Who owns land? Indeed, can one rightfully claim ownership of what were originally, before the rise of homo sapiens, ‘neutral’, ‘free’, or ‘unclaimed’ places? These are profound questions, ones that go right to the root of Western, industrialised, secular society.
You may have read in the media recently about the ‘previously uncontacted tribe’ in the Amazon (although the organisation that campaigns on their behalf, Survival International, never claimed the tribe was ‘previously uncontacted’).
Survival campaigns for the rights of indigenous people, one tribe of which, the Amazon Makuxi Indians, lives on a specially demarcated reserve. The official recognition hasn’t stopped a local farmer from using his political muscle and resources to intimidate them, however. Here is troubling footage of what is happening to the Makuxi, conveying in a small way what has been happening for centuries all over the world; don’t watch it if you’re squeamish or young.
No doubt, rising oil prices, biofuels, the cost of food etc. are all playing their part in pressuring farmers and landowners. But what’s been happening in the Amazon, in Zimbabwe (land grabbing farmland ‘back from’ whites), Botswana (diamond prospecting ousting the Kalahari Bushmen) and elsewhere could just be the thin end of the wedge.
I suspect that people’s rights in relation to what some call ‘ecological services’ – healthy water, air, soil and, I’d perhaps add, experiences of wildness – will be the next frontier for those interested in society’s development, i.e. coming historically after democratic, women’s and civil rights progress in European and US social trajectories.