August 28, 2009

Maasai evicted like Indians

Conservation's 'new breed of refugee' is all too familiar to Indian CountryPatches of white ash on parched earth are the latest markers of the Tanzanian government's efforts to evict Indigenous Maasai cattle-herders from their settlements in the name of conservation. In July more than a thousand Maasai took a hasty last look at smoldering homes as Tanzanian police forcibly removed them, making way for a safari camp controlled by a United Arab Emirates billionaire who jets in and jets out again when the urge to go big-game hunting strikes.

The conservation refugees from the traditional Maasai territory of Loliondo are the most recent Indigenous victims of a slightly more subtle invasion than the land-grabs, mining concessions, damming of waterways, over-fishing and buffalo kill-offs of the past, said Rebecca Adamson, founder and president of First Peoples Worldwide. But conservation eviction began in the United States, she emphasized, with the transition of Yosemite Valley in California to Yosemite National Park, and the attendant eviction of Mewoc, Paiute, and Ahwahneechee Indians. They did not get reservations; they became refugees, banned from the park and prohibited from gathering their traditional food, water and material resources there.

American Indian tribes will recognize their own experience in the Maasai evictions, Adamson said. "Our buffalo, our salmon and Appaloosa ponies, our corn seeds, our traditional ecological knowledge, our lands, were like their cattle. Our pride, our traditions faltered under the onslaught against our livelihood, like theirs. Our stewardship against global warming and environmental degradation, our sense of place, were besieged like theirs. Despite the many issues on Indian lands, tribes must try to stand up for the Maasai. They are Indigenous, like us, and their doom would be ours all over again."
And:The latest Maasai eviction victims add to "a new breed of refugee" identified by Charles C. Geisler, professor of rural sociology at Cornell University. Global numbers for conservation refugees are impossible to come by. "However the most recent and rapid expansion of protected area initiatives has occurred in Africa and Asia," reports investigative journalist Mark Dowie in "Conservation Refugees: The Hundred-Year Conflict Between Global Conservation and Native Peoples."

Land areas protected for conservation purposes, Dowie adds, have risen from 600 in 1950, to 1,000 in 1990, to 110,000 today. Governments have found they can be profitable from tourism, trophy hunting and photography, while tax-exempt foundations have worked out complex ways to fulfill their pro-environmentalist missions and raise operational funding without too many questions asked.

In almost all cases of conservation eviction, Geisler states, the victimized indigenous inhabitants of protected areas become invisible refugees. "We called them invisible citizens in America," Adamson said. "But by any name, through its treatment of Indians in the creation of its national parks, America established the model for export. The Serengeti took its specific bearings from Yosemite, and that meant excluding Indigenous inhabitants. In our environmentally conscious times, protected areas are the Manifest Destiny of the 21st century, so obvious in its assumed virtues to average citizens, so taken for granted by elite classes in their self-congratulating way, that no one thinks to consult the Indigenous peoples who know their land and its carrying capacity. That has got to change if we're going to save Indigenous peoples and our environment. Indian tribes and individuals, with their history, should be leading voices for change."
Comment:  For more on the subject, see Obama, Yosemite, and Manifest Destiny and Review of American Indians and National Parks.

1 comment:

dmarks said...

Coincidentally, I have read something similar about the 1940s cleansing of Jews from Arab lands.

As for Yosemite, I recall something to the effect that Indians were banned from Yellowstone for a while, also.