Saturday, September 11, 2010

The Male Supremacist Left Has Never Put Indigenous Women First or Central in Cultural-Historical Analysis and Story-telling

photo of Indigenous activists who are not men is from here, from the NACLA website
Let's consider the article that follows not only in the terms in which I discuss it. In reading it, I learned more than I knew about the history of Indigenous resistance movements across what is called in English Latin* America. (As far as I know, *Latin isn't spoken anywhere in the region, unless by individuals who have studied the deceased European language.) And the article is important. There's two distinctly different kinds of political work I tend to critique here. There is that work that is clearly oppressive, even while its activists may proclaim themselves victims, such as men who delusionally think feminists oppress them as a group. Then there is the work I generally support and feel encouraged by, but find problematic in some regards. What follows is certainly in the second category.

So much of how the often-enough anglo- and euro-centric white male supremacist West conceives of and describes "everyone else" is mired in an often unselfconscious sort of master managerial myopia, in which "everyone else" exists to serve the white male supremacist imagination and his life and ways of being. His existence rests entirely on privileges and entitlements to treat the rest of the world as "his". In such a view, woman of any color is the permanent other, while men of color meander in and out of the consciousness as "sort of real". Not existent enough, however, to warrant reorganising one's values and practices to accommodate, centralise, and see the authority of Indigenous women and their understandings, needs, and demands.

Critiques of capitalism are necessary, as are radical and revolutionary challenges to it. Organising or maintaining forms of social organisation antithetical to capitalism, which is also to say "beyond it" and "not needing it" will one day thrive, if Life ever thrives again on Earth beyond capitalism. But capitalism is infused with and dependent on other ideologies. And those ideologies have values and practices that are both institutionalised and set into interpersonal existence through processes that make the presence of them functionally inevitable but not existentially inevitable. Things appear to exist as if they always will, even while we know they didn't always exist. From whiteness, to gender dualism that is a dominator hierarchy, to money economies, we can go down the line of oppressive systems of thought, behavior, and political social organisation and arrive at the conclusion that what exists now is not likely to remain as it is. This is particularly true of systems which are inherently non-sustainable, or worse, anti-sustainable. Capitalism is that. So too is patriarchy. So too is white supremacy. So too is anti-Indigenism. So too are ecocidal societies. If we consider the fact that the white male supremacist West is all of those, we arrive at a crisis not of how these oppressive systems will end, but who will survive them, and in what condition.

Women lead in many Indigenous societies. This is not a fact you'd be able to discern from the writing that follows. Patriarchal and white supremacist ideologies are bound up in the practice of capitalism, more intensely and expansively since it has "gone global". Across the globe, women of all colors resist and rebel. They rebel with a cause: the cause of justice, of liberation, and not all those concepts come from the West. One doesn't require knowledge of Marx and Engels to understand one is targeted for genocide. One doesn't need theories of men to know that woman-hating is a lived lethal atrocity, sometimes expressed with passion, sometimes with callousness.

Where are Indigenous women resisters in this story that follows? Do they exist at all? Are they named? Who is served by rendering them invisible as such? I would argue that whenever history is only his-story, patriarchy is reinforced through story-telling, even while other ideological atrocities are being challenged.

NOTE: most of the rest of this intro by me was deleted in order to not misrepresent the man who posted the piece below to his blog, but didn't author it. I thank him for taking the time to write to me to correct my misperceptions of him, generally, and of him being the author of the piece that follows. Again, he isn't. The author is a writer for NACLA. 

Rowland, I hope to get to know you better. My sincere apologies for being so sloppy here with the initial intro.

Please click on the title to link back to the article's source site.

After Recognition: Indigenous Peoples Confront Capitalism

Posted by rowlandkeshena on September 10, 2010

See this and other articles in the NACLA Report’s September/October 2010 issue.

Indigenous peoples across Latin America have in recent years taken a leading position in defending national sovereignty, democratic rights, and the environment. A renewed cycle of capitalist accumulation in the region centered on mining, hydrocarbon extraction, and agro-industrial monocultures has sparked the new round of indigenous resistance. Drawing on organizational and political legacies of the peasant and agrarian struggles of previous decades, indigenous groups in the 1980s and 1990s grew and gained strength from an international arena in which governments were encouraged to recognize and promote cultural and minority rights in return for continuing debt relief and development aid.

