Indigenous Australians Fight Nuclear Waste Dump

Protecting Country

Ngikalikarra Media (2017)

Film Review

Protecting Country is about a collection of indigenous Australian tribes who are fighting government efforts to site a uranium mine and an international nuclear waste dump on their treaty lands.

Thousands of Maralinga people have already suffered horribly due to British nuclear tests on their land in the 1950s.

The nuclear waste dump is illegal under international law. As a signatory to the UN International Treaty on Indigenous Rights, Australia is prohibited from depositing toxic waste on indigenous land without their permission.

The Poetry of Dispossession

Trudell

Heather Roy (2005)

Film Review

Trudell is a documentary about the life and work of American Indian Movement (AIM) activist, poet and philosopher John Trudell. The film is made up of archival and performance footage, interviews with Trudell, family members and film and rock celebrities who have worked with him, and samples of his poetry.

Stop Thief: the Commons Enclosures and Resistance (see Forgotten History: the Theft of the Commons) has helped me understand the Indian Wars and the continuing oppression of Native Americans in a whole new light. As author Peter Linebaugh describes it, the Indian Wars boil down to a determination by Jefferson and other early US leaders to enclose (ie steal) Indian lands to fence them off as private property. And as Trudell emphasizes in this film, repeated treaty violations all revolve around US efforts to steal yet more Indian land and resources for profit.

Trudell’s Role in AIM

Trudell first became an activist in his early twenties, with the Native American occupation of Alcatraz in 1970-71. The federal government declared Alcatraz Island surplus property after closing the prison in 1973. Trudell and his fellow activists claimed it under provisions in the 1868 Fort Laramie Treaty, which promises Native Americans access to unused federal land.

He eventually became secretary of AIM in Minnesota and helped organize the Trail of Broken Treaties occupation of the DC Bureau of Indian Affairs office in 1972. He also helped organize the AIM defense against the FBI siege on the Pine Ridge Reservation in 1973. The standoff at Wounded Knee related to yet another treaty violation, in which the federal government allowed mining companies to mine for uranium on tribal land. In one interview, Trudell reminds us that 50-70% of all US energy resources are on native lands. Their extraction nearly always violates US treaty commitments. Worse still, radioactive contamination from uranium mining is a major factor in the high mortality rate at Pine Ridge and other reservations.

When the residents of Pine Ridge tried to block the mining companies, the FBI sent in paramilitary units equipped with helicopters and tanks in addition to covert death squads. Between 1973-76, Pine Ridge had the highest murder rate in the country.

In 1975, following a fire fight that killed two FBI agents, AIMS members Bob Robideau, Darelle Butler and Leonard Pelletier were charged with murder. Robideau and Butler were tried in Cedar Rapids, where AIM enjoyed strong public support. They were acquitted on self-defense grounds. Pelletier, who was tried in Fargo, was prohibited from using their acquittal in his defense. He remains in prison to this day.

A Suspicious House Fire

In 1979, Trudell’s wife and two children were killed in a house fire he believes was started by the FBI. Between 1969-70, the FBI compiled a 17,000 page dossier on him. They also made a direct threat to go after his family.

He began writing poetry as a way of coping with the emotional turmoil of losing his family. His first albums were spoke word against a background of indigenous chants. He later worked with prominent rock artists who set his poems to music.

Genocide American Style

Red Cry

Lakota Solidarity Project (2013)

Film Review

 Red Cry is about past and present genocide of the Lakota nation.

The first third of the film concerns the ugly history of legalized genocide of Native American peoples. Some of the highlights include

• Columbus’s slaughter of 8 million Arouac in Hispaniola
• The 1823 Supreme Court ruling that the “divine right of discovery” took precedence over the land rights of indigenous peoples.
•  The mass slaughter of 1.5 million buffalo by the US army and settlers between 1871 and 1910 with the deliberate intent of destroying the primary Sioux source of food.
• The 1871 Indian Appropriation Act which invalidated the right of Native American tribes to be recognized as sovereign nations and invalidated all prior treaties.
• The criminalization of Native American culture, starting from the 1880s, and forced attendance of Native Americans at “Indian” boarding schools.
• The conscious federal desecration of sacred sites on the Pine Ridge Reservation and the ravaging of native lands with more than 3,000 uranium mines, leading to radioactive contamination of the air, water and food chain.
• The forced sterilization of Native American women by the Indian Health Service in the sixties and seventies.
• The 1973 appointment and arming (by the US government) of half-breed goon squads to terrorize and assassinate tribal elders.

The remainder of the film consists of interviews with tribal leaders describing present day genocidal conditions on the Pine Ridge Reservation, where life expectancy is 44 years for men and 52 years for women (in contrast to 76 years for men and 81 years for women in the general population).

Pine Ridge is plagued with miscarriages, birth defects and the highest cancer rate in the country due to radium, lead, mercury and arsenic contamination of the land and water by the mining industry.

Rape is four times the national average, with only one-third of the perpetrators facing prosecution.

Youth suicide is 1 ½ times the national average.

Eight out of ten families are affected by alcoholism.

One-third of the homes on the reservation lack running water and 40% have no electricity. Eighty percent of families live below the poverty line.

Traditional Lakota governance is matriarchal. For more than a century the US government has deliberately undermined matriarchal rule by only appointing men to positions of tribal authority.