“Monocultures and Biocultural Diversity on the Frontiers of Global Forestry and International Law”
Monocultures and Biocultural Diversity on the Frontiers of Global Forestry and International Law
by Anthony J. Hall
Founding Coordinator of Globalization Studies
University of Lethbridge
A paper for presentation at the international conference to celebrate the 100th anniversary of the Faculty of Forestry at the University of Toronto, 3 October, 2007
I am very pleased and honored to be given this opportunity to contribute to this historic event, one devoted to a quest for a new global vision of forestry in the twenty-first century. Thank you to the conference organizers for inviting me to contribute to this event at the University of Toronto, the institution where I did my Ph.D. in Canadian History a quarter of a century ago. I want also to acknowledge and greet the elders and keepers of this land whose indigenous governance goes back many thousands of years. Thank you for allowing us to hold this international gathering here in Toronto, Ontario Canada. All three of these place names come from the Iroquoian dialects and languages of the Ongwe Hongwe. The largest Ongwe Hongwe community in North America and the most populated Indian reserve in Canada is about forty miles from here. It is just outside Brantford. The city of Brantford takes its name from Joseph Brant, the Mohawk leader who led the Crownâ€™s Six Nations allies when they migrated north of Lake Ontario after being pushed by the founders of the United States from their Longhouse communities in what is now New York state. This movement of peoples who had fought against those seeking to create the republic to the south began a process leading to the founding of Upper Canada, the jurisdictional seed of Ontario.
The territory on which we are meeting this afternoon has been shared with, and sometimes contested by, the amalgam of closely connected peoples who speak languages and dialects very different from those of the Six Nations Iroquois. Our Algonkian-speaking hosts refer to themselves as Anishinabek. The Anishinabek peoples include the Mississauga, whose name has been attached to the largest jurisdiction within the Greater Toronto Area. The members of the Three Fires Confederacy, the Ojibway, the Potowatomi and the Odawa, are all Anishinabek. Canadaâ€™s capital, Ottawa, takes its name from one of these groups. Over ten thousand Anishinabek soldiers rallied together in the War of 1812 to prevent Canada from being absorbed into the United States. Their chief strategist, law giver, and general was Tecumseh who was martyred in the conflict. As I go to considerable lengths to explain in my recent text, The American Empire and Fourth World, there is no doubt that the territory beneath us would today be under the Stars and Stripes if Tecumseh had not mobilized the Indian Confederacyâ€™s formidable fighting forces to defend Canada in alliance with Crown.
Tecumseh lived in an era when the exchange of the fur trade provided the economic, diplomatic and cultural context for the alliance connecting many of the Indigenous peoples in the North American interior to what Donald Creighton has described as the commercial empire of the St. Lawrence. The role of the fur trade in Canadaâ€™s early geopolitical development has been emphasized by Harold Innis, one of the most celebrated professors ever to give academic substance to the University of Toronto. In one of his most famous texts Innis observed that â€œCanada emerged as a political entity with boundaries largely determined by the fur trade.â€ He added, â€œWe have not yet realized that the Indian and his culture were fundamental to the growth of Canadian institutions.â€ In my view Innisâ€™ observation still applies. The failure to afford Tecumseh recognition similar to that of say John A. Macdonald or Sir Wilfred Laurier in the making of Canada speaks to the persistence of ethnocentric biases and failures of imagination that we have a chance to help correct and transcend in the course of our deliberations here.
Tecumseh sought to make the Indian Confederacy into the basis of a federally organized Aboriginal Dominion in the heart of North America. If such a polity had been created, it would probably have been known as Indiana. Tecumseh sought to realize this plan with the backing of some in the British imperial government. Tecumseh knew he had support in those quarters among officials who wanted to check the westward expansion of the United States by giving recognition to an Indian buffer state behind which the fledgling Upper Canada could grow and develop. In seeking to win Aboriginal adherents for his plan to establish an Indian federal polity with fixed and secure boundaries, Tecumseh traveled far and wide. He proclaimed the need for Indian unity to block the expansion of the United States. Tecumseh often appealed to his Aboriginal audiences by describing as tragedies what we would today identify as the clearcutting of old growth forests and the attending plundering of biodiversity.
