issue 171 - May 1987
Land protest Olympic boycott
A new Olympic boycott is being planned: native people in Western Canada are calling for a massive pull-out of participants from the 1988 Calgary Winter Olympics. The Lubicon Lake Cree Indians are outraged by what they call a flagrant abuse of aboriginal rights in their home province of Alberta.
The Cree community hopes the Winter Olympics boycott will throw a spotlight on their battle with both the Ottawa and Alberta Governments for a decent land rights settlement
Through a combination of geographic isolation and bureaucratic inertia the Lubicon Lake Cree were never officially granted a reserve. However, that wasn't really a problem until the discovery of oil and gas on their traditional territory. Suddenly the stakes were raised and the Alberta Government was reluctant to make a deal. In court the Alberta Government said a drilling disruption could cost the province $90 million a year and the oil companies as much as $500 million a year. The court concluded that 'the Indian way of life no longer exists'. The injunction was denied and the Cree were ordered to pay all court costs.
Meanwhile oil exploration pushed ahead - with disastrous results. Little by little the delicate social fabric began to unravel. Traplines were bulldozed; game disappeared. From 1980 to 1984 the number of moose killed (the staple food) fell from 220 to 19. Within a few years the traditional economy was dead. Welfare rates shot up. So did alcoholism, suicide and violent deaths. By 1985 95 cent of the Indians were surviving on government handouts.
Lubicon Chief Bernard Ominayak says the planned Olympic boycott is 'a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to educate the whole world about the abuse of native rights in Alberta'.
For more information on the Lubicon Lake Cree and the Olympic boycott write to: Lubicon Lake Band c/o 3536 106th Street, Edmonton. Alberta T6J 1A4, Canada.
Male power in the streets
Photo: Henning Christoph
As soon as it gets dark, a basic freedom of millions of women disappears. Violence towards women is so much the norm in most of India that half the population cannot walk down a well-lit street after dark because of fear of sexual harassment and attack.
In a letter to the Indian Express, a woman describes a recent experience of being pursued by a man on a motorcycle making obscene suggestions as she and another woman walked down Parliament Street, in the heart of New Delhi. They turned for help to two policemen, who only smirked at them and insinuated that they were prostitutes asking too high a price of the man on the motorcycle.
Despite the trauma attached to these daily occurrences, the media continues to trivialize sexual harassment by referring to it as 'Eve teasing'. Thousands of 'Eves' are mercilessly 'teased' during Holi, a festival of some dread for women in parts of northern India.
Violence - or fear of it - is a fact of life for women in most parts of the developed and developing world, irrespective of their social status. Sexual harassment is only one part of the range of violence women have to face: they also have to endure rape, dowry deaths, battering and incest. The tyranny of sexual attack - the trauma, the shame, the injury that it entails - is underestimated. As Elizabeth Wilson, a British feminist, points out: 'In daily life women are routinely defined by sex and if not all men are potential rapists, all women are potential victims'.
K Sharma / Third World Network
More heat than light
Nuclear policy disarray
The international energy scene has been shaken to the core recently. Oil prices have tumbled from over $30 to under $10 per barrel, before steadying at about $15. And the Chernobyl disaster has confirmed people's worst fears about nuclear energy.
Exponents of nuclear power like the European Commission have sought to limit the Chernobyl damage by arguing that safety and crisis management lessons have been learnt. There is a considerable public-relations dimension to the British Government's newly found readiness to allow Commission inspectors to enter Sellafield, a nuclear reprocessing plant, or International Energy Authority (LEA) teams enter Magnox stations.
The pro-nuclear case has been grievously damaged. There have already been governmental decisions taken to close nuclear plants in Holland, Austria and Spain. Political parties such as the British Labour Party and the West German SPD are using green slogans and adopting antinuclear policies.
The arguments for an expansion of the UK's nuclear capacity have been shown to rest on fragile assumptions about future coal and oil price trends. Also the huge cost of decommissioning exhausted plants has not been fully taken into account
An alternative energy strategy would require a strong State lead in creating favourable legal and financial conditions for energy conservation. The initiative for implementing programmes would, however, be locally developed. A decentralized, regional approach to energy planning throughout Scandinavia and elsewhere has led to a flowering of schemes to implement highly efficient district heating and conservation measures. The potential of solar energy, biomass, geothermal energy, wind and wave power could also be developed. Effective examples of such policy responses are not lacking. If they are to maintain political credibility and demonstrate their independence from powerful vested interests, the international organizations should be advocating a radical alternative to the status quo.
