Indigenous Resistance throughout the Americas


Only after the last tree has been cut down
Only after the last river has been poisoned
Only after the last fish has been caught
Then will you find that money cannot be eaten

–Native American Prophecy

     Where did it all go wrong? Throughout history there has always been an ongoing trend of inequality based on racist views. Such views, in this instance are based on the Eurocentric notions brought over to the New World. The Native Americans first viewed the Europeans upon first contact as equals, while the Europeans saw them as inferior. That was the first beginning conflict that was to help pave the way to the ultimate destruction of a whole race. The colonization by the English, Spanish, Russian and Portuguese populations created resistance from the beginning. It is estimated that around 112.5 million indigenous people lived in the Americas prior to the arrival of Christopher Columbus. However, it is now estimated that there are less than 54 million indigenous people left. Disease was to be the leading cause for most of the deaths within indigenous populations. Europeans over a span of their evolution built up immunities to viral diseases (primarily due to being exposed to subpar conditions), while the indigenous people did not, making them more susceptible to disease. This was more than just a simple conquest…this was massive genocide.

From upon first contact, conflict arose between the indigenous populations and the Europeans. This is evident everywhere from the east and west coasts of the United States, up from Alaska down into Argentina. The fall of the great Aztec and Incan Empires was a signal to all others; beware. Word quickly spread regarding the defeats of the Aztecs so that when the first white explorers ventured into the heart of the United States in search of legends regarding the ‘Seven Cities of Gold’ known as Cibola, the natives they encountered already knew of their presence and their defeat over the Aztec Empire as well as of their weaponry (Hernando Alarcon 1540). As a result, various tribes around the Americas met the various expeditions  with total fear or blunt hostility. Slowly, the tensions started to build as these European settlers later began encroaching into their ancestral lands.

By the 19th century the idea of  ‘Manifest Destiny’ had begun. This concept proclaimed that as natural born citizens of the United States, as Americans one should inhabit the land from Atlantic Ocean to the Pacific Ocean. The underlying theme being to rid the ‘unoccupied’ territories of the indigenous people to make way for western progress. ‘Manifest Destiny’ was not the first decree declaring direct conflict between Europeans and the indigenous, but rather, the Spanish had beforehand implemented the mission system in California whereas countless native villagers were enslaved and were sent to live within the various missions. While in the missions they were forced to do hard manual labor and to leave behind their sacred traditions. For the Spaniards, this was the only means of spiritual redemption in order to become servants of God.

On the mission system many organized rebellious takeovers, this being some of the first generation of resistance fighters recorded within what was to be the United States territories. Within Baja California the indigenous neophytes living within the mission system took over the missions one by one, however, later they were to be executed once reinforcements arrived from Mexico. Word of this quickly spread to the missions in Alta California to the north and with the prophetic visions of a medicine woman named Toypurina, a new resistance sparked massive counter attacks instantaneously within the various missions. These indigenous fighters took over the missions using the Spanish weapons against the deployment of support troops. All Spaniards living within the Missions (including the fryers) were executed by these resistance fighters (Journal of Sigimusndo Taraval 1734; Beebe & Senkewicz 2001). A period of minimal violence took place for the next hundred year, and after the Mexican independence from Spain, California remained intact.

As the United States began to grow things were getting tougher for the Native Americans. President Andrew Jackson implemented the “Indian Removal Act” which basically gave the rights for Americans to use means of force to get rid of the indigenous peoples. Many different relocation programs started to move into effect with the help of the military. While the eastern United States was going through this trouble it was not until the Treaty of Guadalupe Hidalgo, in 1848, that California was to later became part of the United States and brought forth real repercussions to the indigenous populations. Whereas the primary objective of the Spaniards was to assimilate them into their culture, the white settlers, who later came after 1849 into California, felt that they needed to be exterminated.

With the discovery of gold leading to the Gold Rush, settlers came in and started taking the land from the native people. Massacre after massacre took place, leaving very few tribes to gather together and help protect what little they had left. ‘Manifest Destiny’ around the 1850’s started to slowly take shape. Hundreds of settlers started to venture into the unknown territories to the west of the great Mississippi River. More organized resistance started taking shape, and with the help of the United States military, started to organize detailed attacks (McDermott 1998). The raiding of villages happened more and more frequently along with more organized military power proved to be an unstoppable force. Bounty hunters began to be employed. For many failed prospectors this was a means to gain a quick dollar for each scalp there was a substantial reward by the government.

