Tag Archives: Indigenous

The Precedents We Set We Are Responsible For

The continued refusal to acknowledge and respect indigenous sovereignty and right to self-determination, many such rights guaranteed through treaties is establishing, for this generation and this society, the precedent that an individual or a people is only entitled to sovereignty and self-determination if they can be taken and/or protected by force; i.e., having an army who can, will, and has killed and murdered to protect those rights. The precedent being set for this generation and society boils down to asserting that murder or the threat of murder is the only way to assert sovereignty and self-determination as the United States and other Western Civilization countries or so apt and efficient at doing. If this precedent is disagreeable and is not a precedent that we seek to establish as a generation and as a society, then why do we continue to deny these rights to those without the physical and violent might to oppose the United States’ and other countries impositions of control over indigenous peoples?


In many cases and for many peoples these precedents have a long and treacherous, and often painful history, but it is also the case that these very same rights are being denied today to people both in the United States and to other people globally.  There are sovereign nations within the borders of the United States, Mexico, and Canada today whose sovereign rights are being violated. That means that we as people today are responsible for those rights being violated and the precedent that we are setting as a generation and as a society is that treaty and sovereignty rights, which entails the right to self-determination are only valid if a people has an army to defend those rights.


You either, believe in self-determination or, you do not; there is no middle of the road position for this belief. It is a 100% deal. It is a contradiction of definition to propose 90%, or 75%, or 15%, or 0% self-determination. From the belief in Liberty, this entails self-determination, with the qualification that this determination does not harm others, springs forth the understanding that all people are owed this right and that they possess it from birth.


However, our actions, as a generation and a society today, do not match our system of values in the United States because our behaviors and our laws and our toleration of the U.S. Congress to ignore the Treaties the U.S. Government has signed reveal otherwise. We have a duty and a responsibility to protect the rights of human beings, and we are obliged to set new precedents when the ones in existence are precedents we disagree with.

Environmental Racism

First of all, it is not just apathy or a lack of concern for particular communities that is the problem; it is the blatant oppression and harm to particular communities that is the problem. What Shell and other fossil fuel companies are engaged in is Environmental Racism. Now, I know this may be a concept that is difficult for most people to wrap their heads around so I will explain it to you.

When people in America hear the term racism, they tend to think of the Ku Klux Klan (KKK), Jim Crow and the segregation with all its relevant signage, and Slavery. When people in America think of the consequences of racism they tend to think of Lynchings, Police Brutality, or events such as the Holocaust or the Genocide that occurred in Rwanda.

What is distinct about the list above is that they are all easy to identify, they all possess the characteristic of a particular individual or group as being the cause of the harm done. To flesh that out, the person or group responsible for the harm is seen in proximity to the person or group that is harmed. For example, in these recent police shootings of Black People that are plaguing our country, we can easily trace the path of the bullet from the gun it was fired from, which includes the person who pulled the trigger, to the person who was shot. A person with no scientific experience could identify this.

Climate Change on the other hand, has an issue of proximity, wherein the cause ‘seems,’ and only seems, to be dislocated from the harm that is done. Nothing about the atmosphere occurs in isolation, there is not microcosm about emitting metric tons of carbon on one side of the globe; as to imply that it will not affect the other side of the globe. A teeter-totter is a prime example and elementary algebra is another; what is done to one side of the equation directly affects what occurs on the other. However, regardless of the distance or the time between the cause and the effect, that does not absolve the causal chain and responsibility of what is done on one side of the globe.

The largest consumers of fossil fuel are those in Western Civilizations, such as, the United States, which has a Carbon Footprint of 4 Earths. What that means is that if everyone on the planet were to consume resources at the rate at which US citizens do, that it would require four earths worth of resources to meet that demand. While conversely, countries such as Ethiopia have a carbon footprint of 0.80. Thus, the largest production and emission of carbon is coming from countries such as the US, which is being supplied by companies like Shell at rates vastly surpassing those of countries not counted as being members of Western Civilization.