In a wave of constitutional reforms, Colombia (1991), Guatemala (1993), Mexico (1993), and Peru (1993) took the unprecedented symbolic step of recognizing the cultural rights of indigenous people. More recently indigenous political mobilizations in Ecuador (2008) and Bolivia (2009) have led to constitutions that recognize those states’ plurinational character and, in the case of Bolivia, establish limited autonomy for indigenous peoples. While these state-led reforms represent one response to indigenous peoples’ demands for recognition of cultural identities and rights, they have done little to address either their long-standing demands for justice or their rejection of the extractivist economies, environmental devastation, and rampant social inequality that characterize neoliberal capitalism.

This issue of the NACLA Report explores the contributions and creative possibilities of indigenous movements at a moment when indigenous politics has moved beyond requests for state recognition and inclusion. In this period “after recognition,” indigenous activists, organizations and communities are challenging both the claims that liberal national states exert over indigenous resources and territories, and the misplaced social and economic priorities of neoliberal capitalism.


The creative force of indigenous political mobilization as a catalyst for broader popular political struggles was brought to world attention on January 1, 1994, when the Zapatista Army of National Liberation took over several cities in the southern Mexican state of Chiapas. Despite the Mexican government’s military and media offensive against the Zapatistas, which continues to this day, the 1994 uprising—timed to coincide with the first day of the North American Free Trade Agreement—helped launch a national debate about democratic participation, autonomy, economic justice, and political inclusion. In the years since 1994, Zapatista organizations have drawn on indigenous philosophies of authority and community to articulate ideals of direct democracy and political participation that go well beyond liberal models of both representational democracy and cultural recognition.

The Zapatista challenge emerged in response to a neoliberal economic model that reduced social spending, deregulated key industries, dismantled unions, undermined workers’ rights, and deployed increasingly authoritarian measures against social movements, ranging from the criminalization of public protests to full-scale counterinsurgency doctrine. These measures, together with neoliberalism’s ongoing commitment to environmentally destructive industries like oil, mining, logging, as well as large infrastructure projects and single-crop commercial agriculture, pose the most severe threat in history to indigenous survival.

Even as Latin American popular movements face severe challenges from both the global economic crisis and the policies of their neoliberal states, indigenous organizations throughout Latin America are responding to both state repression and the uncontrolled looting of their countries’ natural resources, with new and creative perspectives on development and the crisis of the liberal nation-state. In doing so, they confront the region’s elected governments, including the new progressive nationalist governments, which have had difficulty thinking past the economic development model promoted by the World Bank, International Monetary Fund, and the World Trade Organization: fostering capitalist expansion through exploiting natural resources.

In the face of this, indigenous peoples ask why it is always necessary to privilege profits over life, to defend the rights of corporations and not the rights of Mother Earth, and to treat nature as a resource for the taking. In the terrain of politics as well, indigenous mobilizations have challenged the dominance of vertical decision-making on both the right and left, and the neoliberal state’s tired mantras of national security and economic interest.

A significant case is the 2008 Colombian minga, which propelled the country’s indigenous movement to the center of the political stage (see “Colombia’s Minga Under Pressure”). With this massive national mobilization, indigenous peoples demonstrated their capabilities to convene a broad range of social and political forces, and to articulate a platform of action that directly challenges the Colombian neoliberal state’s commitments to the U.S.-Colombia Free Trade Agreement, militarization, mining, and industrial agriculture.

Despite significant advances, indigenous movements continue to face serious challenges. Neoliberal agendas allow no room for the negotiation of territorial or political rights, and the entrenched racism of Latin America’s criollo or mestizo elites makes it difficult for indigenous perspectives and voices to be heard. Examples of this abound. In Mexico, indigenous communities have confronted the failures of the state judicial system, as well as increasing violence from state police, paramilitaries, and drug traffickers by forming community police who work to enforce their constitutional rights to autonomy and peace (see “Indigenous Justice Faces the State”).

