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Somebody Else’s Wealth


Russell Mokhiber 

and Robert Weissman

Where

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.

To

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.

In

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.

LaDuke,

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).

The

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.

In

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.

"Many

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."

All

Our Relations features another half dozen case studies of corporate and

governmental assaults on Native American land and livelihoods.

Dispossession

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."

"It

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

face."

Dispossession

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

community."

But

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

mentality.

She

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

school.

LaDuke

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.

All

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."

Russell

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)

 

 

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