31 May 2007

News from Australia

The last few weeks have seen a spate of articles in the Australian print media revolving around the 40th anniversary of Australia's decision to formally grant citizenship to its Aboriginal population, who had previously been controlled by various state legislative acts that classed them with the country's flora and fauna.

On the latter issue, see the Sydney Morning Herald, in an article titled, "When I was fauna: citizen's rallying call":

"LINDA BURNEY remembers her childhood well - those days when she was counted among the nation's wildlife. 'This is not ancient history,' says the state's [New South Wales] first Aboriginal minister. 'I was a child. It still staggers me that for the first 10 years of my life, I existed under the Flora and Fauna Act of NSW.' Then came the 1967 referendum, when Australians voted to extend full citizenship to Aborigines. Now, just days before the 40th anniversary of that vote, Ms Burney has described the referendum as a high tide in both the nation's history and her own - the moment when her status was elevated from fauna to citizen."

See especially: "Aborigines recall when Australia called them wildlife", by Michael Perry, Reuters, Thursday, May 24, 2007.

Other articles focused on the continued misery that dominates many remote and poor Aboriginal communities for whom "citizenship" entails a vague and increasingly irrelevant abstraction. A number of sources point out that in terms of health standards and life expectancy there are two Australias: one, a wealthier and whiter Australia with life expectancy mirroring that of nations of the G8, the second, an Aboriginal Australia with life expectancy rates mirroring those of the poorest nations of the "Third World." See the following article in The Australian: "Aborigines still off the map 40 years on," by Neil Sands, May 25, 2007.

Current Prime Minister John Howard, who has been in office for more than a decade is, according to some polls, leading his ruling coalition to what appears to be a landslide defeat by November of this year. Prime Minister Howard's administration has distinguished itself on numerous fronts, from alluding to Lebanese Australians as a violent community, to treating refugees fleeing the Taliban in pre-911 days as being mere "economic opportunists" (Australia later joined the US in invading Afghanistan to overthrow the Taliban), to refusing to issue an apology for clear cases of genocide against Aboriginals in recent Australian history, and finally dismantling the Aboriginal and Torres Straits Islanders Commission. Howard is getting his fair share of heckling by Aboriginals at major events--see in the Agence France Presse, Sunday, May 27, 2007, "Australian PM heckled on Aborigines."

As if to further pollute the situation of unsettled Aboriginal land tenure in Australia, despite some historic victories in the highest courts of the country, we also read about plans to turn some Aboriginal territory into a nuclear waste dump...and then to return it to Aboriginals two centuries from now. This resembles the case of Great Britain using parts of South Australia for testing nuclear bombs, with that land also later returned to its traditional ownwers. One can read more in The Australian, "Aboriginal land likely to be nuke waste dump," by Tara Ravens, May 25, 2007.

"Why is it so hard to say sorry?"--a good question, addressed in this article by Ursula Stephens on the Australian Eurekastreet website. Please read some of the commentary that follows the article, at the bottom of the page.

Australia is still grappling with racism and its deep colonial history, an ongoing history, in this settler state that in many parts was settled by Europeans only within the last 170 years. With the amount of negative attention directed towards the U.S., the Iraq war, and the many shortcomings of President Bush, it is very easy to overlook other situations where both the nature and consequences of current political leadership can be even more stark and grim. Canada, like Australia, also evades such critical attention.

A Second Indigenous President in "Latin America"?


GUATEMALA : President Menchú?
Nobel Peace Prize-winning activist faces challenges from friends and foes.

Louisa Reynolds. May 30, 2007

"Rigoberta Menchú’s decision to run for president is regarded as a milestone in Guatemalan political history and has led to heated debates on both sides of the political spectrum. If elected, she will become the first woman to hold the office and the first indigenous president .

"The activist was awarded the Nobel Peace Prize in 1992 for her work in defense of indigenous rights. Menchú drew attention to abuses during the Guatemalan civil war during which her parents were murdered by the Guatemalan army....

"The indigenous activist now represents a coalition of the indigenous party Winaq and the fledgling center-left Encuentro por Guatemala, or EG, party. Congresswoman Nineth Montenegro, who heads EG, is Menchú’s running mate.

