Global Problems and the Culture of Capitalism

Home    The Book   Course Materials   Online Reader     Internet Resources   Video Resources


                       IX Readings on Indigenous Peoples,
               Ethnic Conflict
               and the Nation-State

native_portrait.gif (37638 bytes) The toleration of cultural diversity is not a strong point of the culture of capitalism.  The nation-state, its dominant political form, requires at least the appearance of cultural uniformity.   Furthermore, the cultures of indigenous peoples often clash with the culture of capitalism: persons in indigenous societies often hold property in common, reducing or even precluding it being sold or traded.  The mobility of many indigenous peoples necessitated by shifting agriculture or herding conflicts with the control needs of the nation-state.  The kinship-based social organization often conflicts with the requirement for individual autonomy characteristic of the culture of capitalism.   And indigenous societies tend to be far more egalitarian than societies of the culture of capitalism, reducing the needs of persons to assert their status through commodities.  Finally, and perhaps most importantly, indigenous societies often control resources--land, mineral rights, intellectual resources--that are desired by members of the culture of capitalism.  For these, among other reasons, indigenous cultures are fast disappearing, either through violent suppression and elimination, or through more subtle processes masked under the rubric of "modernization," "economic development," or "assimilation."   The following selections are intended to help you understand how and why our cultural heritages are fast disappearing.


A.  Indigenous People
The first question we need to address is who are "indigenous peoples"?  The question is of more than academic interest.   With a new political awareness, indigenous peoples are asserting their political rights as well as their rights over their traditional physical and economic resources that have, for the most part, been denied them.  Consequently it is important to define to whom such rights should extend. The following selections all address the issue of indigenous identity.
Reading 1.Who Are the Worlds Indigenous Peoples?
answer_pad.jpg (2605 bytes) The UN Working Group on Indigenous Populations adopted the description proposed by Jose Martinez Cobo, and posted here at the Australasian Legal Information Institute Web site.


Reading 2. Human Rights of Indigenous Peoples
Stephen Renard, Jaime Simmermaker, and Amy Stein provide an excellent discussion of the issues involved in the human and political rights of indigenous peoples.  They also provide you with an excellent outline of what different organizations are doing about the problem, and supply links to those organizations.


Reading 3. The Circle of Development and Indigenous Peoples
One of the ways that the cultures of indigenous peoples differ from the culture of capitalism is in their values and priorities.   Sherry Salway Black outlines some of those differences, and suggests that indigenous peoples need to use their values to evaluate their lives, and not depend solely on the largely material and economic criteria used in the culture of capitalism.


Exercise 1. Nations of the Indigenous One World
If you're in the United States, check the map to see the indigenous nations near you.   For Canadian maps you can check at Windows on Native Lands.


B. The Destruction of Indigenous Cultures
In Global Problems and the Culture of Capitalism we outline the processes through which indigenous cultures have been and are being destroyed.   These include the more flagrant use of violence to destroy indigenous resistance, but just as often they include measures that are proposed to "help" indigenous peoples, such as offering educational opportunities, or so-called economic development programs.  More insidious is the destruction of indigenous cultures from the by-products of the culture of capitalism; thus scientists suspect that PCB contamination may require indigenous peoples of the Arctic to forsake their traditional foods such as caribou and seal. 
Reading 4:  Carlisle Indian School
After it had restricted indigenous peoples to reservations in the latter half of the nineteenth century, the American government embarked on a program to assimilate them into American life, to remake them in the white man's image.  The centerpiece of this program was a series of boarding schools to which Native American children were, sometimes forcibly, removed.  One of the most famous was the Carlisle Indian School in Carlisle, Pennsylvania.  In this selection Barbara Landis provides a history of the attempt to destroy indigenous culture through education, along with a history and description of Carlisle.


