What might North America have been like if none of the ten Euro-Atlantic nations had ever been established? If the original Indian nations – the First Nations in Canadian parlance – had avoided the devastating epidemics of the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries and continued to develop on their own terms, what might they have been like today?
Actually, it seems we’re about to find out.
In the far north a very old nation is reemerging after centuries in the cold. Across the northern third of the continent, aboriginal people have been reclaiming sovereignty over traditional territories from northern Alaska to Greenland and nearly everywhere in between. In this sprawling region of dense boreal forests, Arctic tundra, and treeless, glaciated islands, many native peoples never signed away the rights to their land, which they still occupy and, to a surprising degree, continue to live off using the techniques of their forefathers. They’ve won key legal decisions in Canada and Greenland that give them considerable leverage over what happens in their territories, forcing energy, mining, and timber companies to come to them, hat in hand, for permission to move forward on resource extraction projects. In 1999 Canada’s Inuit – they don’t want to be called “Eskimos” – won their own Canadian territory, Nunavut, which is larger than Alaska.
– pg. 319, AMERICAN NATIONS, by Colin Woodard, Penguin Books, 2012
When you read the history of the Europeans after they entered/invaded the “New World” in 1492 and how they behaved or misbehaved in the centuries thereafter, the theme of greed is a dominant one. The Europeans wanted gold and silver and precious stones, and after that, using force, they grabbed enormous tracts of land to grow cash crops like sugar cane and cotton.
Eventually, they built civilizations in the Western Hemisphere which became dependent on more fossil fuel than the territories which they controlled absolutely, the United States and Canada, could provide. So in the first part of the twentieth century, the New World Europeans used all their military and financial power to bring Saudi Arabia and other oil-rich Middle East countries into line, so to speak. They had to have the Saudi and Middle East oil, because their Western economies and lifestyle demanded excessive amounts of energy.
From the time the first contact took place between the European Columbus and the indigenous people of the Caribbean islands, there was a conflict in philosophical perspective. The Europeans wanted wealth, they wanted it quickly, and they did not care what the consequences were for mother earth. The indigenous people, wherever they lived in the Western Hemisphere, had an approach to life which emphasized the sustainability of their food production and dwelling construction, and an abiding respect for the blessed bounty of the earth which had given them life, for generations and generations and generations. There was a patience in the indigenous people, and there was wisdom.
Through slavery, colonialism and military domination, the Europeans conquered and ruled the New World, and their wealth and power reached the point where, working along with Europeans from the Old World, they developed nuclear power, and with it, the actual ability to destroy the planet which had given all of us life. That was the first part of the twentieth century.
In the second half of the twentieth century, the wise men and women of the ruling Europeans began to discover that they had polluted planet earth, they had defiled the earth to such an extent that their fish and bird and animal life were being poisoned, and they realized that we human beings, in consequence, were destroying ourselves.
After that the wise men and women of the ruling Europeans, their brilliant scientists, found that the excessive consumption of fossil fuels in order to sustain their luxurious lifestyles had caused the planet to heat up in a way it had never done since the beginning of human life. It was difficult for the ruling Europeans to slow down the triumphant journey to untold wealth which they had begun in 1492, much less stop and reverse it. It was very difficult, and so the rulers of mankind push forward inexorably to increased heating of the planet, with consequences which endanger our very human existence, even as nuclear power had first endangered human existence seven decades ago.
The Europeans had always criticized indigenous peoples, from the first contact, as being backward and primitive and slow, and they used these criticisms as excuses to subjugate, mutilate, and exploit us. The Europeans were moving crazy fast, you see, while we were moving in harmony with the cycles of the planet – the rising of the sun and the movement of the tides and the wonders of the planet and animal life around us.
Through the centuries following contact, there have been many of us of New World origin who have abandoned our ancestors’ way of life and have embraced the civilizations of the ruling Europeans. This seemed like the logical, progressive thing to do, but today, there is a reason why the ruling Europeans are pouring out of their concrete jungles into the pristine environments of places like Belize, even when they can only afford to do so for a few days on a cruise ship. The scientists of the ruling Europeans have now understood, beyond the shadow of a doubt, that there is a need to preserve the flora and fauna and habitats outside of their developed world. At last, the ruling Europeans have begun to understand that there was a wisdom in the indigenous peoples all this while, and that wisdom had counseled patience, that wisdom had counseled respect for earth.
It is at this precise time that the ruling Europeans have begun to get the sense, as we say, that more and more of us Belizeans have become frenzied off the prospect of oil finds in our sovereign state. Our schools have not taught Belizeans what happens in poor countries which abandon their way of life to chase the oil dream. It is too late to show Belizeans the human carnage of Indonesia and Nigeria and Iraq. All our people are seeing now, if we are to judge from the statements of our duly elected politicians, is the pot of black gold at the end of the Belizean rainbow. It is for this reason that the government and people of Belize have decided that SATIIM must be sacrificed to U.S. Capital Energy.
At this newspaper, we do not agree. Our position is that we cannot eat oil, and we cannot drink oil. Our position is that unless our people are empowered through education and skills training, it is only the politicians, the lawyers, and their cronies who will benefit from oil finds here.
Non-Maya ethnic groups in Toledo have turned against SATIIM, and the oil company has even bought out some of the Kek’chi Maya themselves. Belize has gone oil mad, and SATIIM will be the sacrifice. We cannot save SATIIM, but we can support SATIIM. And, that is what this newspaper will continue to do. If only you could see and understand all that is to be seen and all that is to be understood, gentle friends.
Patience, Belizeans, patience …