Wednesday, February 18, 2009

Robert Robideau - A True Defender of Indigenous Peoples Passes On

It is with sadness that we report the passing of our brother and friend Bob Robideau to the Spirit World. Many people talk about what it is to be a "warrior," and what it is to fight for the freedom of indigenous people -- Bob Robideau lived it. Bob was a great role model for AIM members everywhere. He epitomized what it was to be a member of AIM, not through posturing, not through rhetoric, but in action. He put his life on the line, and he was relentless in his defense of Indian people everywhere. He will be very deeply missed, and will always remembered

This is Bob's description of himself from his MySpace page:

I am a member of the Turtle Mountain and White Earth Ojibwa tribes. I have been an active member of the American Indian Movement (AIM) since 1973. A member of Northwest AIM, Dakota AIM in the 1970s, today I am a member of Autonomous AIM. I served as AIM spokesman for New Mexico from 1993-94. Darrell (Dino) Butler, and I were acquitted in the deaths of two FBI agents in 1976 on grounds of self defense. The charges arose after a shootout with the FBI on Pine Ridge reservation in June of 1975 that left two FBI agents and an Indian man dead. This period known as the reign of terror, in which 60 AIM members were killed and hundreds more assaulted in a government sponsored action to destroy AIM. These killings and assaults came in the aftermath of the Wounded Knee takeover by AIM in 1973. I have served twice as National-International Director for the Leonard Peltier Defense Committee (LPDC). Leonard Peltier, is an internationally known political prisoner who has served more then 32 years in prison for the same alleged offense as I was charged and acquitted. I have appeared on 60Minutes, West 57th Street, EDJ and in other major television documentary programs. I have also appeared in the documentary film, Incident at Oglala and other major documentaries relating to AIM, Anna Mae Aquash and Peltier. I have spoken extensively on AIM,Leonard Peltier and the Anna Mae Aquash cases both in the States and Europe. I have written extensively on the Peltier case and on Native American Indian issues. I am the founder and director of the American Indian Movement Museum in Barcelona, Spain, where much of the history of AIM and my art work remains on display. An Inventory of work with the Leonard Peltier Defense Committee and the American Indian Movement, from 1973-1994 is located at the University of New Mexico, Center for Southwest Research. My art can be found at the Bonnie Kahn Gallery:

Monday, February 09, 2009

Obama's "Green Economy" Runs Head-On Into Bolivia's Indigenous Revolution

Bolivia lithium field

February 3, 2009 - New York Times
In Bolivia, Untapped Bounty Meets Nationalism

UYUNI, Bolivia — In the rush to build the next generation of hybrid or electric cars, a sobering fact confronts both automakers and governments seeking to lower their reliance on foreign oil: almost half of the world’s lithium, the mineral needed to power the vehicles, is found here in Bolivia — a country that may not be willing to surrender it so easily.

Japanese and European companies are busily trying to strike deals to tap the resource, but a nationalist sentiment about the lithium is building quickly in the government of President Evo Morales, an ardent critic of the United States who has already nationalized Bolivia’s oil and natural gas industries.

For now, the government talks of closely controlling the lithium and keeping foreigners at bay. Adding to the pressure, indigenous groups here in the remote salt desert where the mineral lies are pushing for a share in the eventual bounty.

“We know that Bolivia can become the Saudi Arabia of lithium,” said Francisco Quisbert, 64, the leader of Frutcas, a group of salt gatherers and quinoa farmers on the edge of Salar de Uyuni, the world’s largest salt flat. “We are poor, but we are not stupid peasants. The lithium may be Bolivia’s, but it is also our property.”

The new Constitution that Mr. Morales managed to get handily passed by voters last month bolstered such claims. One provision could give Indians control over the natural resources in their territory, strengthening their ability to win concessions from the authorities and private companies, or even block mining projects.

Demand for lithium, long used in small amounts in mood-stabilizing drugs and thermonuclear weapons, has climbed as makers of batteries for BlackBerrys and other electronic devices use the mineral. But the automotive industry holds the biggest untapped potential for lithium, analysts say. Since it weighs less than nickel, which is also used in batteries, it would allow electric cars to store more energy and be driven longer distances.

With governments, including the Obama administration, seeking to increase fuel efficiency and reduce their dependence on imported oil, private companies are focusing their attention on this desolate corner of the Andes, where Quechua-speaking Indians subsist on the remains of an ancient inland sea by bartering the salt they carry out on llama caravans.

The United States Geological Survey says 5.4 million tons of lithium could potentially be extracted in Bolivia, compared with 3 million in Chile, 1.1 million in China and just 410,000 in the United States. Independent geologists estimate that Bolivia might have even more lithium at Uyuni and its other salt deserts, though high altitudes and the quality of the reserves could make access to the mineral difficult.

While estimates vary widely, some geologists say electric-car manufacturers could draw on Bolivia’s lithium reserves for decades to come.