Reading 5.  Tracing the History (From Bringing Them Home)
Sometimes using the example provided by the American government, other countries established systems of boarding schools to remove indigenous children from their culture in an attempt to assimilate them into the dominant culture.  This reading traces the history of the attempt of the Australian government to "civilize" its indigenous peoples.  The history is part of a larger report, Bringing Them Home, that formed the backdrop for a national campaign to acknowledge the harm done, and to offer an apology in the form of a national "sorry day."


Reading 6. The Dismantling of a Nation
The Sami, sometimes called Lapps or Laplanders, are the first people to have inhabited Scandinavia. They are the reindeer people of the North. The colonization of their lands, beginning in 1673, parallels that of all indigenous peoples; their lands and people were divided among four nations by the drawing of new borders and, when attempts to enslave them failed,  nation-states sought to assimilate them by denying them their culture. The expansion of capitalism has continued to erode their lands and huge development projects have proceeded at their cost.


Reading 7. Factsheet on the Ogoni Struggle
The story of the struggle of the Ogoni people to preserve their lands and livelihood against the powerful transnational corporation, Shell, and the corrupt military regime in Nigeria.


Reading 8.  The Destruction of the Yanomami
The Yanomami (or Yanomamo) gained anthropological prominence through the ethnographies and films of Napoleon Chagnon.   But the Yanomamo described by Chagnon in his early work and films are fast disappearing, victims of disease and death spread by gold prospectors and other invaders into their territory, including, some say, anthropologists.  This selection is an interview with Daví Kopenawa Yanomami conducted by Multinational Monitor at the Rio Earth Summit.  The interview describes the current plight of the Yanomami and their likely future.


Reading 9. Globalization, Tourism, and Indigenous Peoples
In 1998 there were 635 million tourists in the world, spending almost half a billion dollars.  Most of us, in fact, have been tourists at one point or another.  Tourism is often portrayed as a form of "clean" development.  However tourism is not always a benefit to indigenous peoples, as Lee Pera and Deborah McLaren point out.  They conclude that: "The destructiveness of the tourism industry (environmental pollution and enormous waste management problems, displacement from lands, human rights abuses, unfair labor and wages, commodification of cultures, etc.) has brought great harm to many Indigenous Peoples and communities around the world."


C. Ethnic Conflict
Is the existence of ethnic conflict, such as the recent violence in Bosnia, Kosovo, and Rwanda, evidence that cultural diversity breeds conflict?  Many have expressed that view, arguing that minority cultural groups need to be assimilated into a larger cultural entity otherwise ethnic conflict will continue to result in mass killings and genocide.  Thus in Bosnia and Rwanda observers were quick to blame the violence on "ancient hatreds." Yet diverse cultural groups have lived together for centuries without violence;  this includes Bosnian Serbs and Muslims, as well as Tutsi and Hutu in Rwanda.  More considered judgements recognize that so-called ethnic conflict is rooted more in contemporary global economic and political arrangements than in any ancient animosities.  The following selections focus on the conflict in Rwanda, one that we explore in some depth in Global Problems and the Culture of Capitalism.  You can also review other present conflicts at the Encyclopedia Brittanica site at their Worlds Apart page.
Reading 10. The Rwandan Genocide
This chapter from a report, The International Response to Conflict and Genocide: Lessons from the Rwanda Experience, provides a description of the events surrounding the killings of some 800,000 people in Rwanda in 1994-95.  Portrayed by the Western press as the result of "ethnic hatred," the genocide was rooted more in colonial history and global economic conditions that left Rwanda's economy in virtual ruins.  You can view a historical timeline of the genocide in Rwanda at the PBS site on Rwanda.


Reading 11.  Valentina's Story
Valentina was 13 when she sought refuge in the church of Nyarubuye in Rwanda to escape the impending massacre of her people. She watched the brutal slaughter of those around her and survived the severe injuries which were inflicted upon her. At age 16, she told the story of the events in the church: a story of neighbors brutally slaughtering neighbors. This is the story of but one of the many massacres that took place in Rwanda.  You can find additional information and a remarkable interview with Geranrd Prunier at the PBS site on Valentina's Nightmare.