In Brazil, indigenous territories and ways of life are directly threatened by the Lula government’s unwavering support for massive hydroelectric projects, such as the Inambari dams, which will flood more than 113,000 acres of rainforest on the Peruvian-Brazilian border, or the Belo Monte dams, which will divert more than 80% of the Xingu River (see “Brazil’s Native Peoples and the Belo Monte Dam”). In Peru, the political elite’s and mining sector’s disdain for Mother Earth directly threatens the survival of indigenous peoples, yet communities from the Andes and Amazon have joined forces to resist state efforts to expand extractive industries and to deny indigenous rights (see “El buen vivir”).

Indigenous political forces face similar challenges in those countries where progressive governments—brought to power, to varying degrees, by indigenous movements—continue to promote mining and other extractive industries, to deny rights to prior consultation, to ignore indigenous territorial autonomies, and to directly threaten both the environment and indigenous life. In Ecuador, indigenous movements have confronted the Rafael Correa government’s developmental strategy, which privileges mining and oil, and in September 2009 they mobilized to protest legislation that threatened to remove control of water resources from local communities and open the way for privatization of water. Correa responded by labeling indigenous leaders “terrorists.”1 In Bolivia, indigenous movements have also joined to confront the country’s first indigenous president, Evo Morales, over the distribution of profits from gas and mining opera¬tions and the determination of autonomous territories, and even to demand the outright abolition of extractive industries (see “Bolivia’s New Water Wars”).

Indigenous organizations in different countries have articulated similar responses to extractive economies. In 2009, at the IV Continental Summit of Indigenous Peoples and Nationalities of Abya-Yala, held in Puno, Peru, 5,000 delegates from across the Americas issued a declaration in which they offered “an alternative of life instead of a civilization of death.” In its call for a “global mobilization in defense of Mother Earth and the World’s People,” the summit acknowledged that this struggle—and the global crisis it addresses—demands a broad alliance with non-indigenous social and political actors.2The summit’s anti-capitalist, anti-systemic platform resonates with declarations put forward by the Zapatistas, the World Social Forum, and other Latin American indigenous and popular organizations.

As indigenous movements act to hold their elected governments to account, they are not asking merely for recognition or for increased electoral participation. Their goal is not to participate in more of the same but to build something better. They question the primacy of an economic model that values private profit over life and the Mother Earth. They also remind us that popular and oppositional politics must look beyond elections and state-centered models of representative democracy that have historically marginalized and silenced not only indigenous peoples, but also a wide spectrum of disenfranchised and poor populations. They ask us, above all, to think creatively about how our commitments to political change must start not with a quest for power, but rather with respect for life, and for the ways of life and mutual well-being that indigenous organizations call el buen vivir.


Anonymous said...

Hi, I think you're a little confused here. I am not the author of the article you have reposted from my blog. NACLA is the author of the article, the proper citation being right below the linkable title you put in.

Also, not to toot my own horn or anything, but saying I have taken it upon myself to read "some" indigenous feminist authors is a bit of a misrepresentation of me as I am actually quite well read on the subject - more so than most white feminists or indigenous radicals I know. Just because I do not maintain a running tally of all the stuff I have read or am currently reading should not be taken as a reflection of how much I have read.

You also complain that you "wish that awareness of white patriarchy showed up more in the analysis and discussion, however and functioned to illuminate the problems in the radical left." However, as you may have noticed, the vast majority of the writings on the site are not mine. The primary writings that are mine, the Native Struggles Study Guide and Resurgence and Liberation, both of which are readily visible and available at the top of the blog, make indigenous women's voices and experiences central elements. I also can't be blamed for the fact that most of the rare commentors I have get do not choose to take up those elements of what I write. Perhaps you would like to put your thoughts down in the comments section.

Anyway, just thought I would post to clear up any confusion.

Julian Real said...

Hi bermudaradical,

Thanks so much for clarifying. Yeah, I can see now my error in determining the author. Such things sometimes confuse the hell out of me. I'll make necessary corrections in the introductory comments and please comment again or email me (address in top right corner of blog) with any other concerns--if you don't feel appropriately referenced and described here. I have no intention to misrepresent you and, as may not have been indicated sufficiently, was glad to find you online. I'll bet we could have some great conversations. Are you interested in having any of your own writings cross-posted here?

Also, please comment here any time! I try and keep my white male voice off Indigenous and/or women's spaces, online and offline.