When carbon is emitted into the atmosphere it is distributed throughout the globe creating a sort of insulating blanket that locks in the heat that our planet naturally receives from the sun in terms of solar energy. This is a naturally occurring phenomenon that has been cycling for millions of years, but since the Industrial Revolution in the 19th & 20th Centuries in many Western Civilization countries, we have exacerbated and augmented this naturally occurring process and exponentially increased the rate at which the insulating blanket is forming. The best scientist in overwhelming consensus (something like 98%) have identified a two degree limit that will result in a plus or minus 25 degrees respectively throughout the planet. The IPCC or the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change provided this research and the consequences of not changing our behavior to our governments. The results will be #Desertification depletion of water resources, and rising ocean levels.

Now, most of the countries in Western Civilization have the resources, technology and infrastructure to protect their countries from the harms of climate change. But, the best scientific models do not identify the areas to be most impacted by climate change to be n the Global North, which are primarily populated by people who either are white or look white. The regions that will be most impacted by climate change will be in the Global South, which is populated primarily by people of color, many of who are indigenous peoples, who lack the resources, technology and infrastructure to mediate the harms that will result from climate change.

Here it is prudent to incorporate into this analysis the effects of Colonialism and its offspring Capitalism and its foundation of Liberalism and Hierarchical structures. Indigenous peoples throughout the planet have been held in a subjugated position for centuries, and have been continuously denied the ability to develop their own infrastructures and economies. Each time they have attempted to throw off the oppressive reality, they have been confronted with State Sanctioned Violence usually in terms of a military force, but often times in the form of police institutions suppressing their assertions of autonomy and independence from Western Civilization. These Anti-Colonial and Anti-Capitalism movements are nothing new and have been occurring since the advent of colonialism. To clue you in to how far the government and its tool of indoctrination Public School is willing to go to restrict access to this truth take Tupac Shakur for instance. He was named in honor of Tupac Amaru, who was an indigenous revolutionary in Peru in 1780-1781 which at the time was under the colonial rule of Spain. The Crown dispatched a treacherous, rapacious, villainous, genocidal army who murdered indiscriminately the indigenous population of the Andes to suppress the uprising. This was followed by the disbanding and rewriting of the history of the Inca people and the Tawantinsuyu Empire that the Spanish Empire ‘conquered’ in South America. The government, the state, would like the people to believe that the indigenous people, first of all, no longer exist in the lands of their ancestors; and second, that they consented to their lands being stolen and their brethren being viciously exterminated because it makes occupying our lands much more palatable for the average American.

That needed to be fleshed out because I foresaw the rebuttal that if the indigenous people had only ‘assimilated‘ into Western Civilization or ‘made their own way’ that they too would have the resources, technology and infrastructure to mediate the harms of climate change; that I have shown they are not even responsible for. So, that argument will not work here.

This now brings us full-circle back to the issue of causality and the fact that the Global North is engaged in Environmental Racism against the Global South. Racism does not require that the person or group responsible for the discrimination be conscious or cognizant of the thoughts or practices they are engaged in that is causing harm to others. Furthermore, racism requires a system of hierarchical power that stratifies and relegates particular groups of people to positions of inferiority. There is no such thing as Reverse Racism and the very term is repugnant. Anyone who argues that reverse racism is a thing first and foremost acknowledges that racism exists. The second thing they acknowledge is that it does cause harm, and this is revealed by the fact that they do not want racism done to them because of its harmful characteristics. And third, it acknowledges that they do not want to do anything to change the impacts of racism because the argument is usually made in response to a suppressed people or their allies promoting some project, policy, practice, or legislation to make the system more equitable. A person who benefits from the hierarchical system of power that stratifies and relegates particular groups to positions of inferiority does not need to be cognizant of the benefit they receive from the system to benefit from it. This is White Privilege and as Sarra Tekola has put it, Climate Change Denial is a “white privilege” because they do not have to be conscious and cognizant of the impacts of climate change, given that they are not in the Global South.

