Stewards of the land

The words aboriginal, indigenous, native, primitive, adivasi, tribal  and first nations are used almost synonymously although there are subtle differences setting them apart. The word aborigine or aboriginal is associated with Australia, indigenous makes us think of  Latin America even though its roots go back to the inhabitants of the Indus Valley, the word  native has acquired a slightly derogatory connotation thanks to Hollywood just as  the word primitive did thanks to Eurocentric anthropologists.  Adivasis were the original inhabitants of India before the Aryans and other invaders from the North subjugated them long before the advent of the British Raj.  The term First Nations is the proud denomination of the people who settled in North America before the Europeans came here. Be it as it may, the First Nations of Canada also came from elsewhere, having either crossed the Bering Straight or floated in a raft from islands in the Pacific, but their seniority in the queue is undisputable. But let us forget about nomenclature. What matters is that colonialism, driven by mercantile impulses but often cloaked in moralistic or modernistic garb, has subjected many of these nations to a life of servitude, pauperization, depredation, dislocation, environmental degradation, loss of identity  and other ills. And today there is a new type of land grab which involves the displacement of indigenous populations to make way for  transnational mining or rapid industrialization, regardless of the human or environmental cost.

This issue of Montreal Serai analyses how a group of people, long settled in a particular region, has been controlled by another group of  people coming from elsewhere and how it is fighting back to heal ancient historical torts and restore the health of the land. An important point to remember is that most indigenous populations consider themselves stewards of the land and all the living creatures that reside on it, hence the universal appeal of their struggle. Tomás Ramírez, a Chichimeca from Mexico, describes the struggles of women in San Cristóbal de las Casas, which has had an autonomous government on and off for years. Carmen Cordero, a Spanish woman, tries to get into the skin of  the corn people, especially the Mayan women in Guatemala. Rosemary Ahtuangaruak, a native of Alaska, deplores the killing of whales in her homeland. Shanti Johnson, a multicultural Mexican with Mayan roots, meditates on the deeper meaning of  indigenous. Other authors offer us their poems  in solidarity with indigenous people, and much more.

Most importantly, however,  the First Nations of Canada let us know, in no uncertain terms,  that they expect the Government of Canada to respect its commitment to the United Nations  Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous People to which it finally adhered.