"According to political analyst José Carlos Sanabria, one of Menchú’s biggest challenges will be overcoming the racist and sexist prejudices that are still deeply embedded in Guatemalan society. The experiment, he says, will allow Guatemala to assess whether any progress has been made to eradicate racial prejudice since the Peace Accords were signed in 1996."

In a related article by AScribe titled, "Study Says Many Guatemalan Women Don't Vote", the following details seem to place a question mark on the likelihood of an easy victory for Menchú:

"NASHVILLE, Tenn., May 31 (AScribe Newswire) -- A comparative study shows that Guatemalan women tend not to vote. This is especially true of those who lack education and live in rural areas. The study was presented in Guatemala City on May 31, only a few months before the September presidential elections. It offers useful information while Rigoberta Menchú, the 1992 recipient of the Nobel Peace Prize and the only indigenous women candidate since the Central American independence, is running for president. Guatemala has among the lowest levels of voter turnout in Latin America (56.5 percent), notes a survey conducted by the Latin American Public Opinion Project (LAPOP). The nonparticipation rate among uneducated women is the highest, reaching almost 70 percent in rural areas and almost 64 percent in urban areas. Among the women with some primary education, almost 55 percent do not vote. Even among women with some university education, the abstention rate is higher than among men with a university education. The data shows that, in 2006, only 69.2 percent of Guatemala's indigenous peoples indicated that they were registered to vote, compared to 78.2 percent of ladino (racially mixed) respondents. Moreover, 60.4 percent of the ladino population said they voted, while only 55.8 percent of indigenous respondents did. Almost one fourth (23.6 percent) of all registered respondents said that they lacked the motivation to vote. Regarding Guatemalans' political self-identification, the majority (around 51 percent) consider themselves near the center, about 22 percent left or center-left, and 26 percent right or center-right. A third of all respondents (31 percent) found it difficult to differentiate between the political right and left."

Garifuna Press Release: NYC Shooting

Garifunas in the Bronx Denounce the shooting of an innocent man

Killer Cop must face justice FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE: May 29, 2007


Mirtha Colon Jose Francisco Avila

(718) 402-6452 (917) 783-5298

NEW YORK– Various leaders of New York City’ Garifuna Community, met last Friday to discuss the death of their fellow countryman Fermin Arzu, 41, who was fatally shot by Officer Raphael Lora on Friday night, May 18th.

The leaders in attendance approved a resolution condemning the killing and demanding a full investigation into the matter. “We are not going to tolerate the abuse of our brother’s civil and human rights, while we express our deepest sympathy and support to the Arzu family,” said Mirtha Colon, president of Hondurans Against AIDS, organizer of the meeting. According to published reports, police sources say Officer Raphael Lora thought Arzu was going for a weapon in his glove compartment, but no gun was found. Police say Lora fired five times, striking Arzu once in the back and piercing his heart.

Mr. Arzu – a father of six originally from the Garifuna village of Tornabe in his native Honduras, was a building porter and musician, who has been described as a responsible, hard-working man who never had problems with the police, and who was under the emotional stress of caring for his fiancé, whom he had picked up from Bronx Lebanon hospital, just a few hours earlier, where she had undergone a mastectomy. According to Celso Castro, “We cannot afford to let the media discredit an honest man’s memory and we stand in solidarity with his family.”

The Garifuna community is outraged as to why an unarmed man had to be gunned down rather than recording his license plate and fine him for the alleged traffic violation. This is a senseless killing by someone who’s supposed to protect the community.

Read more by clicking here.

29 May 2007

Guyana: Wrong to Ask Barama to Cease Logging?

A letter to the editor of the Stabroek News, by Peter Persaud, President of The Amerindian Action Movement of Guyana (TAAMOC), was forwarded today, strongly contradicting a previous post on this blog about calls for a cessation of logging by the Barama company.

This is the text of the letter:

May 28, 2007
I wish to refer to your newspaper article under the caption "Amerindian groups call on Barama to cease Akawini logging" in your issue of Thursday May 24th 2007.

I am disappointed with both the APA and GOIP for allowing themselves to fall prey to a known anti-Barama critic. But whether deliberately or not both of these organizations instead of finding solutions for the development of indigenous peoples are now carrying out the wishes of Barama's detractors and critics.