Here is an account of part of a speech by Tecumseh based on the memories of an Ojibwe informant who mixed English with terms from the Anishinabe dialect spoken in the Chicago area. In encouraging his listeners to unify in order to defend their remaining territory from the westward expansion of the United States, Tecumseh referred to the desecration he had witnessed. After explaining the determination of the people and government of the United Statesâ€”the kchiâ€™mokoman, the Long Knivesâ€”â€œto destroy you and your children and occupy this goodly land themselves,â€ Tecumseh continued,
Then they will destroy these forests, whose branches wave in the winds above the graves of your fathers, chanting their praises. If you doubt it, come with me eastward or southward a few days journey along your ancient mi-kan-og [trails], and I will show you a land made desolate. There the forests of untold years have been hewn down and cast into fire. There the be-sheck-kee and the wa-mash-ka-she [the buffalo and the deer], pe-nay-she and kegon [ the fowl and the fish], are all gone. There the woodland birds, whose sweet song once filled your ears, have forsaken the land, never to return; and the waw-bi-gon-ag [the wild flowers], which your maidens once loved to wear, have all withered and died.
Although a multicultural array of Aboriginal soldiers were sufficiently inspired by Tecumsehâ€™s words to rise in alliance with the British Empire to save much of Canada from the clutch of the Long Knives, the loss of the Anishinabe leader in battle blocked progress towards the Indian Confederacyâ€™s main geopolitical objective. Today the North American jurisdiction of Indiana is very different from the federally organized Aboriginal Dominion that Tecumseh had envisaged. In the years following the War of 1812 many of Tecumsehâ€™s worst predictions came true. One of the Indian fighting generals on the US side of that confrontation won the presidency, an office that Andrew Jackson used to press forward a sweeping policy of ethnic cleansing. Jackson defied the jurisdiction and jurisprudence of the US Supreme Court to implement his scheme of Indian removal. In the Trail of Tears he used the US Army to enforce at gunpoint his governmentâ€™s unconstitutional dictate that all Indians east of the Mississippi must move to an Indian Territory west of the Mississippi. In the early twentieth century that Indian Territory was extinguished to become the state of Oklahoma.
Most of the Anishinabek citizens of Ontarioâ€™s Indian reserves have ancestors who opted to leave the nascent United States in order to continue their alliance with the British imperial government. They opted to make new homes in Upper Canada rather than submit to the coercive US drive to force them west of the Mississippi. These Anishinabek refugees from the supposedly freedom-loving republic to the south thus followed in the footsteps of the Six Nations, the Crownâ€™s main Indian allies in the American Revolution.. They migrated northward along with many Americans of African ancestry who hitched themselves to the underground railway in order to escape the tyranny of slavery.
These details of history constitute elements of far larger processes affecting the nature of society on this continent, in this hemisphere, and around the world. Jacksonian Indian removal helped establish and confirm dangerous delusions among some in the United States that their country is invested with a God-given Manifest Destiny to impose its will on the rest of the world through the force of arms rather than the rule of law. Tecumseh could see the many-faceted danger of the westward-pointing juggernaut pointing at the Indian Country of the Anishinabek and other Indigenous peoples. He understood that this violence menaced the people and peoples known as Indians but also communities of plants and animals that are integral to the diverse political economies of the First Nations in the Western Hemisphere.
Throughout the nineteenth century and twentieth century the imperial assault on Indigenous peoples throughout large areas of the Americas, Africa, Siberia, Australasia, and southeast Asia has been advanced by, and reflected in, the commercial and industrial assault on the worldâ€™s old growth forests. There is no escaping the fact that the global forestry industry bears some of the responsibility for the outcome of this orgy of deforestation whose genocidal and ecocidal outcomes are now undeniable. Edward O. Wilson has emerged as one of the most persistent and erudite voices who has described in scientific language the continuing force of the same processes identified by Tecumseh on the eve of the War of 1812. Wilson points to the fact that we are losing species at a rate of one every several minutes in a milieu where we still have only identified and described about fifteen per cent of the ten million or so species with whom we share this planet. As my colleague Paul Wood has written, â€œDeath is one thingâ€”an end to birth is something else.â€
This way of understanding the impoverishment of lifeâ€™s ecological community demands that we embrace, but also travel beyond the very important struggles to save the likes of polar bears, whooping cranes, sea turtles, woodland caribou and such. It demands that we probe much more deeply into loss of species in the realm of fungi, algae, bacteria, insects, and worms at the lower and less glamorous end of the food chain. And it demands that we pay much more attention to the irretrievable losses to the human commonwealth of knowledge and culture that takes place when the Indigenous peoples of forested areas must abandon their political economies and their Aboriginal communities in the face of the same onslaught that is slaughtering biodiversity at an unprecedented rate.