At the La Paz headquarters of Comibol, the state agency that oversees mining projects, Mr. Morales’s vision of combining socialism with advocacy for Bolivia’s Indians is prominently on display. Copies of Cambio, a new state-controlled daily newspaper, are available in the lobby, while posters of Che Guevara, the leftist icon killed in Bolivia in 1967, appear at the entrance to Comibol’s offices.

“The previous imperialist model of exploitation of our natural resources will never be repeated in Bolivia,” said Saúl Villegas, head of a division in Comibol that oversees lithium extraction. “Maybe there could be the possibility of foreigners accepted as minority partners, or better yet, as our clients.”

To that end, Comibol is investing about $6 million in a small plant near the village of Río Grande on the edge of Salar de Uyuni, where it hopes to begin Bolivia’s first industrial-scale effort to mine lithium from the white, moonlike landscape and process it into carbonate for batteries.

As Bolivia ponders how to tap its lithium, nations with smaller reserves are stepping up. China has emerged as a top lithium producer, tapping reserves found in a Tibetan salt flat. But geologists and economists are fiercely debating whether the lithium reserves outside of Bolivia are enough to meet the climbing global demand.

The Indigenous Peoples Are In Control in Bolivia
Bolivia's President Evo Morales has enacted a new constitution that aims to empower the country's indigenous majority and allows for land reform.

Mr Morales said he had accomplished his mission to re-found Bolivia.

The new constitution was approved in a referendum last month by 61% of voters, but was rejected in the lowland regions where Bolivia's wealth is concentrated.

The constitution also scraps the single term limit for the president, allowing Mr Morales to seek re-election.

Mr Morales is Bolivia's first indigenous president.

Speaking to thousands of supporters in the town of El Alto, near the administrative capital of La Paz, Mr Morales said his opponents had "tried ceaselessly" to kill him.

"Now I want to tell you that they can drag me from the palace. They can kill me. Mission accomplished for the re-founding of the new united Bolivia."

Sunday, February 08, 2009

Winona Nails It, Again.

Uranium Mining, Native Resistance, and the Greener Path
by Winona LaDuke
Published on Saturday, February 7, 2009 by Orion Magazine

In a Dine Creation Story, the people were given a choice of two yellow powders. They chose the yellow dust of corn pollen, and were instructed to leave the other yellow powder-uranium-in the soil and never to dig it up. If it were taken from the ground, they were told, a great evil would come.

The evil came. Over one thousand uranium mines gouged the earth in the Dine Bikeyah, the land of the Navajo, during a thirty-year period beginning in the 1950s. It was the lethal nature of uranium mining that led the industry to the isolated lands of Native America. By the mid-1970s, there were 380 uranium leases on native land and only 4 on public or acquired lands. At that time, the industry and government were fully aware of the health impacts of uranium mining on workers, their families, and the land upon which their descendants would come to live. Unfortunately, few Navajo uranium miners were told of the risks. In the 1960s, the Department of Labor even provided the Kerr-McGee Corporation with support for hiring Navajo uranium miners, who were paid $1.62 an hour to work underground in the mine shafts with little or no ventilation.

All told, more than three thousand Navajos worked in uranium mines, often walking home in ore-covered clothes. The consequences were devastating. Thousands of uranium miners and their relatives lost their lives as a result of radioactive contamination. Many families are still seeking compensation. The Navajo Nation is still struggling to address the impact of abandoned uranium mines on the reservation, as well as the long-term health effects on both the miners and their communities, many of which suffer astronomical rates of cancer and birth defects.

As a college student, I worked for Navajo organizations, trying to inform their people about the uranium-mining industry and the large corporations-EXXON, Mobil, United Nuclear-that proposed to mine their lands. It was a humbling experience, seeing some of the richest corporations in the world faced by courageous peoples who fought for the two things that mattered to them more than money: their land and their identity. The Navajo people joined with many others across the country who felt that there was a much better way to make energy. In the end, the people did prevail-new mining proposals evaporated as tribal resistance and legal and administrative battles merged with economic forces. Eventually, contracts for uranium were canceled by utilities, which no longer sought to build unpopular nuclear power plants.

Now I feel like I am having very bad déjà vu-only this time nuclear power is seen as the answer to global climate destabilization. In 2005, the Navajo Nation passed a moratorium on uranium mining in its territory and traditional lands, which was followed by similar moratoria on Hopi and Havasupai lands, where mines are proposed adjacent to the Grand Canyon. "It is unconscionable to me that the federal government would consider allowing uranium mining to be restarted anywhere near the Navajo Nation when we are still suffering from previous mining activities," Joe Shirley Jr., Navajo Nation president, explained at a congressional hearing on opening uranium mines in the Grand Canyon area. To the north, the Lakota organization Owe Aku (Bring Back the Way) is an intervener in a Nuclear Regulatory Commission hearing to allow the Canadian corporation Cameco to expand its Crow Butte uranium mine, just over the Nebraska border from the reservation.

