“Sharing” the Wealth? Minerals, oil, timber, medicines and now genetic wealth, all play a major role in development and all are the source of conflict, dispute and violations of indigenous peoples’ centuries-old rights. The driving force behind the relentless conflict between indigenous peoples and the waves of outsiders making forceful contact with them is the search for resources. Driven by an increasing realization that the Earth's riches are limited and at the same time by the fierce competition that globalization and economic policies have unleashed, and using increasingly sophisticated technology, both for discovery and exploitation, states and multinationals have been motivated and able to go, literally, where no outsider has gone before.
The natural resources located in some of the Earth's most remote or inhospitable locations became especially available for exploitation when a number of new states sprung up in the post-World War II, postcolonial period. Elites and dominant groups, empowered to maintain security and promote trade, spurred by multinationals’ offers that they could not refuse and by international financial institutions loans and grants ”developed” natural resources, often igniting conflicts with indigenous nations. Frequently, these clashes led to the growth of the military, to arm races to ensure the monopoly on “development”, to authoritarian and corrupt regimes, and to the opposite of what was expected, increased poverty and inequality.
The conflict is over the very issue of who owns the resources — a question that has been central to the rise of nationalism and the assertion of “ethnic” identity throughout the world. First Nation peoples realize that without their resource base, they have no future. They also believe that modem states, some of them relatively young, cannot legitimately claim resources that nation peoples have utilized and maintained for centuries. The manner in which this is done is also the subject of fierce disputes (e.g. damage or destruction of ancestral lands, food and water sources, way of life, income).
States have traditionally received considerable help from other states and international organizations in appropriating the resources of indigenous peoples. Ironically, the improving economic conditions worldwide and the growing wealth of many in emerging economies have made this hunt and exploitation of natural resources even more urgent and seemingly legitimize it, given the increasing demand for consumer goods and technological items.
Worldwide, multinational development industries help states to seize resources and put them up for sale on the world market — especially through “obvious” projects such as mining, oil exploration, and hydroelectric development.
One issue is never, or at best rarely, addressed: Who owns the resources to begin with? Whose agreement is needed before proceeding? What is an equitable formula for sharing the earnings and mitigate displacement and environmental pollution and destruction? Laws introduced in the past few decades by ruling groups often deny first nations’ claims to their resources. Such laws, many indigenous groups argue, do not take precedence over their prior claims to resources. At stake are not only the issue of ownerships, but also the value of resources and who has the right to manage, extract and consume them. It is also a question of survival and identity.
This work of critical criminology reviews the historical record of “exploration” and exploitation of resources showing that it is not a new phenomenon but rather a chronic situation that indigenous peoples have endured throughout the centuries. It examines the role that the state, the multinationals and the international financial institutions play in this clash over resources when indigenous peoples’ rights are often ignored, stepped upon and disregarded. It critically examines current efforts, treaties and policies meant to recognize and respect Native peoples’ rights. It shows that current measures are not truly addressing the key issues and that a concerted effort must be undertaken to change the equation and dynamics of power, dominion and use of the earth's riches.
Development must be redefined, crafted and targeted in the right way taking into account and respecting all legitimate claims to the earth's wealth, especially those of the “First Nations” that have suffered throughout the centuries the impact of colonialism, racism, and wholesale theft of their riches on the part of the “developed” world.