Surely the time has come to put an end to the Indian wars and an end to the assault on old growth forests with their interdependent communities embodying the merger of cultural and biological diversity. As we seek a vision of global forestry in the twenty-first century we must learn how to work constructively with Aboriginal communities in the renewal, enhancement, dissemination and application of indigenous ecological knowledge. We must begin to put into action the principles outlined in, for instance, the Kari-Oca Declaration drafted by the representatives of Indigenous peoples at the Rio Earth Summit in 1992, the Wendake Action Plan drafted in 2003 on Huron-Wendat Territory during the 12th Annual World Forestry Conference in Quebec City, and the Corobici Declaration drafted in Costa Rica in 2004 by the Panel of Experts on Traditional Forest-Related Knowledge.
As I see it Indigenous peoples in many parts of the world have been culturally predisposed to draw biodiversity from their environment and to express cultural diversity in the ways they have organized their societies. The Americas present abundant evidence of this propensity. In 1492 fully 2,200 distinct languages were spoken in this hemisphere, the most dense concentration of linguistic pluralism on the planet. The hugely innovative experimentation of Indian horticulturalists has given humanity about 60% of the worldâ€™s domesticated crops. The biological diversity drawn from just two of these plant groups is almost beyond imagination. The Inca domesticated many thousands of different strains of potatoes by developing hybrids suitable to the many different climates up and down the steep, irrigated slopes of the Andes. The domestication of corn in Aboriginal America forms another major saga in the evolution of global civilization. In Seeds, Spades, Hearths and Herds Carl O. Sauer has written, â€œIt is not accidental that a singles native village [in the Americas] may maintain more kinds of maize than the Corn Belt ever heard of, each having a special place in the household and field economy.â€
This propensity to favour the political economy of biodiversity over that of monocultures was especially apparent in the Aboriginal use of fire, especially in heavily wooded areas such as the region of Southern Ontario where we presently sit. The Indigenous peoples of the Eastern Woodlands maintained many clearings for their gardens and to encourage the procreation of very diverse arrays of plants and animals, predators and prey. As the Aboriginal keepers of the Eastern Woodlands well understood, the proliferation of different life forms is most abundant in places where thickly treed areas and grasslands meet, where different ecological zones merge and intersect. In Americans and Their Forests Michael Williams explains, â€œAll evidence points to the fact that Indians were careful users of fire to as a tool to manage the land and promote their welfare. Cereal grasses were fired annually, basket grasses and nuts about every three years, brush and undergrowth in the forest about every 7 to 10 years, large timbers in swidden rotation every 15 to 30 yearsâ€”Fire was a natural and integral–even sacredâ€”part of the Indian landscape and livelihood.â€
This Aboriginal application of fire as an encouragement to biodiversity stands in stark contrast to the regime that presently dominates global forestry. Much of that regime is based on the application of agricultural models for the replication of trees as commercial monocultures. This emphasis on monocultures of mind and matter is integral to the global universalization of a particularly aggressive and unsustainable strain of imperial capitalism that is impoverishing the pluralism of life at an accelerating rate. The push to transform food crops into biofuels is the latest twist in a retrogressive process. The biofuel industry will take food from the poor, further undermine and eliminate Aboriginal political economies, and hasten the rate of deforestation with all that implies for the accelerating impoverishment of biodiversity.
