INDIGENOUS LAND HAS NEVER BEEN MODERN
By Isabel Altamirano-Jimenez
Posted in – Voices Rising on April 17th, 2014 1 Comments
Tehuantepec Isthmus Land Protectors – frontlinedefenders.org photo
My father was sitting quietly in a hammock eating corn on the cob, he had just finished the first harvest. He was lean and tall. Behind him, my nieces and nephews were busy chewing their corn and drinking fresh atole. My father turned and looked at them saying: “my parents and grandparents and their grandparents have lived in this land and eaten what we grow and gather. We have worked hard but it has been a good life, how is growing your own food not a good thing? When my grandparents died, they said: “do not abandon this land.” As I write this, eight years have passed since my father first asked me to research on the impact of wind power generation on our people’s traditional livelihoods in the Tehuantepec Isthmus, the narrowest chunk of land between the Pacific Ocean and the Golf of Mexico. He was concerned with leasing our community’s lands to wind-power corporations and the prospect of not being able to be self-sufficient. Like my father, many Zapotec and Ikoot peasants and fishermen have a strong sense of belonging and respect for the land and water that have sustained them. Like Elsipogtog and other Indigenous nations around Turtle Island, the peoples of the Tehuantepec Isthmus are defending their lands against large-scale wind power parks, the new face of colonial dispossession.
Some like to believe that prosperity for Indigenous communities comes from international corporations and their ever-expanding need to accumulate wealth. Some others like to think that Indigenous people’s defense of their land and their traditional livelihoods are things of the past. Some like to think that our circumstances can get better when our communities conform to the norm of being part of a reservoir of cheap labour force. But as Cherokee scholar Jeff Corntassel notes in his post, “Indigenous peoples’ sense of belonging is what breaks through the colonial confines.” Like Cherokee or Nishnaabeg peoples, Zapotecs have their own word to describe belonging as responsibility. The word guendaliza means that we all are relatives and as such we have reciprocal responsibilities. When we say thank you in Zapotec we say chux quixely, which means ‘I will reciprocate’. Reciprocity is not limited to human beings but extends to the land and other beings visible or not. While governments, financial institutions, and the media insist that Indigenous peoples are backward, violent, and inefficient, the latter insist on maintaining their responsibility to defend their land. In the same way that Canada does not own the land in Elsipogtog, Indigenous lands in the Tehuantepec Isthmus belong to the Zapotec, Ikoot, Mixes and other peoples. Resource extraction and land dispossession without prior and informed consent and without benefits for Indigenous communities is at the heart of these conflicts… Read More