. Only then can we seriously talk about liberation and real

alternatives to the neoliberal agenda.

 

 

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