These so called indigenous groups not knowing the truth about the Akawini situation call on the Barama Company to cease its harvesting operations in the Akawini village lands. But it must be known to the Guyanese public and the international community that the root cause of Akawini's squabble with the IWPI is as a result of competing logging interests wanting to do business with the village council. Nevertheless the truth has to be revealed and it is unfortunate that the Toshao of Akawini while he was in Switzerland did not tell the society of Threatened peoples and the Bruno Manser Fords the truth surrounding the Akawini - IWPI fall out. Why didn't the Akawini Toshau tell these two Swiss NGOs and the international forum which he attended that the Akawini village had prior knowledge which was told at the Community Consul-tations that the Barama Company would have engaged in sustainable forest harvesting in Akawini. Why now this big cry about 'sub contract documents' when the Akawini people knew about Barama's involvement in the harvesting of commercial forests. For the Akawini village council to say that they knew nothing about Barama's role in Akawini is lying to the Guyanese public as well as lying to the international community.

But what is contradictory about both the APA and GOIP is that while they target Barama, they allowed the pillage and plunder of the commercial forests of Kwebanna, Bethany, Orealla, Cabacaburi, Manawarin and Wakapau Amerindian communities by their continued silence over this forest crime. Why didn't these two organizations stand up for the rights of their constituencies amidst the plundering of their forest by indiscriminate coastland loggers? Is this the policy position of both the APA and GOIP that forest destruction by coastland loggers is acceptable to them, while sustainable forest management by the Barama company is not allowed?

What do APA and GOIP have to offer the Akawini people should Barama decide to leave Akawini? This is what the village council should think about and stop being used by the APA and GOIP as their political football. Since Barama's operations in Akawini the village has earned millions which should be used for their community development as well as to provide small grants to grass-roots organisations of the village to fund their projects.

Both the APA and GOIP are aspirants to serve on the Indigenous Peoples Commission (IPC) and I am now concerned with the level of their maturity to effectively discharge the IPC's functions which in the final analysis will enhance the well being of Guyana's indigenous peoples.

I am appealing to the Akawini village council to let good sense prevail for an amicable solution to their concerns with the Barama Company.

Yours faithfully,

Peter Persaud


The Amerindian Action Movement of Guyana (TAAMOC)

More Frustration at the UN

U.N. Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples meets with stiff resistance
May 25, 2007
International Herald Tribune

UNITED NATIONS: Members of a U.N. forum on indigenous peoples expressed frustration with delays and amendments to a proposed declaration on the rights of native peoples, as the two-week conference ended Friday.

Members of the Permanent Forum on Indigenous Issues urged the U.N. General Assembly to ratify the declaration, which would ensure "the survival and dignity of indigenous peoples," a key member of the forum said Thursday.

The proposed U.N. Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples was adopted by the Human Rights Council in Geneva last June. In December, the General Assembly voted to defer adoption but pledged to consider it before the end of its current session in September.

The declaration took center stage at the forum, though it was officially devoted to discussing concerns about access to and use of land, territory and natural resources. The forum drew 1,500 representatives of indigenous peoples, 30 indigenous parliamentarians, and representatives of 70 member states.

The declaration calls on states to prevent or redress the forced migration of indigenous peoples, seizures of their land or their forced integration into other cultures. It also grants indigenous groups control over their religious and cultural sites and the right to manage their own education systems, including teaching in their own languages.

Wilton Littlechild, a member of the indigenous issues forum for over 20 years, criticized countries for proposing changes to the declaration at the last minute and refusing to ratify a document that would explicitly extend human rights to indigenous people.

"We were left out of the Universal Declaration on Human Rights," Littlechild said. "How can you object to basic fundamental human rights that everyone else has?"

Littlechild specifically criticized the General Assembly's African Group for submitting substantial amendments to the document on the grounds that the situation for indigenous Africans is different from elsewhere.

"It's very, very offensive to me, as an individual who worked very, very hard — as I said 30 years — on this, to have someone come in ... a minute to midnight, and start making changes, after they've had every opportunity to participate," Littlechild said of the African proposals.

A statement issued by the members of forum said the African nations' suggested declaration "dilutes considerably and in some cases, outright denies, the rights outlined in the declaration."

The statement goes on to say the proposal is "unacceptable and inconsistent with international human rights law."

Gabon, which currently heads the African Group, rejected this characterization, noting that the document does not recognize that the situation of indigenous people in Africa is different.

"I don't think Africa's indigenous peoples need self-determination," said Franklin Makanga, a counselor at the Gabon mission, referring to one of the articles of the declaration. "They're citizens of states."