Forestry has a leading role to play in the transition from a global economy favouring moncultures of mind and matter to one favouring the expression of biocultural diversity. A commitment to protect and restore the worldâ€™s remaining old growth forests would form a good starting in the development of a comprehensive global vision of forestry in the twenty-first century. Some limited and micromanaged harvesting of these magnificent natural and cultural resources can take place, but only in cooperation with those members of forest-based societies who have demonstrated familiarity with the indigenous ecological knowledge of their bioregions. Moreover, global forestry must abandon the false economics of monocultural tree farms, operations that pillage biodiversity across species even as they narrow genetic diversity and hardiness within species.
More generally global forestry must learn quickly to diversify itself in ways that enhance rather than diminish the pluralism of life in all its forms. There are some members of forest-based Aboriginal societies who can be teachers and guides in this process. They can contribute to the transformation of an industry based primarily on the industrial processing of wood and pulp to one based on harvesting from pluralistic forests many different types of food, medicine, resins, fiber, and aesthetic pleasure. Naturally Aboriginal societies must be properly compensated for the valuable intellectual property their members contribute to this process of harvesting, but especially when it comes to the role they sometimes play in the biotechnology industryâ€™s genetic cherry picking. Biopiracy must be outlawed and its perpetrators punished.
With the industrial destruction of Aboriginal environments the traditional knowledge of Indigenous peoples becomes increasingly difficult to sustain, renew and elaborate. Hence any comprehensive regime aimed at the protection and restoration of biodiversity in the forests must include initiatives calculated to help Indigenous peoples claim, resuscitate, and rejuvenate their traditional knowledge, but especially through the recording, teaching, broadcasting, and vocational application of endangered Aboriginal languages. These languages are immensely important vehicles of philosophy, observation and insight. In the mouths of their best speakers these languages can express in great detail the particular combination of species and ecological relationships that invest each the worldâ€™s bioregions with its unique character. To lose these Aboriginal languages is to deprive humanity of a wealth of media describing unique ways of seeing, hearing, naming, knowing and interacting. To lose these languages is to mute key aspects of our human heritage. This inestimable loss puts amnesia in the place of memory, blindness in the place of sight, silence in the place of articulation, linguistic monocultures in the place of expressive pluralism. To lose these languages is to lose precisely those media of understanding and communications that are most deeply rooted in local and sustainable interactions with the complex communities of living organisms.
Some of the most significant new frontiers of international law concern the need to encourage the interconnected renewal of both cultural diversity and biological diversity in forests and other ecosystems. Article 13 of the new UN Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous peoples addresses the need for cultural renewal in the following terms. It asserts that â€œIndigenous peoples have the right to revitalize, use, develop and transmit to their future generations their histories, languages, oral traditions, philosophies, writing systems, and literatures.â€ This right, I suggest, speaks directly to the larger imperative I have tried to emphasize in this presentation, namely the need for a dramatic shift away from a global political economy that rewards the proliferation of monocultures of language, thought, behaviour, commodification and material relationships.
Only days ago the UN Declaration on Rights and Responsibilities of Indigenous Peoples was invested with legislative status in the closest thing we have to a global parliament. In the UNâ€™s General Assembly 143 sovereign governments voted to accept the Declarationâ€™s 46 sections. I see the passage of this affirmative act as a major landmark in the history of the United Nations, indeed in the history of humanityâ€™s quest to universalize the right of all peoples to life, liberty, and collective security. It marks the latest achievement in the worldwide movement to combat the injustice of colonialism. This anticolonial movement has invested the UN with many of its central ideals since the world bodyâ€™s inception in the Atlantic Charter of 1941.
As Harold Innis and others have observed, the history of forestry has been an integral to the history of empire building. Where the empire building of the fur trade drew Indigenous peoples in North America into the global economy on the basis of a voluntary and reciprocal form exchange between partners, the same cannot be said of the economics and politics of the timber trade. Like the incursions of mining, railway building, and dam building, the expansion of commercial forestry into the Aboriginal lands and waters of Indigenous peoples advanced their dispossession, disempowerment and marginalization. To continue to advance this genocidal and ecocidal process is both morally unethical and environmentally unsustainable. Indeed this kind of extractive unilateralism is also illegal. Such activities conducted without Aboriginal consent violate many international covenants and declarations including the UN General Assemblyâ€™s recent statement on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples.
