Aboriginal scholars met at the University of Alberta on Jan. 31 to discuss globalization and its effects on the lives of Indigenous people around the world. The International Centre and Native Student Services co-sponsored the event, One Planet-One Mother-One Nation, as part of International Week.
An increasingly global free market has meant disappearing borders, skyrocketing corporate profits and an increase in wealth for some. But not everyone has shared in the benefits of globalization. In every corner of the world, the traditional lands of Indigenous peoples are under threat as governments and corporations seek to dispossess the people and exploit their abundant natural resources.
Speakers told the story of globalization from Canadian and Mexican Aboriginal perspectives. Linda Bull is a Cree from Goodfish Lake First Nation who is completing doctoral work in international education. Bull said the problem of globalization is not new. She said Native people in Canada have been fighting it for generations under another word-assimilation. Globalization and assimilation both seek to separate Indigenous people from the land, to make them disappear. She reminded the audience that the very land they were standing on (the university campus) is part of traditional Cree territory and the Cree people have not forgotten their connection to the place. Protection of the land is crucial for Native people because "when our lands disappear, we too all will disappear."
Bull said as governments pursue economic goals, separating Indigenous peoples from land, resources and political power becomes necessary. These forces, she said, become a form of cultural genocide as Aboriginal people lose their language and become ignorant of their own culture. She told the attentive audience that in North America, Native people are born on the periphery of a system created solely for the purpose of enriching Europeans and their descendants. It is Aboriginal peoples' special relationship to the land, their spirituality and community that remains the best defence against globalization.
Sharing the podium with Bull was Mexican Indigenous scholar Isabel Altamirano. In "Building a Haven Against Neo-Liberalism," Altamirano described how economic policies adopted by the Mexican government since 1982 have negatively affected Indigenous peoples. These policies accelerated in 1994 when Mexico began implementing the NAFTA agreement, which removed the constitutional protection that Indigenous peoples had enjoyed in relation to their lands and resources. It opened up their lands to exploitation and environmental degradation. This forced Indigenous groups in Chiapas, supported by Aboriginal peoples from across Mexico, into the massive collective action known as the 1994 Zapatista uprising.
The Zapatistas successfully brought Native concerns to the world?s attention, forcing the government to sign the San Andreas Accord in 1996. This accord was meant to provide some protection for Native lands and resources. It was an important step for Mexico's Indigenous peoples whose rights are not protected by treaty as there are in Canada. Altamirano explained that in Mexico there is a long history of collective action by Indigenous groups against destructive government policies. She said that although the 1996 accord has yet to be implemented by the Mexican government, Zapatista representatives are scheduled to speak to their National Assembly later this year. This is seen as an important step towards justice for Mexican Indigenous peoples.
Director of Native Student Services Lewis Cardinal then told the audience that Canada's Native people have struggled against an unfair global economic system for many years and he introduced a film about Dene ore carriers who carried the uranium on Great Bear Lake in the 1940s and 50s. The ore was eventually turned into atomic bombs and dropped on Hiroshima. Many of these men later became ill and died as from radiation poisoning.Bnning Feb. 14, this film will be shown at the university, a chilling reminder of how globalization can affect us all.