Native Challenges to Mining and Oil Corporations


South End
Press, 2001, 241 pages.

Review by
Janet Lloyd

Resource Rebels

is a detailed and informative account of modern day genocide that reveals the
dark side of the global economic system. By exposing the continuing genocide of
indigenous peoples throughout the world, Gedicks reveals the hidden cost of
western “progress.” Uncovering the connections between genocide in remote
corners of the globe and western demand for natural resources, Resource
makes a compelling argument that the price of our oil is not paid at
the pump but with the lives of indigenous people.

Sitting on top of
coveted natural resources, indigenous people find themselves on the frontline of
the global economic war for energy supplies. Yet, they are fighting back. Al
Gedicks relates how indigenous organizations opposing oil and mining on their
ancestral lands are not only multiplying, but also reaching out from far-flung
regions to forge political alliances with western sympathizers. Resource
charts the emergence of a transnational movement of
environmentalists, human rights workers, lawyers and indigenous organizations,
rallying in opposition to corporate abuses. A detailed account is given of the
networks of international supporters working to defend indigenous rights. The
greater international recognition now granted to indigenous rights issues has
allowed indigenous organizations to gain legitimacy in their own countries.

The book’s forte
is its fascinating study of the global systems of power driving the genocide of
indigenous peoples. Resource Rebels documents the networks of
multinational companies, international financiers, government officials, and
international trade institutions that come together to profit from development.
Gedicks relates how demand for fossil fuels and minerals has subjected
indigenous communities to a new style of predatory global economics that
breathes new life into historical structures of colonial oppression.

The book explores
how the global elite sanction environmental racism with the belief that
indigenous cultures are “an obstacle to progress” that must be assimilated into
the “modern world.” Gedicks investigates the legal mechanisms—domestic laws,
mining codes, environmental regulations—that are used and abused in the
interests of politicians and corporations. He masterfully describes how the
collusion between corporate and political interests breeds corruption and
repression. Insight is given into how the lack of accountability and
transparency in the activities of corporations and politicians eats away at the
democratic foundations of society.

In one of the
strongest chapters of the book, Gedicks reveals that the arms industry is a
primary consumer of minerals. To feed the need for arms, corporations drive
deeper into resource frontiers to seek raw materials. Gedicks makes the
observation that the fragile ecosystems of the resource frontiers will collapse
long before their mineral wealth is exhausted. When the environmental impacts of
mineral extraction are added to pollution caused by weapons production, a
vicious cycle of environmental destruction emerges. Indigenous people sit in the
eye of this storm.

details the consequences for indigenous people of large-scale natural
resource extraction projects: forced resettlement, toxic pollution, disease,
loss of food and water supplies and the collapse of traditional ways of life.
The “divide and conquer” tactics employed by corporations to break indigenous
opposition are laid bare. Gedicks recounts how intimate connections between oil,
mining, and militarization result in a familiar pattern of violent conflict in
indigenous ancestral lands. Plentiful evidence is given of the involvement of
corporations in human rights abuses, from oil companies in Nigeria to mining
companies in West Papua.

Given the odds
facing indigenous communities in the path of large-scale development projects,
Al Gedicks reasons that the presence of transnational supporters is vital to the
continuation of indigenous resistance. Excluded from decision-making procedures,
the key challenge facing indigenous peoples is to make their voice heard. Allies
in Europe and the United States can speak out about human rights abuses against
indigenous peoples without fear of retaliation. Gedicks states that the
strategic use of information by transnational allies can expose the otherwise
hidden activities of governments and corporations in remote areas. A key role
for international allies lies in questioning current western energy consumption.
Gedicks makes a series of recommendations for more efficient energy use.

Broad in its
geographical scope, Resource Rebels tells of resource battles in
Colombia, Ecuador, Nigeria, West Papua, the United States, and Canada. Different
battles take different forms. In Ecuador alone indigenous organizations and
international allies have produced remarkable results using various
tactics—massive civil disobedience, international legal action, constitutional
reform and international campaigns. The wealth of detail provided on key case
studies makes Resource Rebels a valuable tool for international and
indigenous activists. Readable and engrossing, this book will engage a wide

Al Gedicks
concludes that indigenous people are the modern world’s equivalent of the
miner’s canary. Their David and Goliath struggle against corporate power
contains a warning to the world. Our unsustainable natural resource consumption
habits are not only a threat to the lives of indigenous peoples. They are threat
to the planet’s future.                     Z