THERE were interesting parallel events involving indigenous people and their causes that took place in Sioux Country, North Dakota and, thousands of miles away, in Metro Manila, Philippines the past weeks.
The former involved the resistance of the Standing Rock Sioux Tribe to the planned 1,170-mile Dakota Access Pipeline. The 3.7 billion dollar project that aims to transport thousands of barrels of crude oil from the oil fields of western North Dakota to Illinois also traverses traditional ancestral land of the native American tribe and also the Missouri river.
The conflict is over the potential environmental danger that such pipe poses to the land and water so important to the Standing Rock tribe who rely on these resources for their survival.
The protest actions have been protracted over the past months and it has gained national attention after police brutality has been reported to be employed by state forces to quell resistance.
The wholesale arrests of peacefully-assembled protesters including that of Hollywood celebrity, Shailene Woodley, by fully-armed police and military forces, show that the spectre of militarization that preempt or follow the wake of development projects is not unique to developing countries. They also occur in the first world and victimize indigenous peoples in these contested areas.
The fear is based on reality since pipeline leakages have been known to occur resulting in great environmental damages. In 2010, almost a million barrels of oil leaked from the Enbridge Energy pipeline to pollute the Kalamazoo river in Michigan.
The controversial pipeline has pitted the Standing Rock Sioux tribe and the host of native American tribes that have come to support their struggle against many private owners of land who are set to receive huge pay-offs from the energy company once it is built over their land.
In Metro Manila, Philippines, thousands of delegates from national minority groups from Moro and indigenous peoples’ groups all over the Philippines assembled at the University of the Philippines campus in Diliman, Quezon City last month to unite together and dramatize their shared historical plight as victims of foreign-backed development projects like dams, mining, and large-scale agricultural plantations.
They called their month-long activity as the Manilakbayan of 2016 and among the highlights was the formation of an anti-imperialist political alliance composed of Moro and indigenous groups they called “sandugo.”
Compared to their native American counterparts, the situation seem more perilous in the remote areas of the Philippines over the decades. The degree of state repression has been more brutal and systematic with the killing of their indigenous leaders and the displacement of their communities with the use of state-backed paramilitary forces so that ancestral land can be cleared and opened for these kinds of development.
But the objectives are constant and remain the same ever since: dispossess the local indigenous population so that their resources can be exploited for private gain.
It would be wrong to simply ascribe to serendipitous forces the similarity in the current struggle of the native Americans with the national minorities of the Philippines. The victimization of indigenous groups the world over is rooted in the preponderance of an economic system that sees no limits and boundaries to its drive to access resources for profit.
Classical Marxism has predicted the clean transformation of societies from feudal to industrial economies through a process he called as primitive accumulation. Capital, he predicted, would see the rationalization of labor power by the displacement of the peasant class from land to become the new proletariat class through the appropriation of land for industrial purposes. This was often explained by using as an example the displaced peasants who became textile factory workers after the land they tilled was transformed into grazing land for sheep.
Though illuminating of how the transition from peasant dominated to working class societies occurred, these processes did not occur uniformly throughout the world. The rise of colonies and their assigned role of providing raw materials for their principals stunted the evolution of local economies.
The boom and bust cycle of global capital production has left pockets of labor and resources that have not been appropriated as of yet. But as the recent decades show, it will only be a matter of time before the logic of capital through the global push for state-led neoliberalism will finally reach these pockets of indigeneity which are also sites of mineral-rich or forested ancestral domains.
What is happening in Dakota and the ancestral lands of minority groups in the Philippines are showcases of what geographer David Harvey considered as contemporary manifestations of the continuing capitalist process of primitive accumulation.
Following the Marxist logic that all private profit do not come out of nowhere but is gained through an exploitative process, the fight of native Americans and Philippine minority groups versus development aggression is really the same struggle against what Harvey has labeled as “accumulation by dispossession.”