Pressure started to mount as resistance fighters from different tribes started banding together. A good example of this was the Modoc War of 1872 which helped paved the way for other tribal units to come together and fight a common enemy. In northern California some of the tribes that had historically been enemies refused to relocate to a small uninhabitable reservation and under the leadership of Modoc warrior ‘Captain Jack’ they helped fight the United States infantry for over a year. It was to their advantage that the infantry did not know the landscape as well as they did. After long battles they would retreat into hidden underground caves well replenished with drinking water, while the infantry remained out in the hot rugged terrain. The stronghold remained steady until ‘Captain Jack’ was betrayed by some of his own men. He was later put to execution and his head was severed from his body and sent out to a museum. The Modoc War went into the history books as one of the most costly wars in our nation’s history. (Glassley 1972)

Massacre after massacre, raid after raid in Native American villages started to take place across the United States. The amount of books written on these events would take up several volumes. Many treaties were given to the various native tribes, all of which were broken by the United States government. “If they are to act upon, rather than silently suffer, their omnipresent grievances, peasants much have ‘internal leverage’ or ‘tactical mobility’. They have this to varying degrees according to their position in the total agrarian social structure” (Goldstone 1994). Theda Skopol’s analysis of the various social rebellions from France, Russia and China can be used to analyze the rebellions amongst the oppressed indigenous of the United States. Instead of stating that the peasant insurrections were caused by means of the ‘landlords’ one can easily apply this model to indigenous populations, who like the peasants, lived off the land. And instead of a ‘landlord’ one can easily apply it to the United States military complex. This is in terms of a totally different form of oppression, an extreme oppression to isolate the people, and kill those who refused.

Another good example of an organized Native American rebellion comes from the Arizona in the American Southwest. The man by the name of Geronimo gathered together many different tribes who were willing to fight against a common enemy. For many years the various tribes were massacred by both people in the United States and also in Mexico. Geronimo and his gathering used strategically well documented tactics in order to fight against both the United States and Mexican troops. Despite the small number of people in Geronimo’s resistance group, they managed to avoid defeat by 50,000 armed fighters. Geronimo refused to accept the American government’s terms to  land ownership and reservation relocation programs. Once captured he was relocated to Oklahoma, where many of the remaining survivors of the Modoc Wars were also relocated, never again to return to their homeland. The United States government lost more money fighting the Native Americans than it would have ever have cost to let the reservations be on the land they already inhabited. The social consequences started getting more and more out of hand, the Native Americans living on the reservations started getting more and more frustrated.

In May of 1890, word reached to the United States War Department from Pierre South Dakota, that Lakota tribes were planning on secretly leaving the reservation. As it turns out a Northern Paiute shaman by the name of Wovoka, out of Nevada, started a movement known as the ‘Ghost Dance’. A visionary religion and prophecy that united all tribes to reclaim their land that were granted to them by the Creator. Word quickly spread to the Lakota regarding the rituals of the ‘Ghost Dance’. Ceremonies followed as they began wearing ‘Ghost Shirts’ which had the supposed ability to stop bullets. On December 29, 1890, the final ‘official’ war (massacre) was fought at Wounded Knee. 500 troops were deployed to the escaped Lakota and Sioux encampment and without warning they opened fire. Only a few of the Natives had proper means of weaponry, as they vowed to fight those who stopped them from going back to their homelands (as the prophecy of Wovoka entailed). Those who survived fled into the snow covered plains where they eventually died of exposure (Peterson 1999).

