Oren R. Lyons is a Native American member of the Onondaga Nation Council of Chiefs of the Six Nations of the Iroquois Confederacy (Seneca, Cayuga, Onondaga, Oneida, Mohawk and the Tuscarora Indian reservations), as well as a traditional Faithkeeper and chief of the Turtle Clan. He has dedicated his life's work to tirelessly tackling the issues relating to the indigeneous people, not only of the United States, but of the world. The following is taken from a speech he delievered to the World Bank at a conference on Ethics and Spiritual Values and the Promotion of Environmentally Sustainable Development on October 3, 1995. The speech was entitled, "50 Years of the World Bank, Over 50 Tribes Devastated."
Thank you for this opportunity to comment on ethics and spirituality as it relates to the World Bank and its four regional banks: Inter-American Development Bank, Asian Development Bank, African Development Bank, and the European Bank for Reconstruction and Development.
Indigenous peoples have a long history of being victims of development projects throughout the world. This occurs consistently because indigenous peoples live in what is called undeveloped or underdeveloped territories. The natural resources, lands and water are the targets of development which can take many different forms. The extraction of oil, gold, other minerals, timber, or water results in a fundamental change in the natural environment in which indigenous peoples have culturally and physically adapted for thousands of years.
Water is life. People migrate to water and people live by water for its sustenance. The constant search for energy by industrial societies has impacted indigenous peoples throughout the world. Dams have become the primary source of cultural destruction to many indigenous peoples. Dams have brought about relocation and flooding of Aboriginal lands, flooding of burial grounds and sacred sites. It has meant a change of habitat for the lives of fish, birds, and animals. It generally means a total disruption of the ecosystems sustaining life. The effect of this dramatic change upon indigenous peoples living a "sustainable" lifestyle based upon the natural laws of nature is catastrophic.
In industrial societies privilege is standardized with bigger bathrooms, bigger beds, and fatter, softer towels. For those born into this standardized life of privilege it is difficult to understand poverty because they have very limited frames of reference and therefore, show little tolerance for differences.
Projects of the World Bank have been notorious for negative impacts on indigenous peoples' lives and aboriginal lands. We have been impacted by the mining of gold, uranium, and other minerals, roads and highways built to access raw materials not only remove minerals and destroy forests and fragment habitat for living creatures, but they also provide access to land-hungry individuals coming from deprived circumstances in deteriorating infrastructures of overpopulated cities and urban wastelands.
These people bring with them a fierce instinct for survival coupled with racism. They also bring relief to hard-pressed governments overwhelmed with population demands for relief from the social pressures of unemployment and poverty. These people, desperate from poverty, have little regard for fragile indigenous communities living in the last reaches of the natural ecosystems of the world.
The equation is: short term economic gain based upon consumption, traded for the long term health and welfare of our grandchildren. They will be the ones to pay for the market-driven forces of greed.
We have all heard these words before, and by now it is regarded as the rhetoric of environmentalists and "unrealistic" advocates of world peace and harmony.
What then are the ethics of your organization, regarding development of these projects? Who makes the decisions on these projects? What are the consultative processes with regard to indigenous peoples, their communities and their leaders? More to the point, do they have anything to say in this final determination of projects that impact indigenous peoples directly? Past performance by the World Bank says not.
From whence do you derive your authority when you determine projects impacting indigenous peoples and lands? Is there in the lexicon of your organization a "moral" standard for indigenous peoples and their lands? Are there moral and ethical standards for any lands and natural resources?
There can be no peace as long as you make war on Mother Earth.
Evolution unfolds and has no interest in past or future states. There is just one Nature and the reality is now.
If quality of life is going to be considered on the basis of creature comforts, material accumulations, and the "free market," then the values of family, service, sharing, and responsibility to society become secondary and subordinate to personal gain, personal wealth, and the consolidation of power.
So we again pose the question: From whence do you derive your authority? What are the principles of your governance? Are the ethics of your governance based upon laws of man or laws of nature? Is there a relevance between the two? We ask you.
At the World Bank some things are improving. The World Bank's Vice Presidency for Environmentally Sustainable Development and its Division for Social Policy and Resettlement have undertaken several initiatives in recent years to improve the Bank's approach towards indigenous peoples. The Bank has begun Social Assessments to better identify indigenous peoples and other minority communities in the countries where the Bank has an active lending program. In Latin America, several training workshops have been held with indigenous peoples to strengthen their capacities to engage in designing development programs for the benefit of their own communities. These divisions, and especially Vice President Serag el Din, have often pressed inside the Bank causes and demands voiced by indigenous peoples affected by Bank-supported projects, such as the forgotten Batwa people of Rwanda, or the native people of western Siberia.
We would like to encourage the Bank to continue in this direction. We believe that small loans and direct funding to communities and indigenous peoples is a positive step for empowering indigenous peoples and others at the grass-roots level. This process will engage their genius for their own development. It empowers indigenous peoples in poverty-stricken communities immediately. We should not underestimate the uplift of spirit and empowerment that direct assistance brings to indigenous peoples and impoverished communities.
The principle of informed consent with full participation in planning, strategy, and implementation by indigenous peoples is essential for success in all proposed projects.
We understand that present World Bank policy excludes the participation of indigenous peoples of North America. This policy is particularly uninformed, insensitive, and debilitating to the efforts of American Indian nations' needs and realities. The disregard for treaties and the obligations therein, place Indian nations and peoples without options, and in despair. It is important to note that there are many worthy development projects by Indian nations that have no hope for fruition due to a wholesale lack of resources. And the disenfranchisement of North American native peoples by the World Bank's policy of not funding North American indigenous projects frustrates the development of sincere initiatives to develop sustainable standards of living on Indian lands.
1st September 2006