Crossing False Borders
The story of humankind is one of migration; we have always been on the move. In this issue of the CSQ, we focus on the stories of Indigenous migrants who were forced to leave their homes for political or economic reasons; Indigenous Peoples whose homes are on borderlands and whose communities have been divided by artificial lines; and Indigenous climate refugees. I invite you to listen to their voices.
When it comes to problems with immigration, we need to evaluate the impacts of centuries of colonization, decades of neo-liberal policies, and the current operations of extractive industries, agro companies, and monocropping that have impoverished Indigenous communities. It often starts with a company moving onto the traditional land of Indigenous Peoples to operate a monocrop plantation such as palm oil (or coffee, bananas, sugar cane, etc.), and polluting local water sources, driving local food producers out of work, paying miserable wages, and sometimes using violence to keep people from protesting. People are forced to leave their families and homes out of desperation as they cannot afford to stay in their communities.
One solution is decolonization and supporting communities with sustainable economic opportunities so that people do not have to leave. Returning back to Indigenous lifeways and using traditional knowledge in food production is one way to achieve this. I am inspired by the work of Rax Kok (Q’eqchi) from Chisec who I met in Guatemala. Rax is teaching youth traditional agricultural practices for food production and providing employment for local people in Chisec—a community where palm oil monocropping, primarily for the export market to the United States, has killed local food growing. He says, “We were losing our men, our communities to migration. People do not want to leave their wives and children, but do so out of absolute necessity and despair. Who will stay and continue our traditions if we do not create economic opportunities right here?”
Traditional agricultural practices not only provide local economic opportunities, but also help mitigate the impacts of climate change and support local biodiversity and ecological resilience. We have to recognize that we, the industrialized West, are the problem. Everything is connected and things done in one area will result in a chain of events directly impacting other areas. The West’s thirst for cheap snacks containing palm oil has an impact on Indigenous communities, where it has become unviable to cultivate local crops and is destructive to local ecosystems. The impact of these products also come back to Indigenous territories and affect community health.
Indigenous Peoples hold the knowledge that can address some of today’s greatest challenges. Returning to this knowledge and transferring this information across generations is vital, and promoting Indigenous languages, which hold knowledge accumulated over thousands of years on medicine, meteorology, agriculture, and the like, is imperative. At Cultural Survival, we strive to amplify Indigenous voices by supporting community media efforts, grassroots advocacy, and projects that are led by Indigenous people and rooted in Indigenous knowledge. We are thankful for your generosity and hope you will continue to support our work with Indigenous communities.
Galina Angarova (Buryat)