The social impact of these final battles is evident even to this day. Many of the indigenous languages are nearly extinct and the culture is slowly following. The last ‘Wild Indian’ came out of the wilderness in 1911 and by that time all people that spoke his language were long dead. Anthropologists had a hard time figuring out what he had to say. To this day people have the illusion that everything in America is so great, but there are people living within the various reservations that basically would be considered third world conditions. No running waters, no electricity, and no basic health care. As American companies keeps tapping into the natural resources those living on the reservation suffer. What little resource they can obtain from the rivers are now being polluted, the soil in which they live are being depleted and the air in which they breathe is becoming unbearable due to the chemicals nearby companies release into the air. In Arizona, various legalization was put forth to relocate some of the reservations to other parts of the state, during which the Peabody Coal Company is tapping into underwater aquifers which lay directly underneath the Hopi and Navajo reservations. 40% of Arizona’s water comes from these underground aquifers, most of which goes straight towards the watering of lawns in major cities (May 2006 Natural Resources Defense Council). There are now also underground radical native movements such as the Oh-Toh-Kin (meaning strength from our ancestors) who since 1992 hoped to unite all tribes in order to reclaim their ancestral land. Similar oppressions are not only limited to the United States but to Mexico and South America as well and in most cases the indigenous populations do not have a say at all with what happens to their land.

During the Mexican Revolution many of the revolutionary fighters teamed up to help support the indigenous populations who at that time were still being maltreated. Pancho Villa (1878-1923) born a poor share-crop peasant one day was to change his life due to a tragic event. He came back to his home to find that his younger sister was raped by the landowner, Pancho Villa then shot him with a revolver and took off by horse. He lived as bandit for many years. And when the Mexican Revolution took place he wanted to help fight. And in hopes of supplying his men with arms, they paid the United States a lot of money for weaponry. But when they refused to hand over weapons Pancho Villa and his gang massacred a town in Columbus, New Mexico (1916). Pancho Villa was later ambushed in 1923 on his way to a party. Before he died he started one of the greatest movements in Mexican history; Division del Norte (Seperation from the North). The Division del Norte was basically the division from the United States in its acts of cruelty and hatred towards Mexico. This movement supported the ideals of giving indigenous people the same rights as everyone else.

“There is a place that the Spirit of Truth has prepared so that it shall be from there from which will be born the Liberation of the Indigenous Peoples. It is called AZTLAN, which means Paradise; it is where the Spirit of Truth lives.” –Yaqui Tribal Elder Rafael Guerrero, Coronel, Division del Norte de Pancho Villa. It was the Yaqui Resistance that played a vital role through various battles leading up to the Mexican Revolution and through which help win a new profound amount of respect towards freedom. (Kicza 1999). At the same time the southern revolutionary leader, Emiliano Zapata (1879-1919), was doing the same but was taking more of a non-violent tactical approach.

Emiliano Zapata was born also a poor farmer and spoke Náhuatl, which is one of the native languages found within Mexico. Zapata was one of the great leaders in the Mexican Revolution from the South, while Pancho Villa remained in the North. Zapata, too, tried to fight that which was oppressing the indigenous people of Mexico; the centralized government. One day government armies wanted to hold a meeting with him in regards to fight with him against the president at the time. But in a cruel act of injustice, the meeting was merely a set up and he was killed. One of his most well-known quotes is, “it is better to die on your feet than to live on your knees.” After that the Zapatistas disbanded, however, it was to become reinvented in the 1990’s. The overall belief is held that the indigenous people should stop being oppressed by the large landowning people. To this day there is a large Zapatista organization stopping at nothing but to start a new revolution and give the indigenous people its land and respect that it deserves.

Comandante Marcos is the leader of the Zapatista Army of National Liberation. Little was known regarding the identity of Marcos, but what is observed was that he fought a large scale revolution which is still being supported by various different countries around the world. This revolution took place in Chiapas, Mexico. The movement is trying to strive for a new form of government which allows free and democratic elections to ALL people as well as dignity, food, health, education, autonomy and peace to the indigenous who do not have a voice. EZLN went active the day after NAFTA (North American Free Trade Organization) went into effect. NAFTA opened the doors to land which could be used for cheap mass produced products for the United States (such as agriculture and livestock). Massacres at that time were taking place on small villages by certain people who’s funding could be traced back to United States interest groups. One example is that of the Acteal Massacre in 1997 where 45 indigenous people were killed. The Zapatistas use nonviolence as a mean of getting their message across, however they remain armed at all times in case of conflicts that might  ensue.

