and Robert Weissman
does the vast wealth of the United States come from? It is hard to read the
financial and popular press today without encountering stories that suggest the
answer is the creativity of entrepreneurs in Silicon Valley.
this prevailing, romanticized perspective, Winona LaDuke offers a jolt of
reality: Many of the great U.S. fortunes are based on somebody else’s wealth –
the natural resources of Native Americans.
her eloquent new book, All Our Relations: Native Struggles for Land and Life
(Cambridge, Massachusetts: South End Press), LaDuke documents the historic –
and ongoing — process of Native American dispossession.
a member of the Anishinaabeg nation, lives on the White Earth Reservation, in
northern Minnesota. She describes how a series of treaties and U.S. laws
transferred land from the Anishinaabeg to incoming settlers and converted
commonly held Anishinaabeg land into individual parcels, with much of it soon
alienated from Anishinaabeg (and a huge chunk taken by the state of Minnesota,
illegally, for taxes).
big winners in the process were Frederick Weyerhaueser and the company he
created. "Some are made rich and some are made poor," LaDuke writes.
"In 1895, White Earth ‘neighbor’ Frederick Weyerhaueser owned more acres of
timber than anyone else in the world." Today, descendant companies of
Weyerhaueser continue to clearcut what remains of the Minnesota pine forests.
upstate New York and Canada, the Mohawk nation retains land in scattered
reservations — a tiny fraction of their former possessions. The Akwesasne
Mohawk Reserve borders the St. Lawrence River. Families that once relied on
fishing and farming have been forced, she writes, to abandon their livelihoods
because the river is so polluted with PCBs dumped by General Motors and air
pollution depositions have poisoned the land.
of the families used to eat 20-25 fish meals a month," LaDuke quotes an
Akwesasne environmental expert as saying. "It’s now said that the
traditional Mohawk diet is spaghetti."
Our Relations features another half dozen case studies of corporate and
governmental assaults on Native American land and livelihoods.
of Native American lands has led to what LaDuke calls "structural
poverty." Structural poverty, she told us, "ensues when you do not
have control over the land or any of your assets."
is not a question of material wealth, but having conditions of human dignity
within the reservation," she says, citing a litany of devastating
statistics on Native American poverty rates, crime rates and access to health
care. "You can throw whatever social program you want at this, but until we
are allowed to determine our own destiny, these are the problems we are going to
has inflicted on Native Americans an intertwined spiritual poverty as well, she
says. "You have some [Native Americans] whose whole way of life are based
on buffalo, but we have no buffalo. This loss causes a kind of grieving in our
LaDuke’s All Our Relations is as much a hopeful as depressing book. She
chronicles Native American resistance to incursions from multinational
corporations, government agencies which frequently act to further corporate
interests and a white-dominated society which too often maintains a settler
profiles women like Gail Small, "the kind of woman you’d want to watch your
back at a meeting with dubious characters." An attorney, Small runs a group
called Native Action, which has led the strikingly successful fight against coal
company strip mining on the Northern Cheyenne and other Montana reservations.
Native Action has also pushed for affirmative development proposals, forcing the
First Interstate Bank System to provide loans to Northern Cheyennes through use
of the Community Reinvestment Act and helping establish a Northern Cheyenne high
herself is an inspiring figure, working with her White Earth Land Recovery
Project not only to pressure states and the federal government to return Native
American lands (which because they are government held, would not require the
displacement of any individual property holders), but also trying to enact a
sustainable forest management plan for White Earth, supporting the development
of wind power on the reservation and establishing a project, Native Harvest, to
"restore traditional foods and capture a fair market price for
traditionally and organically grown foods" such as wild hominy corn,
organic raspberries, wild rice, buffalo sausage and maple syrup.
Our Relations is a wonderful read, and an important book — both for telling a
story of plunder and exploitation too often forgotten, and because, as LaDuke
notes, "this whole discussion is really not about the Seminoles and the
panther" or other particular problems facing particular groups of Native
Americans — "it is really about America."
Mokhiber is editor of the Washington, D.C.-based Corporate Crime Reporter.
Robert Weissman is editor of the Washington, D.C.-based Multinational Monitor.
They are co-authors of Corporate Predators: The Hunt for MegaProfits and the
Attack on Democracy (Monroe, Maine: Common Courage Press, 1999, http://www.corporatepredators.org)