Somebody else's wealth

Louis Proyect lnp3 at
Tue Dec 21 12:13:52 MST 1999

Somebody Else's Wealth
By Russell Mokhiber and Robert Weissman

Where does the vast wealth of the United States come from? It is hard to
read the financial and popular press today without encountering stories
that suggest the answer is the creativity of entrepreneurs in Silicon

To this prevailing, romanticized perspective, Winona LaDuke
offers a jolt of reality: Many of the great U.S. fortunes are based on
somebody else's wealth -- the natural resources of Native Americans.

In her eloquent new book, All Our Relations: Native Struggles for Land and
Life (Cambridge, Massachusetts: South End Press), LaDuke documents the
historic -- and ongoing -- process of Native American dispossession.

LaDuke, a member of the Anishinaabeg nation, lives on the White Earth
Reservation, in northern Minnesota. She describes how a series of treaties
and U.S. laws transferred land from the Anishinaabeg to incoming settlers
and converted commonly held Anishinaabeg land into individual parcels,
with much of it soon alienated from Anishinaabeg (and a huge chunk taken
by the state of Minnesota, illegally, for taxes).

The big winners in the process were Frederick Weyerhaueser and the company
he created. "Some are made rich and some are made poor," LaDuke writes.
"In 1895, White Earth 'neighbor' Frederick Weyerhaueser owned more acres
of timber than anyone else in the world." Today, descendant companies of
Weyerhaueser continue to clearcut what remains of the Minnesota pine

In upstate New York and Canada, the Mohawk nation retains land in
scattered reservations -- a tiny fraction of their former possessions. The
Akwesasne Mohawk Reserve borders the St. Lawrence River. Families that
once relied on fishing and farming have been forced, she writes, to
abandon their livelihoods because the river is so polluted with PCBs
dumped by General Motors and air pollution depositions have poisoned the

"Many of the families used to eat 20-25 fish meals a month," LaDuke quotes
an Akwesasne environmental expert as saying. "It's now said that the
traditional Mohawk diet is spaghetti."

All Our Relations features another half dozen case studies of corporate
and governmental assaults on Native American land and livelihoods.

Dispossession of Native American lands has led to what LaDuke calls
"structural poverty." Structural poverty, she told us, "ensues when you do
not have control over the land or any of your assets."

"It is not a question of material wealth, but having conditions of human
dignity within the reservation," she says, citing a litany of devastating
statistics on Native American poverty rates, crime rates and access to
health care. "You can throw whatever social program you want at this, but
until we are allowed to determine our own destiny, these are the problems
we are going to face."

Dispossession has inflicted on Native Americans an intertwined spiritual
poverty as well, she says. "You have some [Native Americans] whose whole
way of life are based on buffalo, but we have no buffalo. This loss causes
a kind of grieving in our community."

But LaDuke's All Our Relations is as much a hopeful as depressing book.
She chronicles Native American resistance to incursions from multinational
corporations, government agencies which frequently act to further
corporate interests and a white-dominated society which too often
maintains a settler mentality.

She profiles women like Gail Small, "the kind of woman you'd want to watch
your back at a meeting with dubious characters." An attorney, Small runs a
group called Native Action, which has led the strikingly successful fight
against coal company strip mining on the Northern Cheyenne and other
Montana reservations. Native Action has also pushed for affirmative
development proposals, forcing the First Interstate Bank System to provide
loans to Northern Cheyennes through use of the Community Reinvestment Act
and helping establish a Northern Cheyenne high school.

LaDuke herself is an inspiring figure, working with her White Earth Land
Recovery Project not only to pressure states and the federal government to
return Native American lands (which because they are government held,
would not require the displacement of any individual property holders),
but also trying to enact a sustainable forest management plan for White
Earth, supporting the development of wind power on the reservation and
establishing a project, Native Harvest, to "restore traditional foods and
capture a fair market price for traditionally and organically grown foods"
such as wild hominy corn, organic raspberries, wild rice, buffalo sausage
and maple syrup.

All Our Relations is a wonderful read, and an important book -- both for
telling a story of plunder and exploitation too often forgotten, and
because, as LaDuke notes, "this whole discussion is really not about the
Seminoles and the panther" or other particular problems facing particular
groups of Native Americans -- "it is really about America."

Russell Mokhiber is editor of the Washington, D.C.-based Corporate Crime
Reporter. Robert Weissman is editor of the Washington, D.C.-based
Multinational Monitor. They are co-authors of Corporate Predators: The
Hunt for MegaProfits and the Attack on Democracy (Monroe, Maine: Common
Courage Press, 1999,

(c) Russell Mokhiber and Robert Weissman

Louis Proyect

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