The roots of the United Nations go back to the dark period in 1941 when the leaders of the two English-speaking superpowers, Prime Minister Winston Churchill and President Franklin Delano Roosevelt, resolved to join forces to combat the spread of fascism. In drafting the Atlantic Charter the US President leaned on his British counterpart to describe a post-war world where the tyranny of imperialism would be replaced by more egalitarian relationships based on the self-determination all peoples, large and small. Hence the founding fathers of the UN affirmed in 1941 the right of all peoples â€œto choose the form of government under which they will live.â€ Moreover Roosevelt and Churchill proclaimed their opposition to any â€œterritorial changes that do not accord with the freely expressed wishes of the peoples concerned.â€ They offered assurances that â€œall men in all lands may live out their lives in freedom from fear and want.â€ This form of freedom was to be advanced through the â€œimplementation of improved labor standards, economic advancement and social security.â€
The Atlantic Charter gave clear articulation to the underlying principles adopted by an expanding alliance of countries united in the determination to oppose the axis of fascist totalitarianism led by Nazi Germany. The Atlantic Charterâ€™s anticolonial thrust found further articulation and elaboration once the Nazis and the other Axis powers were defeated. It found expression in 1945 in the UN Charter, in 1948 in the Universal Declaration on Human Rights, and in 1960 in the UN Declaration on the Granting of Independence to Colonial Countries and Peoples. The timeless phrases from all these instruments form the basis of many more recent covenants and constitutions. One of the clearest expressions of the UNâ€™s anticolonial personality lies in its expansion from 50 countries in 1945 to the 192 presently represented in the UNâ€™s General Assembly. The vast majority of these new states are former colonies of European empires.
The UNâ€™s anticolonial heritage sheds light on the deep symbolic significance of the historic decision of the four governments who voted against the UN Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples. With their no votes these governments, those of Canada, Australia, the United States and New Zealand, have effectively formed a block opposing the extension of the UNâ€™s anticolonial ideals into new frontiers where injustice and inequality have too long prevailed. Where it was the leaders of Anglo-America who initialed the Atlantic Charter, we see today the governments of the largest part of the English-speaking world lined up to oppose the collective political will of the vast majority of humanity who have been on the receiving end of the most aggressive expressions of colonialism and neocolonialism.
This vote against the rights of Indigenous peoples was pressed on the world in spite of the safeguards inserted into the instrument at the last moment. These safeguards make it explicit that nothing in the Declaration can be used â€œto dismember or impair, totally or in part, the territorial integrity or political unity of sovereign and independent States.â€ Given the obvious common denominators linking the histories and demographic makeup of the four dissenting countries, I, for one, find it difficult not to associate the arithmetic of the UN vote with an extrapolation of apartheid and White supremacy in a global context. I find it difficult to see the vote as anything other than a troubling indication that the very polities which formed the United Nations in the fight against fascism have succumbed to some of the same forces that once animated the ideas of those who spoke the language of Lebensraum and the Manifest Destiny of Godâ€™s Chosen People.
Imagine if we lived at a time when parliamentarians voted on whether or not to abolish the slave trade or slavery itself. Imagine what it would mean to be represented by politicians who voted against abolition, who voted for slavery. Will posterity view the decision of the governments of Canada, the United States, Australia, and New Zealand in a similar light? I think that possibility needs to be given serious attention. I think the children of the people who were enslaved and formally colonized have good cause to ask why the rich world would not follow the yes vote of the countries whose very membership in the UN embodies the history of anticolonial struggle. Make no mistake about it! The two great crimes against humanity perpetrated in the course of empire building since 1492 are the trans-Atlantic slave trade and the genocidal dispossession, disentitlement and disempowerment of Indigenous peoples around the world.
As I see it incalculable consequences will flow from the no vote of governments whose most prosperous constituencies have benefited directly from the systemic dispossession of Indigenous peoples. What are the prospects for the institution of peace, order and good governance in the worldâ€™s forests and in the other resource frontiers of capitalist globalization when the governments of Canada, New Zealand and Australia support the United States in opting for anarchy over the collective security of international law in the area of Aboriginal and treaty rights. Is it more than mere coincidence that some of the same governments attempting to invalidate or water down the strength of the international treaty on climate change are the same ones who have banded together to oppose the internationalization of the rights of Indigenous peoples?