The exploitation of natural resources in order to take away from the land rights from indigenous populations extends well down into South America. The indigenous people of Peru are fighting against the exportation of their resources such as petroleum and copper. In turn, the amount of pollution released has contaminated the air, rivers, farms, and has killed livestock as well as people. Peru also happens to have the largest indigenous population in all of South America. The economic globalization in resources has pushed many of the different cultural groups to come together and fight against American corporations in the courts. However, many violent conflicts have sprung out as a result of public demonstrations.  Many who feel frustrated regarding the way things are going, have taken into a new level of resistance within Peru. The tactical growth of guerrilla warfare has put forth new pressure on the Peruvian government to take more strict action against the injustices. Of course, the most negative results being that of guerrilla warfare, more specifically that of the ‘Shining Path’. The ‘Shining Path’ withhold strict communist and Marxist ideals in hopes of taking similar actions to those of the Cuban Revolution. The Peruvian government has taken in many of the groups leaders in the 1990’s, however the group still continues to thrive while also working with other guerrilla groups to conduct ‘acts of terrorism and brutality’. And the group’s new ideals are working against the minority of the indigenous population and killing them along the way.

Likewise, the Yanomami and other tribes of the Amazon also face a depletion of natural resources as well as dwindling populations. With the discovery of gold, miners flocked throughout the Amazon in hopes of striking it rich. It is interesting to note the similarities between the Amazonian gold rush to that of the California gold rush, however the Amazonian gold rush is on a much larger scale and clearly more destructive. The miners brought with them diseases of which spread throughout the populations. There have also been evidence of massacres for land rights. Genocide is the indirect tactic being implemented once again. The natural resources are vastly being contaminated as well. The use of mercury is needed to help find gold where it all ends up in the rivers. The rate of mercury is so high that is would be deadly to consume anything from inside of the river. The indigenous brutality in Brazil, as another example, dates back to the early 1800’s, in contrast to today where many indigenous movements took place to help win over some land and rights, many of them were used as virtual slaves (Treece 2000). The Yanomami have brought much needed attention directly into the Brazilian government. On the federal level they are fighting to make the Brazilian government to take action on the situations within the Amazonian territory. As of very recently the Brazilian indigenous populations have come together to protest in front of Brazil’s congress to prevent further destruction of the Amazon ecosystem in which they live. Brazil recently planned to build infrastructures that would cause more bad than good for the indigenous tribes. More and more of the population continue to die, 90% of the 4,000 indigenous people (in direct proximity of western Brazil) are infected with malaria and over half have hepatitis. This is not including the over 170 ethnic groups totaling between 450,000 and 750,000 people in Brazil.

Today, individual freedoms are still limited to those living within the mainstream social structure. The amount of racism that still exists towards Native Americans is rather appalling. On a more personal note, I’ve had several conversations with several individuals of Native American ancestry from the area who visit various reservations along the southern states. One specific story really got my blood boiling. He explained to me that he and his family stopped at a diner in Texas, and as they walked in everybody kept just staring and them. A Hispanic sheriff then approached them out of ‘respect’ (because nobody else would) and clearly stated that they would not be served because they were not welcomed. I see this same type of un-direct or institutionalized racism evident even in Mexico today. There is a bit more respect for these cultures than in the United States however, it seems that most of the ‘racism’ is more institutionalized than anything. In Mexico, they do not have reservations, and they people quite literally live off the land, but seeing as there is no more land for them (in most cases), they live off the streets. Walking in various villages, towns and major cities you pass hundreds of indigenous children and families begging for money. It very emotional to just walk by these people, and after a while become numb to your own emotional intuitiveness. “These people who watch us walk through the streets of the town are a defeated race. Their states are tame, almost fearful, and completely indifferent to the outside world. Some give the impression they go on living only because it’s a habit they cannot shake,…standing over the small frames of the [Peruvian] Indians gathered to see the procession pass, the blond head of a North American can occasionally be glimpsed. With his camera and sports shirt, he seems to be (and in fact, actually is) a correspondent from another world,…” (Guevara 2003).