I recently traveled to Australia, the country with the largest known uranium reserves in the world. In my Sydney hotel room the television broadcaster summarized Australia's economic strategy: "We dig it up, and they buy it." The mining industry, in a world bent upon combusting and consumption, looks to be very healthy. Australia's uranium mines include the Beverley Mine, which is in the territory of the Kuyani and Adnyamathanha peoples. Olympic Dam (operated by BHP Billiton-the largest mining corporation in the world) is the country's second-largest uranium operation and is in the traditional territory of aboriginal people as well. In fact, most major mining operations in Australia are within aboriginal territory. These are some ancient civilizations-resilient in the face of a deep history of genocide and destruction, which continued well into the twentieth century. Aboriginal people did not even get the right to vote until 1967. Due to their relative isolation in the outback, many of these tribes have had few interactions with outsiders. That is, until recently.

Kakadu is the longtime home to the aboriginal Mirrar people, as well as a recent intruder: British-based Rio Tinto. In the 1970s, Kakadu's Alligator River System became the focal point of Europe's uranium demands. Built right in the center of the Mirrar homeland, the Ranger Uranium Mine is one of the largest uranium mines in the world. But the Ranger mine is also in the center of Kakadu National Park, one of just twenty-five UNESCO World Heritage sites in the world designated on the basis of both cultural and ecological significance. Kakadu includes over 190 major aboriginal rock-art and sacred sites.

The Ranger Uranium Mine opened in the early 1980s, after much protest from the Mirrar people, who made it clear that they opposed the mine. Rio Tinto has assured Australians, UNESCO, and the aboriginal owners that it is operating under "world's best practices" of uranium mining, a term some would argue is an oxymoron. Meanwhile, radioactive groundwater contamination is reported to be spreading through the park. A 2004 incident allowed a number of workers to drink, ingest, and shower in heavily contaminated water, with a large amount spilling out of the site itself. And in 2006, Cyclone Monica delivered extreme rainfall, causing the radioactive containment ponds to fill. The company responded by lifting tailings dams, redirecting runoff into streams, and using the contaminated water for irrigation.

In 1999, Jacqui Katona, a Djok aboriginal woman, and Yvonne Margarula, a Mirrar woman, won the Goldman Environmental Prize for their struggle to oppose development at Jabiluka, another mine proposed for Kakadu National Park. Yvonne explained that an agreement to open the mine "was arranged by pushing people, and does not accurately reflect the wishes of the aboriginal people who own that country." In 2005, after a long and heated battle, the Mirrar people fought off the proposal to open a uranium mine at Jabiluka. But now, with demand for uranium on the rise, the threat is once again looming on the horizon.

With some 16 percent of Australian land controlled by aboriginal people and with many of the mine sites in the aboriginal heartland, the upcoming pressure on communities to buckle to the largest mining companies in the world will be daunting. Coinciding with the proposed ramp-up of the nuclear industry is the negotiation of land settlements for a number of these aboriginal first nations. If history is any indicator, many of these land-rights settlements will mirror what happened in Alaska, where the Alaskan Native Claims Settlement Act-promoted by oil companies that deemed it necessary to negotiate some agreements between themselves and aboriginal people-established Alaskan Native corporations, which today create a complex set of divided loyalties and communities. This is perhaps best illustrated by the case of the Gwich'in people, who find themselves not only opposing oil companies that want to drill in the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge, but also Alaskan Native corporations, whose income has derived from the exploitation of the land and its resources.

There is another prophecy that is relevant to this story, though. Ojibwe legends speak of a time when our people will have a choice between two paths: one path is well worn and scorched, but the second path is not well traveled and it is green.

There is an alternate economic future for indigenous peoples, and it too is green. In order to stabilize carbon emissions in the United States, the country will need to produce around 185,000 megawatts of clean new power over the next decade, which could mean up to 400,000 domestic manufacturing jobs. The Intertribal Council on Utility Policy estimates that tribal wind resources alone represent 200,000 megawatts of power potential. In fact, Native American nations are some of the windiest places in the country.

The Rosebud Lakota put up the first large native-owned windmill in 2003, a 750-kilowatt turbine right in the middle of the reservation. The Turtle Mountain Ojibwe just erected a 660-kilowatt wind turbine; ten more megawatts are planned for Rosebud; and the White Earth Anishinaabeg have several projects under way in Minnesota. Proposals for up to 800 megawatts of power for northern Plains states are being put forth by the Intertribal Council on Utility Policy. There's also a 50-megawatt project on lands held by the Campos and Viejas bands of Kumeyaay people in Southern California, and a 500-megawatt project in which the Umatilla Tribe of Oregon is a partner. Boston-based Citizens Energy is working with a number of tribal communities in the U.S. and Canada to bring green power from the reserves to the grid.

In the U.S., native communities have an opportunity to lead the way to a green future. We have a chance to create a just energy economy in the most wasteful and most destructive country in the world. We need help, though. Insuring that climate-change legislation does not reboot the nuclear industry will be a critical part of supporting native struggles to choose the green path over the scorched one.

Winona LaDuke is executive director of Honor the Earth and a member of the Mississippi Band of Anishinaabeg. She lives in northwestern Minnesota. She is the author of, among other books, All Our Relations and Recovering the Sacred.