Indigenous Activists Converge
While Canadian Prime Minister Jean Chrétien promised to "dialogue with indigenous peoples and listen carefully to their concerns" and Mrs. Chrétien presented fellow first ladies with shawls depicting an Iroquois creation story at the Summit of the Americas in Quebec City last week, Shuswap Chief Art Manuel condemned their "hypocrisy" from the stage of the People's Summit on the other side of the chain-link and concrete "security perimeter." Meanwhile, organizers of an Indigenous Summit on the Free Trade Area of the Americas, which took place April 19-21 on Huron Reserve, eight miles outside Quebec City, warned that "the proposal to create the FTAA extends a process of imperial globalization that began in 1492 and continues yet" (see the report at www.oqp2001.org/en/native.html).
Although indigenous people have no place at the FTAA negotiating table, neoliberal trade policies have huge effects on their communities. A recently released FTAA working draft includes intellectual-property-rights provisions that allow corporations to "bioprospect," or secure patents and monopoly marketing rights on indigenous community assets such as traditional medicinal or agricultural knowledge, including seeds. Gustavo Castro, a sociologist from Chiapas, has been working with the Canadian NGO Rights Action (www.rightsaction.org) to educate people about the threats posed by the FTAA. According to Castro, the majority of indigenous people in Latin America support themselves through agriculture and will therefore be disproportionately affected by neoliberal policies that encourage cheap imports, virtual monopolies over staples such as corn or wheat, and the elimination of farm subsidies. Since NAFTA was instituted, Mexico has already imported millions of tons of cheap US subsidized corn, displacing thousands of indigenous farmers in the south. Castro is also concerned about the potential privatization of such essential services as drinking water or energy under the FTAA. According to Castro, "many of the natural resources that NAFTA and the FTAA seek to privatize--such as oil, natural gas, water reserves, biodiversity and even Mayan ruins--are found precisely in these indigenous regions." This is true not just in Chiapas but throughout the Americas.
The threat of increased environmental pollution posed by the FTAA is of grave concern to Chief Art Manuel. FTAA working drafts include provisions that will allow transnational corporations to sue governments for damages caused by such "unfair barriers to trade" as environmental regulations. Because Manuel's Shuswap community suffers from 80 percent unemployment and public benefits average only $165 (Canadian) a month, it must depend on hunting, fishing and other forms of traditional land use for day-to-day survival. On the Mohawk reserve that straddles the US-Canadian border in northern New York State and southern Ontario, traditional Mohawks invited American activists en route to Quebec City to a fish-fry and teach-in to express their frustration with both free-trade policies and the international border, which many describe as a "daily affront to our sovereignty." Although the event was almost canceled when the Mohawk Tribal Council became concerned that the visiting activists might cause damage or riot at the border, John Boots, whose family hosted the event, says they were "elated to receive the 350-400 activists [who were] very honored and respectful." Because non-native, off-reserve industry has caused such severe river pollution on their land, the Boots family was forced to serve fish imported from another reserve 140 miles away. John Boots expects pollution and other forms of economic oppression only to increase if the FTAA is passed.