Conference: Native Resource Control and Multinationals

On October 12-15, 1982, the Anthropology Resource Center, Cultural Survival, The Indian Law Resource Center, and Multinational Monitor sponsored an international conference in Washington, D.C., on "Native Resource Control and the Multinational Corporate Challenge: Aboriginal Rights in International Perspective."

The conference's objectives were:

1) to bring together native leaders and non-native legal and social experts to discuss the social, cultural, environmental, and health effects of industrial projects on native peoples and their resources;

2) to increase awareness of the impact of corporate and government development projects in indigenous areas;

3) to raise the issue of native resource control before government agencies, international development and business organizations, as well as human rights, labor, consumer, environmental, and religious groups;

4) to discuss legal strategies for regulating and controlling large-scale industrial development projects in indigenous areas;

5) to suggest development schemes which respect native beliefs, protect the environment, and maintain native peoples' control over their lands and resources;

6) to produce recommendations concerning native resource control which can serve as a platform before international agencies and various national bodies; and

7) to create a permanent working group of indigenous and non-indigenous organizations who will implement the conference recommendations.

Although no short conference could hope to fulfill all of these objectives, the Washington meetings generated information exchange that could affect the future welfare and survival of indigenous peoples. Indigenous leaders and support organizations from 15 different countries and 35 indigenous nations discussed problems, shared common experiences, and exchanged ideas about protecting their peoples' resources, communities, and lands. The conference set the groundwork for subsequent international planning among indigenous peoples.

Conference Participants

Indigenous organizations:

* Australia - the Federation of Land Councils and the Central, Kimberley, Ngaanyatjara, Pitjantjatara, and Southeastern Land Councils

* Brazil - the Union of Indian Nations

* Canada - the Assembly of First Nations, Dene Nation, Gitksan-Carrier Tribal Council, Fort McMurray (Alberta), and Nishnawbe-Aski Nation

* Ecuador - the Confederation of Indian Nations of the Ecuadorian Amazon

* Guatemala - representatives of the Guatemalan Indian Movement

* Hawaii - Protect Kahoolawe Ohane

* Marshall Islands - the Kwajalien Atoll Corporation

* Peru - the Inter-ethnic Association for the Development of the Peruvian Amazon

* Alaska - Kawerak, Inc.

* United States - Akwesasne Notes, Indian Law Resource Center, Northern Cheyenne Research Project, Sokaogon Chippewa Mining Committee, and Tribal Sovereignty Program

Non-Indian support groups:

* Australia - the Aboriginal Mining Information Center

* Brazil - the Commission for the Creation of the Yanomami Indian Park

* Canada - Project North, the Saskatchewan Interchurch Uranium Committee, and the Taskforce on the Churches and Corporate Responsibility

* Panama - the Committee in Solidarity with the Struggle of the Guaymi People

* Philippines - the Ecumenical Commission on Tribal Filipinos

* England - the Anti-Slavery Society for the Protection of Human Rights

* United States - the American Friends Service Committee, Anthropology Resource Center, Cultural Survival, Friends of the Earth, Jesuit Social Ministries, Maryknoll Fathers' Justice and Peace Commission, Mennonite Peace Section, Multinational Monitor, National Lawyers Guild, Plenty International, Public Media Center, Southeast Asia Resource Center, and Survival International USA.

Onondaga Trip

During the weekend prior to the conference, the native delegates from Australia, Brazil, Ecuador, Panama, and the Philippines visited the Onondaga Indian reservation in New York. The purpose of the Onondaga trip was to provide the native delegates with an opportunity to meet informally and exchange experiences before attending the conference in Washington.

The Onondaga trip also provided the native delegates from abroad with an opportunity to see what life was like in a traditional Indian community in the United States. They met with the local chiefs; learned about Iroquois history, culture, and religion in a traditional Longhouse; participated in an exchange of gifts, music, and social dances; and began to exchange experiences about their own national and cultural settings.

Conference Program

On the morning of the first day Akwesasne Notes editor John Mohawk and consumer advocate Ralph Nader delivered addresses on "The Challenge of Traditional Peoples to the Industrial System" and "Strategies for Confronting the Transnational Corporations" respectively.

During the afternoon session the native delegates and the non-native support group representatives held separate meetings. This allowed the native delegates to spend the first part of the conference talking, in a small group, about their own situations and experiences. The non-native support group representatives also had an opportunity to exchange ideas and experiences. For the remaining days, both groups met together.

Tim Coulter of the Indian Law Resource Center organized and led a panel discussion on the second day entitled "Controlling Corporate Behavior Through Domestic and International Legal Strategies." Participants included Dalmo Dallari, a lawyer who has argued several indigenous rights cases before Brazilian courts; Phil Toyne, a lawyer for the Pitjantjatara Land Council; John Bayle, a lawyer for the Dene Nation; Stephen Zorn, an authority on mineral agreements and natural-resource contract negotiations. In the early afternoon, Howard Berman, a lawyer who has submitted human rights complaints on behalf of indigenous peoples to international forums, spoke on the procedures for submitting complaints to the recently formed UN Working Group on Indigenous Populations.