The Shell Oil Rig that is parked in the harbor in Seattle the Polar Pioneer which the corporation is attempting to ship to the Arctic off the coast of Alaska is a continuation of the colonialism, capitalism, liberalism, and oppression of indigenous peoples throughout the entire planet. If they gain access to that deposit of oil it is guaranteed that we will cross the two degree threshold the IPCC has outlined as the point of no return before we enter into a feedback loop of climate change and global harm. If Shell is ignorant of the Global Impact their enterprise will have, that does not absolve them of responsibility or of the blatant racism of their actions. The Selfishness of those who benefit by white privilege is racism when that selfishness has an impact on people of color.

Reforming a System is One Thing, Reforming People is Another: Viceroy Toledo & Peru

Francisco de Toledo http://epicworldhistory.blogspot.com/2012/04/francisco-de-toledo-spanish-viceroy-of.html

In analyzing whether the Toledo Reforms were successful it must first be acknowledged that these reforms occurred within the context the Spanish Empire that had conquered many peoples and that within Spanish colonial rule many mistakes had to be rectified. My intent here is not to argue the ethical axiology of the colonization project itself, but rather, whether the response to faults and mismanagement of the colony by the Spanish Empire were answered by the reforms Viceroy Toledo implemented in Peru during the 16th Century. To be certain, when a technologically advanced group conquers another group by force, usurping its customs, politics, economics, and its entire social structure a great harm is done to the people. This becomes all the more apparent as evidence of rape, murder, the spread of disease, and the enslavement of indigenous peoples comes to bear on our understanding of the situation. Therefore, when I argue that the Toledo Reforms were successful, in no way do I imply that they were free of harm, nor do I argue that they mitigated the harm being done in any way. I only argue that the Toledo Reforms sought to rectify mistakes that the Spanish Empire believed itself to be making. The reforms Viceroy Toledo implemented in the 16th Century Spanish Colony of Peru, both succeeded and failed because while the reforms did not achieve a strict and to the letter materialization of Toledo’s vision, the reforms nonetheless, did achieve an administrative structure that was used for nearly two hundred years during which time there was relative peace and prosperity in the colony, that was for a time accepted by the Andeans.

Immediately after don Francisco de Toledo arrived in Lima, Peru in 1569 he went on a five year trek through the Andes conducting what became known as the General Inspection, implementing a census, surveying the topography and designing a system of laws and procedures that he hoped would harmonize the interaction between the Andeans and Spain. The organization that the Spanish had initially imposed upon the indigenous populations proved not to maximize the population’s productive capacity. The culture, geography, and the needs of the people fostered different constraints than the Spanish were accustomed. As a result, the Spanish could not reap the same volume of resources from the Andes that they initially found there, in part because the Spanish stole a surplus that had accumulated over generations and in part because the Andeans were dying at unprecedented rates.

One of the resources that the Spanish were the most interested in was the silver that had to be mined in places such as, Potosi and Huancavelica, but for the Spanish gaining access to this resource required a cheap or free labor force; namely, the Andeans. However, if the Andeans were not alive, or they could not be accounted for, then they could not be forced to work in the mines in the interest of Spain.

The Junta Magna, which formed just prior to Viceroy Toledo’s journey to Peru in response to the management or lack thereof in the colony, suggested that there “can be no information about affairs in the Indies,”[1] because Spain lacked the necessary infrastructure to provide the required information to control outcomes in the colony. The General Inspection was a direct response to the complications that Spain was having managing its colony and was a component of a much larger project of resettlement of Andeans that was in part justified by providing “at all times the necessary number [of workers] in the mines” via Viceroy Toledo to the King of Spain, Phillip II.[2]

The “Reduccion General de Indios–the General Resettlement of the Indians”[3] was both the purpose of the General Inspection and the result of it. The logic behind it was bring order to the colonial system by increasing the accuracy of population data, centrally locating the Andeans for greater control and Christianization, and making the colony safer for the Spanish. However, the fact that the Spanish wanted to organize Peru to fit Spanish standards and structures, does not mean that the Andeans lacked a complex social structure prior to the arrival of the conquistadors in 1532.