Exercise 2. The Triumph of Evil
Perhaps the worst part of the Rwanda genocide was the duplicity of Western governments, particularly France and the United States.  They refused to admit a genocide was occurring for to do so would have obligated them, based on their signing the December 1948 Convention on the repression of genocide, to do something about it.  The Triumph of Evil is the title of a PBS Frontline documentary that focuses on the genocide and the reaction to it of Western governments. If you can't view the documentary, browse the site, particularly the readings and the excerpt from Philip Gourevitch's book, We Wish To Inform You That Tomorrow We Will Be Killed With Our Families.


Reading 12.  Dismantling Former Yugoslavia, Recolonising Bosnia
This article by economist Michel Chossudovsky details the economic dismantling by the former Yugoslavia by the IMF and the consequences for hundreds of thousands of people put out of work by the closing of "failing" business enterprises.  Chossudovsky maintains that the ethnic violence than resulted in hundreds of thousands of deaths was due as much to economic factors as to ethnic divisions.


D. Human Rights
Since most attacks on indigenous peoples and ethnic groups are committed by the nation-states whose territory they inhabit, the question is to whom or what can they appeal to protect themselves? Nation-States are quick to claim that disputes with indigenous groups or ethnic minorities (or majorities) are "internal matters," and not subject to anyone else's authority.  Others claim that there are "human rights," that extend beyond the rights conferred or mediated by nation-states.  The following selections explore the issue of human rights and attempts to monitor the behaviors of individual nation-states, particularly in their treatment of ethnic or indigenous minorities.
Reading 13. Human Rights Watch 2003 Report
This introduction to the 2003 Human Rights Watch Report provides an excellent outline of the history of the concern for human rights and the present state of human rights in the world.  They summarize the major issue by saying that "It is a sad truth that governments and warring parties will always be tempted to violate human rights. Why tolerate a nettlesome opposition, governments will ask themselves, when it can be jailed? Why suffer criticism of poor political performance when it is possible to divert public attention by attacking an unpopular minority? Why risk social or economic privilege if discrimination can keep challengers in their place?"


Reading 14. U.S. Department of State Overview to Country Reports on Human Rights Practices for 1999
This is the U.S. Department of State Overview to Country Reports on Human Rights Practices for 1998.  (With George W. Bush's election, these reports are no longer prepared). It describes the human rights violations on countries around the world.  However, it is not without its political biases, focusing largely on countries with whom the United States has political disputes.  Absent, for example, is a discussion of human rights in the United States or the misuse of authority by police in the United States, a problems detailed at Shielded from Justice, a report that details cases of police brutality. 


Exercise 3.  Amnesty International Annual Report
Amnesty International has long been one of the foremost organizations fighting for the recognition of human rights.  Here you can browse their introduction to their report on human rights abuses in the Americas.  The 1999 report contains a special section on the death penalty.


Reading 15. Sovereign Injustice: Introduction
The breakup of nation-states often poses some interesting paradoxes.  The government of Quebec, for example, claims that it has the right, based on their distinct cultural heritage, to secede from Canada and form their own nation-state.  However, while claiming this right for themselves, they deny that right to the indigenous peoples of the province.  The Grand Council of the Cree Web site, addresses this issue, concluding that  "In the opinion of this present study, the PQ government's current political and legislative strategy towards secession of Québec from Canada has no legal validity. It also lacks legitimacy from either a Canadian or international perspective. Moreover, should Québec secession proceed, it would seriously impinge upon other peoples' fundamental status, rights and interests – including those of the James Bay Crees."  You can access the entire text of Sovereign Injustice.



Additional Resources on Indigenous Peoples, Ethnic Conflict and Human Rights


Home / Book/Online Reader/Internet Resources / Site Search


Mail all Comments to:
Richard H. Robbins

Number of Visitors

Hit Counter