Makanga also objected to a provision that would prohibit states from using indigenous land for military purposes without their consent.

"How can you forbid a state to undertake anything on its own territory?" he asked.

The members of the forum also accused the United States, Canada, Australia and New Zealand of lobbying the African states to vote against the declaration.

Carolyn Vadino, a spokeswoman at the U.S. mission, said the United States is committed to work toward a "text that's meaningful, that's a workable document and is capable of being implemented."

"We haven't seen that yet," she added.

Patricia Valladao, a spokeswoman in the Canadian Department of Indian and Northern Affairs, agreed that changes would need to be made to the text before Canada could support the declaration.

Victoria Tauli-Corpuz, chairwoman of the forum, stressed that the declaration is simply a tool for interpreting the U.N.'s Universal Declaration on Human Rights as it applies to indigenous peoples.

It is "not a document, a declaration, that creates new rights," she said.

Littlechild said he was especially disappointed in states that ratified the document in the Human Rights Council but are now resisting its adoption in the General Assembly. Many of the declaration's critics, he said, have been involved in its development for a number of years.

"I am a little bit baffled when I hear resistance like that because they were at the table with me for 24 years," he said.

27 May 2007

End of 6th session of UN Permanent Forum on Indigenous Issues

Indigenous groups end UN forum with call for steps to protect lands, resources

25 May 2007 – Indigenous leaders today wrapped up the annual session of the United Nations Permanent Forum on Indigenous Issues with a series of recommendations calling on Member States to take steps to protect their rights to lands, territories and natural resources.

Participants at the two-week Forum in New York urged countries to adopt measures to halt ‘land alienation’ in indigenous territories – such as by imposing a moratorium on the sale and registration of land in areas that are occupied by indigenous peoples.

They also called for the world’s estimated 370 million indigenous peoples to be given a central role in dispute-solving arrangements over the lands, territories and natural resources they occupy and use, as well as the right to receive information about these issues in a language they can understand.

Other recommendations included a call for financial and technical assistance so that indigenous peoples can map the boundaries of their communal lands, the imposition of penalties on those who carry out harmful activities on indigenous lands, and the payment of compensation to indigenous peoples as a result of such activities.

The recommendations are contained in the Forum’s report, to be forwarded to the Economic and Social Council (ECOSOC), which stresses that territories, lands and natural resources are the sources of indigenous peoples’ spiritual, cultural and social identity.

Victoria Tauli-Corpuz, Chairperson of the Permanent Forum, said yesterday that indigenous people worldwide have long suffered discrimination over their entitlements to occupying and using lands and natural resources.

“One of the key reason why indigenous peoples are being disenfranchised from their lands and territories is the existence of discriminatory laws, policies and programmes that do not recognize indigenous peoples’ land tenure systems and give more priority to claims being put by corporations – both State and private,” she said.

More than 1,500 indigenous representatives attended the Forum’s session, which also made recommendations on other issues affecting indigenous peoples, including health, education, and economic and social development.

Next year’s Forum will focus on the theme of climate change and there will also be sessions devoted to the Pacific region and to the protection of the thousands of threatened indigenous languages.


Venezuelan Indigenous Youth Broadcasting


Humberto Marquez
Updated May 25, 2007, 03:54 pm

Indigenous youth learn broadcast skills

CARACAS, Venezuela (IPS/GIN) - Youth from 10 different Indigenous groups in Venezuela are learning to be broadcast journalists, preparing for the launch of eight new Indigenous community radio stations this October.

Eiker Garcia and Nelson Maldonado, two young Yekuana Indians from the Watamo and La Esmeralda communities in the Amazon rainforest, traveled to Caracas in late April to learn new skills.

They took a deep breath, then exhaled slowly, producing a long mmm sound, following the instructions of the professional radio presenter who was giving them breathing and elocution lessons.

Mr. Garcia and Mr. Maldonado's home, which is about 500 miles south of Caracas, is one of the sites where a radio station is set to be installed and networked with the public Venezuelan National Radio station.