Pre-conquest Andeans lived and organized themselves very differently than the Spanish and much of this organization was owed to the Inca, who formed the Tawantinsuyu Empire (1438-1533), and much of it predated the Inca. The empire was not unlike the Spanish Empire in that a particular group of Andeans who were centrally located in Cuzco controlled most of the Western seaboard of South America and the lives of all the peoples therein. The major cities such as Cuzco were laid out in a grid-like fashion around a plaza that had both running water and sewage systems, much like cities in the Mediterranean.[4] Outside of the cities and the vast majority of the Andes were organized into what has been termed an Archipelago, which were “settlement enclaves at different elevations” that “pooled the products of diverse ecological zones,” so that Andean communities could maximize their access to necessary resources.[5] It was the Incas who implemented the kuraka, (known as a cacique to the Spanish) and was local leader who organized the labor and taxation for a given region. Because of the size of the empire and its ecological variation resulting from elevations that stretched over hundreds of miles of mountains, the king needed a hereditary class of elites to manage localities that he could trust.

The Inca also implemented what was known to them as the mita, which Mumford states “translates roughly to ‘turn-taking,’” was an annual compulsory labor to be fulfilled in rotation by all adult males. The mita was used to build roads (the empire had a system of roads that stretched over 3,000 miles), temples, palaces, for state farming and more. However, this sophisticated society had not developed a system of writing (yet), so they managed this complex network of taxation, redistribution, and labor with a system of data tracking called “khipu” that utilized the tying of knots on rope for accounting purposes. One very important feature of the mita system was a ritual hospitality that occurred in what they called a tamp’u, which were Inca state complexes that were situated throughout the Andes and functioned “to reward workers and their caciques” on the plaza with gifts.[6]  The Tawantinsuyu Empire was highly structured and organized, both within and in between the major cities, and the civilization had a social structure that produced an incredible surplus that the Spanish both envied and respected.

The Spanish Conquistadors who conquered the Inca disrupted the Andean societal structure and also caused many of the problems within the Spanish colony that Viceroy Toledo sought to rectify.

Many of the conquistadors that risked the journey across the great Atlantic Ocean and exploration in the ‘New World’ did so because they were fortune seekers attempting to garner upward social mobility within the Spanish society. Their reward for valor and success in battle was a claim to land, encomiendas, in the Americas within the regions they had conquered and the right to collect tribute from the people therein; they became ‘lords’ called encomenderos. The conquistadors brought with them diseases that the indigenous lacked the antibodies to defend against and they tore through the “New World’ with a fury, leaving in their wake a decimated population. In addition to the diseases, the encomenderos were able to act with impunity shortly after the conquest killing, raping, and enslaving whomever they chose.

This however, posed an increasingly problematic situation as the definition of conquest and justification for involvement in the lives of indigenous people evolved. Queen Isabella was a very pious person and believed that the ‘Indians’ had the potential for conversion to Catholicism from their so-called ‘paganism’. The situation was further complicated because it was believed, although not always adhered to, that Christians should not be enslaved. “We listen but do not obey,” an adage from the Spanish colonies that seems to have fit the actions of the conquistadors very well. The autonomous behavior of the conquistadors undermined the authority of the Spanish royalty, was in the process of destroying the social structure of the Andean people, and caused many revolts to emerge. These are many of the reasons that caused the determination of the Junta Magna and for Viceroy Toledo’s journey to Peru to conduct the resettlement.

