A Message from Nature | Bloodshed in environmentalism

ADELANA AKINDES | akind001@rangers.uwp.edu

Something I don’t hear about too often is the bloodshed involved in environmental activism occurring around the planet. Industry continues to engulf the world, and is pushing its way into every untapped natural resource, every land that never belonged to them. There are people who are fighting back and speaking up about the environment. There are people who dedicate their lives to defend the land and to defend each other. Often they are the original people of the land, the Indigenous people with cultures, roots and livelihoods tied directly to the environment in which they live. And increasingly so, those who speak out are targeted, and killed, in order to silence the message that they carry.

Countries in Latin America and Southeast Asia have the highest rates for these murders, with Brazil and the Philippines being the most deadly countries for environmental activism. Most of the violence takes place over land rights disputes, involving huge industries–the main ones being mining, agribusiness, damming, logging and poaching–and the the indigenous communities of the area. Members of these industries often partner with gangs and militia, and in this way they are able to kill those in opposition without repercussions.

Last year, a documented 197 people have been murdered due to their environmental protests, which averages to four people a week. The numbers have been compiled by Global Witness, a group who has been keeping track of these specific types of murders since 2002. Since then, over 1,000 murders have been documented, with the true number believed to be far higher. Some of the more well-known victims include nun and environmentalist Dorothy Stang and indigenous land rights environmentalist Bertha Cáceres. Yet far more victims have gone unnamed and unreported, and usually none get justice in the end.

I still remember when I was first exposed to this information. It was in my Peoples of Southeast Asia class, an anthropology course I took here at Parkside two years ago. I learned about this beautiful ceremony in the northern forests of Thailand, where monks wrapped the robes that were typically reserved for them around the trunks of trees. These “Ecology monks” saw the deforestation in Thailand, caused by logging activity, and developed this practice in response. By ordaining trees as if they were monks, as if the trees were being initiated into monkhood, the monks were making a statement about the spiritual inherentness of the forests. I wasn’t prepared to hear that one of these monks was stabbed to death. This type of peaceful environmental activism was still seen as a threat.

The fight for indigenous people’s rights to their own land is occurring across the planet. Even in countries where this extreme violence is not taking place, the battle is still going. Just look at Standing Rock in North Dakota, or No Back 40 in Wisconsin. It’s important to be aware of what environmentalism looks like across the world and across cultures. People are risking their lives everyday, armed with nothing but their voices.

Adelana Akindes is a senior majoring in environmental sciences and is the treasurer of PEC.

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