With activists such as Edwin Chota (Peru), Jorge Ríos (Peru), Luiz Alberto Araújo (Brazil), Isidro Baldenegro (Mexico), or Berta Cáceres (Honduras) who were all assassinated fighting for indigenous rights within the last few years (2014-2017), advocacy has become a dangerous game. Since 2012 over 150 Brazilian activists have been murdered due to the illegal logging which accounts for 80% of overall Brazilian trade and 25% of illicit world timber production. Within 2015, 66% of worldwide activists were murdered just within Latin America. Within Peru and Mexico we begin to see a trend of illegal profiteering by allowing loggers and other illicit groups access to rural areas which maintain various indigenous communities. As with the 1994 passing of NAFTA, many indigenous communities are pushed out of their homes or murdered as a result of trying to maintain their land. We’ve entered a critical irreversible threshold whereby the intersection of human rights and environmental protection could change forever. We begin to see events such as the over mining of the Madre de Dios in Peru or the Dakota Access Pipeline protests in North Dakota bring more awareness to the public sphere but has done very little to change actual policy. The end result in those instances would be beyond reprehensible and yet, there will be causalities regardless of non-confrontational protest. Even today the Guarani-Kaiowá indigenous people of southern Brazil have the highest percentage of suicide rate in the world. The Guarani-Kaiowá have previously threatened mass suicide due to the ongoing destruction of their ancestral land which has been depleated by 95% (for use of plantations and farm land). Similar effects are taking place within the United States reservations which maintain the highest amounts of suicide rates (almost double) than any country in the western world. It is by no means a continual take-over remnant of previous policies but rather a continuation of a slow genocide that will not stop until action is taken.

Conflict arises through ignorance and in the case of the indigenous peoples a misunderstanding through some god-given ‘superiority’ many westerners possess. In most cases the Native American populations of North America did not posses a ‘Old World’ form of monarchy or ruler, and the invading Europeans felt that the land needed to be declared in the name of their own country (as it was undeclared). And through these European-minded invaders these savages who occupied the land were merely A.)possible followers of Christ which would help further glorify the Christian religion or B.) a problematic obstacle. The Russians who came down through Alaska and as far down as the San Francisco Bay Area, after the discovery of the ‘New World’, used the indigenous people of Alaska and the Pacific Northwest as slaves. They cared neither for the spreading of religion nor for the removal of these people, they could care less if they ruined their culture. The Russian fur trade deteriorated many of the tribes, enslaved many of the people to help hunt seals/otters, and brought forth disease after disease which decimated the population. The indigenous populations were in a sense true victims of circumstance. They did not posses amazing weaponry nor did they did not posses the immunities. Because of all these circumstantial lack of things, they were already victims from the start. As a current minority is there any way these indigenous people can rise up and take back what is rightfully theirs? According to Ted Robert Gurr in many countries there have been an impact of small revolutions consisting of minorities who have not quiet successfully taken over, but rather have not as of yet failed completely. There seems to be a new form of revolution on the rise from the small minority populations gathering more attention so that others can help support the overall cause (Gladstone 1994).

“Over a period of time I have had many, many dreams that showed the coming of the Earth changes… I saw a time when the cities wouldn’t exist in their present state. During the changes the most dangerous places will be near cities with nuclear and chemical plants. But all major cities will experience a breakdown in services. In my dreams, I’ve seen great garbage piles on the streets, the electric service out of order because of storms and earthquakes, broken water mains, and no more gasoline because of a major breakdown of the system.

I also foresee race riots in the big cities, with street gangs engaged in uncontrolled fighting against each other, using guns to get what they want. When there is no money to pay their salaries, the police will not be there to protect the people in the city. Instead, in one of my dreams, I saw the police banded together in groups calling themselves the ‘Brothers of the Gun.’ They were using their guns to take whatever they wanted. This is already happening in other parts of the world…

I see the cities being hit by major epidemics caused by bad water, toxic chemicals, or other things…

I see about one-fourth of the world’s population surviving. All those who do survive will come through with a higher level of consciousness…

I saw camps of people around natural water, such as rivers, creeks, and springs, working hard to produce their food, but thankful to be alive, for only here and there were small bands of people alive, and they were thankful to the Great Spirit that they were. When people came together they embraced with love, even those who were strangers before that moment, because they knew.

There were only a few people surviving these changes. I’ve seen major destruction, and people fleeing great cities, and other people dying from pollution, and cities abandoned, and I wondered how, until these last few years when I see California and other places which no longer have the water, electricity, or natural gases to care for their cities.

Then I understood what I saw before. We were told that our people would lay as if dead in the dust, and then we would rise up on the land again. We were told that the sons and daughters of the possessors of our land would come to us and accept our ways, and that we would live together as one people sharing the land and sowing love and understanding for each other.”

~Sun Bear’s Prophecy

(died June 19, 1992)




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