Viceroy Toledo sought to establish order in the Peru to streamline the acquisition of wealth by curtailing the power of the encomenderos, creating a clear chain of command, and situating the indigenous population for efficient applications of forced labor. However, the actual outcome was not as clear and straightforward as Viceroy Toledo’s model proposed, and although some reducciones (the newly founded cities) were homogeneous, Peru as a whole was a motley patchwork of social and political structures. One of the parameters that Viceroy Toledo set to establish was that the reducciones were to be self-governing, but Chérrepe actually became “the cabecera or head town” of Guadalupe.[7] Both reducciones were part of one repartimiento and were further segregated by occupations; farmers in Guadalupe and fishermen in Chérrepe, making each reduccion homogeneous.[8] The Condes repatimiento, on the other hand, had a very complex and mixed population; not homogeneous at all.[9]

Mumford argues that the inspectors who established the reducciones within the repartimientos had such variation because thy both acknowledged and accepted the geographical constraints that led to develop the Archipelago social structure in the first place. Thus, what resulted for the most part, was a Spanish system of control that was placed right on top of an existing social structure; both the Kuraka (cacique) and the mita remained as functioning institutions. Mumford suggests that the Spanish were contending with two competing goals when considering how to manage their Andean colony: “cultural survival and cultural change” and that it should be “partly preserved and partly remade,”[10] and in that, Viceroy Toledo was successful in his objective.

A report survives from forty years after the General Resettlement that was written by an Andean born man named don Felipe Guaman Poma de Ayala, who details the corruption that still existed within the Spanish colonial system in Peru. Guaman Poma reveals that while he agreed with the premise of resettlement, that he disagreed with how the locations the reducciones were selected because they tended to relegate the Andeans to “places with damp and unhealthy soil, stench and pestilence,” while the Spanish selected choice and profitable locations. This had multiple effects; it made it difficult for the indigenous to sustain themselves and pay tributes, made many of them unhealthy, and removed them from lands that were connected to their families like children. Guaman Poma also severely critiqued the priests who were supposed to be responsible for setting the ‘Christian example’ to the indigenous population, promoting Catholicism and educating the people. In stark contrast to this proposed objective he mentions that the priests, “gambled and dueled, extorted gifts from the parishioners, and even falsified Andeans’ wills to get their property.” He also notes that the priests were sexually abusive to women and girls, making some their sex slaves and participating in a form of nepotism with the women’s fathers so as to avoid or deter being reported. He also reports that the priests omitted educating the Andeans because they feared that educated Andeans would assert their rights and report their un-Christian-like and misconduct. Guaman Poma then implicates both the caciques and the cabildos in the corruption and suggests that they followed the examples set by the priests. The most pressing problem that Guaman Poma mentions pertained to the Andeans leaving the reducciones and after the reports of corruption and abuse, it is very plausible that they were seeking more equitable arrangements elsewhere. What is clear is that both the presence of the Spanish and the Toledo reforms had dramatic social impacts on the Andean society, even if they did rectify some of the problems that Toledo and the Junta Magna sought to fix.[11]

In terms of the relative peace experienced in Peru between 1569-1780 by both the Spanish and the Andeans, the Toledo reforms were successful. This is particularly evident when compared to the Tupac Amaru Rebellion (1780-1781), which emerged as a response to the Bourbon Reforms of the 18th Century that restructured the Spanish administration of Peru to correct what the new royalty perceived as mismanagement of the colony. The Bourbon Reforms were criticized by the Andeans for violating the social contract that was established by the Toledo Reforms and which the Andeans had agreed to by imposing harsher “mitas” or forced labor, more stringent taxation, limited autonomy and recourse in the courts for harms done. The new burdens upon Andeans and the subsequent lack of legal retribution that came with them, led to an explosion of violence that lasted for several years and ultimately to over 100,000 deaths, the collapse of the economy and further restructuring of the colonial administration.

By 1826, Peru had won its independence from Spanish colonial rule and thus, brought an end to the oppressive reforms of the 18th Century. By strict comparison, the Bourbon Reforms failed, whereas the Toledo Reforms were successful, at least in terms of Spanish colonial rule in Peru.

[1] Jeremy Ravi Mumford. Vertical Empire: The General Resettlement of the Indians in the Colonial Andes. (Durham: Duke University Press, 2012), 77

[2] Mumford, 82.

[3] Mumford, 1.

[4] Mumford, 14-16

[5] Mumford, 4.

[6] Mumford, 25.

[7] Mumford, 126

[8] Mumford, 127

[9] Mumford, 129

[10] Mumford, 4

[11] Mumford, 143-156.