Friday, August 31, 2012

Resource Wars Connect Yanomami Massacre and Shell’s Arctic Drilling

It has been a painful day for me. Two pieces of news came in this morning: one about the massacre of an Yanomami settlement in the Amazon, and the other about Obama green lighting Shell’s drilling in the Arctic Ocean. Both are about resource wars that lead to killing—humans and/or animals, fast or slow, one to get gold, and the other to get oil.

“A massacre of up to 80 Yanomami Indians has taken place in the Venezuelan state of Amazonas,” The Guardian reported. “According to local testimonies an armed group [illegal gold miners] flew over in a helicopter, opening fire with guns and launching explosives into Irotatheri settlement in the High Ocamo area.”

Survival International, a London–based NGO that works with indigenous communities around the world (over the years I contributed my Arctic photographs for their campaigns) stated in a news release, “Witnesses of the aftermath described finding ‘burnt bodies and bones’ when they visited the community of Irotatheri in the country’s Momoi region, close to the border with Brazil.…The attack is believed to have happened in July, but news is only just emerging.”

Today about 20,000 Yanomami people live in small communities in the Amazon rainforest bordering Brazil and Venezuela. I first came to know about the Yanomami from the remarkable photographs of artist–activist Claudia Andujar. In the 1970s Andujar gave up her career as a photojournalist and embarked on an in–depth photo–essay about the Yanomami people. During this time she was witness to, “one of the most significant cultural dislocations to occur in Yanomami history, when the government began construction of a transcontinental highway in Northern Brazil. Villages were razed to pave roads, and the Yanomami suffered a devastating measles epidemic.” Then, during the 1980s, a new kind of devastation came into the Yanomami homeland, when thousands of garimpeiros, illegal, small–scale gold diggers came to the Amazon to make their fortunes. Twenty percent of the Yanomami died in the 1980’s as a consequence of the gold mining intrusion. Also the mining led to environmental destruction. Following a 15–year campaign, in which Andujar’s work played a crucial role, in 1992, with the help of Brazilian anthropologists and Survival International, the Brazilian government established the Yanomami Park “for protection and use by Yanomami people.”

The July massacre wiped out an entire indigenous settlement. Not the first time. One of the worst Indian massacres had taken place in the predawn hours of April 30, 1871, that came to be known as the Camp Grant Massacre, in which nearly 150 Apaches, including children, elders and women from a single settlement in the Aravaipa canyon in Arizona had been brutally killed. Historian Karl Jacoby writes about that incident in his powerful book “Shadows at Dawn: A Borderlands Massacre and the Violence of History.” From the companion website for the book you’ll learn about what Jacoby calls “the most familiar and yet the most overlooked subject in American history—violence against Indians.” More