Unlikely organic farmers
The overthrow of the Marcos regime in the Philippines and the rise to power of President Corazon Aquino has so far shown few benefits for the poor Filipino farmer. The new, more democratic, Government has yet to tackle the single most important issue facing the Philippines - just and equitable land reform.
With the failure of the Government to take realistic action there are signs that the poor are starting to take the matter into their own hands. Throughout the Philippines small groups of farmers are switching away from the expensive seeds, fertilisers and pesticides promoted by European and American multinationals and experimenting with organic farming techniques. It's no easy task. Landlords discourage organic farming as it deprives them of their profits and the military see it as subversive.
Despite the dangers involved, the people are starting to demand their rights. Organized farmers took to the streets of Kornadal and General Santos City recently to picket Government offices. In a desperate attempt to stop harassment of their union by the local militia, the workers on a palm oil plantation broke into the plantation and cut down the crop in protest.
Awareness of how foreign investment has merely benefitted the West and local elites at the expense of the small farmer has grown with this movement But as control of agricultural production lies with those who own the land, the organic movement will fail unless land reform is introduced.
Less than a quarter of the farmers in the Philippines own the land they till. As tenants, they are forced to pay the landlord crippling rents which often amount to 60 per cent of their total harvest. At the same time, UK and US agribusiness companies like Guthrie, Dole and Del Monte are expanding their plantations. The farmers evicted from their land are forced to work for these companies. Many can find work for only three months of the year, leaving them little chance of feeding their families for the other nine.
Although Aquino has promised land reform, the farmers' movement in the Philippines is sceptical. The President still sees foreign investment as the key to economic growth. Unfortunately for the small farmers, land reform is not attractive to foreign investors.
South African investment
The British multinational Consolidated Gold Fields has just celebrated its centenary - it has a controlling stake in Gold Fields South Africa (GFSA) which employs 72,000 black gold miners - and has made vast profits from the low pay and poor conditions which it imposes on black mineworkers.
For the centenary, the National Union of Mineworkers of South Africa (NUM) has declared, 'Gold Fields are celebrating a hundred years of oppression and exploitation in South Africa For a hundred years Gold Fields have maintained workers in appalling conditions, broken up families through the migrant labour system and built their vast empire on the blood, sweat and toil of black workers in South Africa'.
ConsGold's enormous wealth is built on the migrant labour system that its founder Cecil Rhodes helped to establish. Workers are caught between destitution at home and low-paid, dangerous work in the mines. The black underground worker's basic wage is $108 a month - 45 per cent below the EEC's recognized poverty line. Conditions are primitive, with workers mining tiny shafts. In the first four years of this decade, 531 miners were killed in GSFA mines.
ConsGold shuns publicity about its South African connection and is being coy about its centenary celebrations. It also disclaims responsibility for its associate South African company in which it has a 48 per cent stake. But ConsGold is in effective control. And many shareholders - like Ealing Council in London - are selling up in protest.
The language of health
Chinese people who have lived in the West for many years are getting inadequate health care, stated a recent paper addressed to representatives of the Chinese community in the UK. The specific needs of Chinese people have also not been acknowledged by the welfare services.
Chinese concepts of health are based, for example, on the balance of the life forces yin and yang. A Chinese doctor would ask questions about diet - yet a Western doctor may see such questions as irrelevant. Western medics may prescribe drugs which would be nullified by a rice-based diet or Chinese medicines.
While some common Western ailments are rarely found in the Chinese, some illnesses occur with greater frequency: for example, certain kinds of anaemia during pregnancy. Chinese people have a carrier rate for the hepatitis B virus of about 10 per cent and the disease is frequently passed from mother to new-born baby. Calls are being made for the routine screening of pregnant Chinese women, so that a vaccine can be given to affected babies.
Yet the main problem remains that of language and communication. With most families working long hours in the relative isolation of the take-away food trade, many people - especially women - learn limited English. For this reason most Chinese are reluctant to visit a doctor, and many are not even registered as patients.
Repeated requests to health authorities for interpreters have met with the reply that there is no demand for interpreting facilities. They commented: 'It's simple. If the Chinese can't speak English, they can't complain in English.'