Read more at:

Indigenous Activism at the United Nations

From Indian Country Today
May 25, 2007

Feeding the spirits

Activism at the United Nations

The late Muskogee-Creek elder Phillip Deere declared at the historic 1977 address to the United Nations in Geneva, Switzerland, that ''We, the Indigenous Peoples, are the evidence of the Western Hemisphere. No matter how small a tribal people may be, each of them has the right to be who they are.'' This year marks the 30th anniversary of the Conference on Discrimination against Indigenous Peoples of the Americas, which gave birth to a consciousness on, an international level, the conditions of indigenous peoples. The event served as an awakening to Native people all over the world, demonstrating that paradigm-shifting, through dignity and organization, is possible.

The Geneva conference, John Mohawk noted, ''sought to create Principles of the Rights of Indigenous Peoples of the Western Hemisphere that ... might lead to a Declaration of such rights for indigenous peoples around the world.'' That day is upon us, with the conclusion of the Sixth Session of the U.N. Permanent Forum on Indigenous Issues. For 12 days, the world's indigenous representatives and supporters gathered to, among other things, advocate for the adoption of the Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous People. Although adoption has been delayed, the declaration itself represents the tireless work of scores of indigenous people moving as one body....read more at:


25 May 2007

Guyanese Amerindians Call for Halt to Logging in Akawini

Amerindian groups call on Barama to cease Akawini logging
STABROEK NEWS--Georgetown, Guyana--Thursday, May 24th 2007

The Amerindian Peoples Association (APA) and the Guyanese Organisation of Indigenous Peoples (GOIP) are calling on Barama Company Limited and Interior Woods Products Limited (IWPI) to immediately cease all logging operations in the titled lands of Akawini Amerindian Village in Pomeroon Region 2.

A release from the two groups said yesterday that Barama began logging in Akawini in February 2006 "ostensibly" on a subcontract it signed with the IWPI. According to Akawini Toshao, David Wilson, the Akawini Village Council has never seen this subcontract "and we were never consulted before IWP entered into this subcontract with Barama."

Read more in The Stabroek News...

24 May 2007

Indigenous Commission for ICTs

NEW YORK, May 23 - An Indigenous Commission for Development of Communications Technologies (ICT's) in the Americas was launched today at the United Nations Permanent Forum on Indigenous Issues meeting in New York.

The Commission's goals are to bring Indigenous peoples together with industry and relevant agencies to promote and support the use of ICT's for legal, political, social, educational, cultural, spiritual and economic development.

The Indigenous Commission is based in Ottawa, Canada and is headed by Tony Belcourt, President of the Métis Nation of Ontario and the Métis National Council's Minister for International Issues. Vice-President is Jayariyu Farias Montiel, Director of Periodico Wayuunaiki of Venezula. Secretary-Treasurer is Pedro Victoriano Cruz, Director of Xiranhua Comunicaciones of Mexico.

The current 15-member Board of Directors is made up of one representative of participating countries of the Americas to date. A process is under way to name representatives of the remaining 20 countries of Latin America and the Caribbean. Voting membership is available to Indigenous people, organizations, businesses and Nations. Non-voting membership is open to non-Indigenous organizations and businesses.

The Indigenous Commission was formed following the 1st Indigenous Workshop on ICT's in the Americas that was co-hosted by the International Telecommunications Union and the Government of Mexico in Mexico City in December 2005. Approximately 250 delegates from North, Central and South America and the Caribbean were in attendance who selected an Interim Commission which finalized its formation recently.

All information on the priorities, goals and structure of the organization can be found on the Commission's website at: www.iccta-citca.org

For further information: Leticia Larsen: (613) 791-5056,

17 May 2007

Brazilian Indigenous Leaders Condemn Pope

Indian leaders in Brazil have reacted angrily to comments by Pope Benedict that they had been purified by the Roman Catholic church since Columbus landed in the Americas in 1492.

In a speech to bishops at the end of a visit to Brazil on Sunday, Benedict said indigenous people of the Americas had welcomed European priests after conquest. "It's arrogant and disrespectful to consider our cultural heritage secondary to theirs," said Jecinaldo Satere Mawe, chief co-ordinator of Coiab, an Amazon Indian group.

The pope had said the peoples of the Americas had a "silent longing" for Christianity and welcomed European priests' arrival. He said the church had not imposed itself on the indigenous peoples of the Americas.

Brazil's National Indian Foundation (Funa i),Brazilian historians and the Indians themselves challenged pope Benedict XVI's declarations on the Christianization of the Brazil's natives. The pope talked about the subject at the opening of the 5th General Conference of the Latin-American and Caribbean Episcopate (CELAM), in Brazil.