On the morning of the third day of the conference, Matt Rothschild of Multinational Monitor led a discussion on "Lessons from Other Corporate Accountability Campaigns." This informal panel focused on strategies which developed from the international boycott of Nestle and other infant-formula manufacturers; divestiture and shareholder-responsibility campaigns regarding banks and corporations with large investments in South Africa; and the international labor boycott of the Coca-Cola Corporation franchise in Guatemala. Panel participants also discussed an important environmental protection case brought by the Nishga Tribe of Canada against the Amax Corporation, and an oil-theft suit brought by the Shoshone Indians against the Amoco Corporation in the United States.

Public Lectures

At public evening lectures the conference brought the issue of native resource control and indigenous peoples' rights to the attention of government agencies, international development and business organizations, human rights, labor, consumer, environmental, and religious groups.

On the first evening, Canadian Supreme Court Justice Thomas R. Berger (author of the pioneering social impact study on the Canadian Oil Pipeline), Justice John Toohey (presiding judge at several critical Australian Aboriginal land claims cases), and Joseph G. Jorgensen (Professor of Anthropology, Berkeley) spoke on the theme of "Indigenous Peoples and the Industrial System: Lessons from Australia, Canada, and the United States." On the second evening, Dr. Nelly Arvelo-Jimenez (Venezuelan Institute for Scientific Research) moderated a panel discussion on the theme of "Indigenous Peoples and Human Rights in Latin America." Panelists included Tom Farer, Dalmo Dallari, and a representative of the Guatemalan Indian Movement. Finally, on the third evening, a spirited panel of native delegates moderated by Dr. Emmett Aluli of the Hawaiian native movement spoke to the question of "Indigenous Views of Self-Determination."

On Friday, a press conference began with a five-page general statement, read by John Mohawk, reflecting the position of the entire conference. Subsequent speakers at the press conference included Pat Dodson (coordinator of the Federation of Land Councils of Australia), Emmett Aluli (Protect Kahoolawe Ohane of Hawaii), and Enrique Nurinkias (Confederation of Indian Nations of the Ecuadorian Amazon).

Dissemination of Conference Proceedings

In addition to this brief summary, conference proceedings will be disseminated through several native communications organizations represented at the conference. Ray Cook, the manager of the Akwesasne Freedom Radio Station, recorded the entire conference and will make the tapes available to interested native organizations. Cindy Gilday and Marie-Helene Laraque of the Dene Nation Communications office also interviewed several native delegates and will disseminate their ideas among native groups in Canada. Yami Lester, director of the Institute of Aboriginal Development and a conference delegate, will communicate the conference results to a network of aboriginal land council radio stations in Australia.

In the US, the Anthropology Resource Center is working closely with several organizations to insure broad distribution of the conference findings. Tapes of the conference are already transcribed and there will be a special December 1982 issue of the Multinational Monitor focusing on the conference. The director of the Inter-American Indian Institute in Mexico also attended the conference and asked Dr. Nelly Arvelo-Jimenez to edit a special collection of documents from the conference for the March 1983 issue of América Indígena.

Finally, the editors of Akwesasne Notes will publish a special issue on the activities of transnational companies on indigenous lands, drawing heavily on the conference documentation. This issue will make the findings of the conference available to Indian groups and support organizations in Europe, Canada, and the United States.

Recommendations and Follow-up

During the third day of the conference and the morning of the final day, discussion focused on recommendations and follow-up activities. The conference created a communications network of people from different national and cultural settings, who nonetheless share a similar sense of experience and solidarity, and an optimism for the future. Many of the native delegates suggested that the sponsoring organizations follow up on the conference by strengthening the network of communication and cooperation between the people and organizations who participated in the conference. From this, more concrete recommendations, strategies, and proposals for the defense of native land rights and communities will follow.

To maintain the conference's network, a list of all participants, their organizational affiliations and addresses, was distributed at the conference. The organizers also provided the names and addresses of all the organizations that belong to Ralph Nader's Public Citizen organization, as well as a comprehensive list of environmental, public-interest, scientific, and corporate accountability organizations which could assist indigenous organizations.

To promote the communication set in motion by the conference, the Anthropology Resource Center, Cultural Survival, Indian Law Resource Center, Multinational Monitor, Akwesasne Notes, Emergency Response International Network (E.R.I.N.), Center for Alternative Mining Development, and the Tribal Sovereignty Program have agreed to form a permanent coordinating committee to follow up on the issues raised by the conference. In turn, the ties established between native delegates constitute a network which can be activated to meet immediate needs and determine long-range strategies.

Although the problems of land and resource rights certainly were not eliminated by the conference, the meetings prepared the ground for an international structure to help native people defend their rights with the same legal and informational sophistication available to those who create the problems. One North American Indian delegate commented, "It's time for us, in these international meetings, to stop lamenting the disappearance of the buffalo. We must begin to create some solutions and get ourselves out of bad situations." Coincidentally, three days later, the representatives from the Marshall Islands successfully demanded that the U.S. Defense Department stop targeting Kwajalien Atoll for missile practice.

Article copyright Cultural Survival, Inc.

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