In a short while most of America will sit down to a hearty meal commemorating the human kindness of Native Americans towards settlers to the new world. We celebrate the practice of being grateful while toasting glasses and carrying on.
Yet it’s hard to celebrate the beginning of the end of land and other rights for Native Americans.
Far from wanting to wreck a day for gratitude, I ask you to consider the parallels of what occurred in the U.S. a few hundred years ago and what’s happening right now in regards to land grabs, and to devote a small part of your day to questioning how and why we should challenge this.
The modern land grab is occurring
in places like Sub-Saharan Africa, Argentina, Papua New Guinea, and many areas in the Global South. Land is being unfairly taken, not by settlers, but by corporations in search of fast money and fertile ground often for biofuel crops. Depending on the source, estimates put large-scale land acquisitions at between 20-60 million hectares, (minimally the size of Texas, 50 times over).
Some of the corporations feign green agendas and use the language of environmental sustainability to acquire land. One such group, Herakles Farms in Cameroon, proposes cutting down old-growth rainforest to plant palm oil trees in a quest for sustainability. Many local people aren’t buying this convoluted logic or the development strategy and are working to stop the deal.
In Papua New Guinea, where the Constitution protects customary land rights, residents are being coerced into signing away their heritage by a government whose strategy is to unlock land so that the country can progress. Even after admitting to widespread failure, in a process riddled with corruption and deception, the government continues with a development strategy that gives foreign companies bloated rights to log and destroy rainforest.
This kind of global activity by governments and corporations can feel unstoppable. But it isn’t.
For example, in Tanzania, AgriSol Energy was in deep negotiations with the government to move 172,000 people so that the company could develop an area already thriving with small farms, markets, and community. After the Oakland Institute, an independent think tank, brought attention to the ugly realities of the deal, it fell apart, and 172,000 people remain in their homes, on their land.
In the current global land rush, many stories of unoccupied, un-owned lands available for development are false, and echo the idea of empty lands discovered and taken in America.
At Thanksgiving time as I eat a familiar meal and think about some of the dark history of this country and what it all means I will also feel gratitude. Not just for human kindness, but also for persistence, and the work of people all over who stand up to injustice and do what seems undoable. I will feel gratitude worthy of a whole new holiday.