See also: "Pope angers indigenous Brazilians over Christianity and colonisation remark"

And in the Reuters report in The Washington Post: "Brazil's Indians Offended by Pope Comments"

Pope Against Indigenous Religious Traditions

In an unsurprising declaration, following our previous post on the topic of the Roman Catholic Church and the cultural resrugence efforts of various indigenous peoples of the Americas, Pope Benedict XVI has pronounced himself against indigenous spiritual revivals. Speaking at the Fifth General Conference of the Bishops of Latin America and the Caribbean, which runs through May 31, 2007, Catholic Online reported the following:

"A reference by the pope to pre-Columbus religions raised questions among some observers. While speaking positively of the synthesis between indigenous traditions and Christianity that led to the popular religious devotions found throughout Latin America, the pontiff warned against 'the utopia of going back to breathe life into the pre-Columbus religions, separating them from Christ and from the universal church'."
For more, see:
Latin American, Caribbean bishops tackle pope’s ‘challenge to church’

04 May 2007

Guyanese Indigenous Groups: Claim Against Credit Suisse

A number of Guyanese indigenous communities are being represented in an international claim against a Swiss Bank, Credit Suisse. Other indigenous groups that are part of this claim include representatives from Malaysia, Cambodia, and Papua New Guinea.

They are seeking $10 million US from Credit Suisse as compensation for its links with a Malaysian timber company--Samling--that has poisoned waters and polluted communities.

Credit Suisse is being pursued because while its financial services were contracted by Samling, the bank's own charter mandates that it support sustainable development.

A NGO--the Society for Threatened Peoples--plans to attend the bank's annual general meeting, in the company of indigenous representatives, this Friday, May 4, 2007.

03 May 2007

The Vatican and Indigenous Cultural Revival

On May 2, 2007, Guzmán Carriquiry Lecour, who is the Undersecretary of the Pontifical Council for the Laity, spoke with the Italian magazine Il Consulente Re (http://www.ilconsulentere.it/) about the Fifth General Conference of the Episcopate of Latin America and the Caribbean, to be held in Brazil later this month.

Carriquiry dismissed indigenous cultures from playing any role in fomenting Latin American unity, noting that "The great symbols of Latin American unity are not indigenous ones because, before the arrival of the Spaniards and Portuguese, the continent was totally fragmented -- a Babel -- without the slightest awareness of itself." He added that the "true symbols of unity are Our Lady of Guadalupe, the Christ of the Andes, the Church as the sacrament of unity among our peoples in Catholicism." Originality is to be found in the Gospel, he argues: "The Gospel incarnated in the peoples is the deepest element of the historical-cultural originality that we call Latin America."

While not entirely dismissing indigenous peoples, and proclaiming that they deserve respect, such respect does not extend to indigenous cultural practices: "another matter altogether is trying to rekindle sorcerers, shamans, ancient indigenous cosmogonies -- the attempt of an arbitrary archaism, stemming more from ideological manipulation than from a true answer to the needs and demands of indigenous communities."

02 May 2007

Taino Research Targeted for Deletion

In a very public manner, Republicans in the U.S. House of Representatives are seeking to ban funding by the National Science Foundation for a range of anthropological and archaeological projects, including one that is specifically about pre-colonial Taino society and culture. This news came from the American Anthropological Association which sent out the following communique:

The NSF Authorization bill for FY2008 is scheduled to come up for debate today on the House floor. Two proposed amendments – introduced by Reps. John Campbell (R-CA) and Scott Garrett (R-NJ) – would prohibit funding of nine already funded National Science Foundation grants in the Social, Behavioral and Economics Science Division based on their “silly” titles. Five of the nine grants targeted fall under the anthropology or archaeology portfolios. There are also amendments being considered to reduce NSF’s overall authorized funding level.

In AMENDMENTS to H.R. 1867, offered by Mr. Garrett of New Jersey, he asks that at the end of section 3, the following new subsection be added:

(h) LIMITATION.-None of the funds authorized under this section may be used for research related to

(2) The diet and social stratification in ancient Puerto Rico.

That particular project, which he thinks is "silly," has already won a grant from the NSF and the details are available at

What the amendment is therefore saying is that no funds should be disbursed to a project that has already been approved by the NSF. The researcher in question is one who many of our Taino readers will know of already, Dr. Luis Antonio Curet.

