New York Times columnist Frank Rich wrote, “If Americans abhor poorly regulated deep-water oil drilling, wait until they get a load of nuclear waste on land with no regulatory agency in charge at all.” (Sunday, 20 June 2010, “Clean the Gulf, Clean House, Clean Their Clock”) While Rich was mainly concerned with motivating the Barak Obama Administration to act forcefully and fully in response to the British Petroleum Corporation oil gusher disaster in the Gulf of Mexico a major issue floating under the radar is the amount and extent of industrial waste and pollutants corporations deliberately dump onto the lands and territories of indigenous peoples and in their waters and air. Indigenous peoples world-wide received vast quantities of industrial waste, pollutants, spills and cast-ways–produced by companies operating under the sanction of states’ governments. Indigenous peoples are left to suffer: environments and bodies chronically ill and left to die.
Oil is a huge culprit. In the jungles of Ecuador Texaco dumped huge quantities of oil and waste in rivers and streams and on the ground about which a massive law suit is now being waged by indigenous peoples. In the river delta in southern Nigeria Shell oil and other oil companies have been having “accidents” resulting in the spoliation of river systems, land and villages giving rise to violent responses from MEND and other groups seeking to stop the damage and recover wealth that has only benefited the wealthy. In Indonesia oil has been the focus of great controversy due in part to “spills,” and, of course, in US Alaska oil waste has contributed to the chronic health problems of indigenous people there too.
Nuclear waste has been buried and stored in indigenous territories to. The Yakama Nation (along with the Nez Perce and Umatilla) have been contending with the largest dump of high level and low level nuclear waste for three generations in northwest United States. The Shoshone have also faced nuclear waste problems throughout their territory in wester US states. Similarly Aboriginal peoples in Central Australia, Polynesia islanders, Marshall Islanders, people of Palau and also peoples in the Russian Federation and the Peoples’ Republic of China must contend with the adverse effects of nuclear waste.
Agricultural chemicals made illegal in the United States (DDT for example) have simply been dumped by chemical companies into countries with no regulation harming the health of indigenous people picking fruit and harvesting vegetables in Mexico, Central America, African States and South America.
Pharmaceutical corporations are dumping vast quantities of their chemicals and unused products into Third World Countries with indigenous peoples lands and water ways becoming polluted by the excretion of their products into untreated sewer systems that flow onto indigenous lands and into rivers and streams.
Electronic equipment waste (computers, ipods, telephones, televisions, etc) is piling up (as if to be recycled) in Indigenous peoples’ territories–out of site and out of mind. This calamity is further complicated by so called recyclable plastic bottles and bags that now litter indigneous territories.
While it is certainly true that metropolitan populations suffer from pollutants and hazardous waste, Indigenous peoples end up receiving the bulk of these industrial products quickly killing and for the most part imparting chronic health conditions that kill slowly.
Indigenous peoples produce none of the things that now pollute their territories, air and water. Like carbon dioxide that pollutes the air and now threatens drastic changes in the climate, the waste of “civilization” threatens a long period of slow death in Indigenous territories.
I have long called for Indigenous peoples to be seated at the tables of negotiations where their concerns are being discussed. There can be no greater urgency than that which compels us to organize regional meetings and eventually global agreement on the prevention, control and management of “waste and pollution produced by civilization.”
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