He describes his research project as follows (I could not find the "silly" part):

With the support of the National Science Foundation, an interdisciplinary team of Puerto Rican and American archaeologists, physical anthropologists, and experts in bone chemistry will conduct eighteen months of research into the relationship between the development of social complexity and changes in human diet at four prehistoric Puerto Rican sites. The principal goal of this work is an increased understanding of the changes in the consumption of foodstuffs over time that may reflect broader transformations of society.

At the time of European conquest, many of the indigenous peoples of Puerto Rico were organized in stratified societies that have been described by modern anthropologists as chiefdoms. These stratified societies had developed locally in Puerto Rico from earlier egalitarian groups through a series of socio-cultural changes that took place over more than 4000 years of occupation. While a great deal of research has been directed at understanding the causes and consequences of increasing social hierarchization in regions like Mesopotamia, Mexico, and the Andes, comparatively little effort has been expended on regions such as the Caribbean. The present study aims to address just one portion of the issues surrounding the development of social stratification in this traditionally under-studied region through the study of food, which in many societies is an excellent barometer of social difference (e.g., such as caviar and pheasants in Western cultures). This work will attempt to tease out changes in the patterns of food consumption through time, focusing on the elucidation of differences in diet between common people and a developing social elite.

In order to accomplish these goals, a rigorous methodology for the study of prehistoric diets will be employed involving the analysis of a large sample (ca. 250 individuals) of human remains from the four sites. Diet will be analyzed at an individual level by means of the chemical analysis of the bones and possible foodstuffs. A technique called stable isotope analysis allows for the relatively precise discrimination of the diets of long-deceased individuals. The data derived from this analysis will be coupled with detailed archaeological information from the sites under analysis and will be rigorously chronologically controlled through the radiocarbon dating of all individuals under study.

The intellectual merit of this project is twofold: First, it seeks to study the in situ development of social stratification in a part of the world that has traditionally received short shrift. Second, it attempts to track social change at the level of the individual, through the study of their diets, rather than using aggregate measures. This technique will allow for the production of much finer-grained data allowing for far more robust theory building and evaluation.

The impacts of the present project will be felt on a broad scale first because the methodology employed will be able to be implemented in the study of other regions and societies, and second because the results of the study will be widely disseminated to both academic and lay constituencies. This project will assist in the training of both Puerto Rican and American (graduate and undergraduate) students and will facilitate further collaboration between Caribbeanists on one hand and American archaeologists on the other.

For those of you who are resident in the United States, please consider calling your Representative and lodging your protest. Only in a totalitarian society do politicians get to set research agendas, and given the number of Republicans who believe that the Earth really was made in six days, sometime around 5000 years ago, readers should be very alarmed.

01 May 2007

Vive la xénophobie: Cannibal myth-making...again

Making news in Canada today is a Quebecois entertainment website that features a well worn stereotypical rendition of a cannibal scene, this one set in Africa, replete with two "whites" boiling in a pot, victims of a rather dopish looking, slack jawed, generic African "savage" figure. The story appeared on the CBC news website, in an piece titled "Quebec video site criticized over 'cannibal' skit." According to the report:

"The creators of Quebec-based humorous video website Têtes à claques are being criticized over a comedy skit some organizations are calling racist.

"The video The Cannibal, featuring bobblehead puppets and computer animation, shows two white people in a pot of boiling water while a black "cannibal" prepares to eat them.

"Québec pluriel, a group that promotes diversity, says the clip is derogatory toward black people.

"The group has called on the creators of the site to take it down and said it will take the issue to the Quebec Human Rights Tribunal."
Many news reports, in some cases appearing on a daily basis, have featured incidents of Quebecois xenophobia and discrimination against ethnic minorities, immigrants, and Muslims. This seems to reinforce notions that Quebecois are very insular, and that their own quest for recognition of their status as a distinct society, if not one entitled to complete independence, might be one way of evading the multicultural "contamination" that is to be found in the rest of Canada. That is one possible take. Another comes from a colleague at Concordia University, which is much more symapethic in its analysis of the root causes for expressions of Quebecois xenophobia.

CBC story:

Têtes à claques website:

Video of "Le cannibale":

59% of Quebecers say they're racist: poll