While remaining Indigenous peoples make 5% of the world population, they are present in 40% of the cases in the EJAtlas. They are motivated by their own values of respect for sacredness and the requirements for livelihood. They are sometimes able to appeal to their long histories of resistance and survival, and to the protection won collectively in the last forty years of an “indigenous revival”. This chapter emphasises the exercise of self-determination. To the hypothesis that indigenous people are attacked because they are politically weaker, the chapter defends another hypothesis: they are attacked because they live at the commodity extraction frontiers (which sometimes are also waste disposal frontiers for mine tailings or radioactive waste). Their defensive actions should not be interpreted as a Marxist “militant particularism” but as an interconnected movement against extractivism. The revival of Indigeneity is a refusal of the colonialist robbery of their livelihoods


In Latin and North America, Australia, India, Central and Southeast Asia, Africa and the peripheries of Europe, we witness similar patterns of Indigenous peoples defending their rights at the extraction frontiers. They are motivated by their own values of sacredness, identity and livelihood against coloniality and racism. There are about 1,500 cases of Indigenous-environmental resistance documented in the EJAtlas. Indigenous people live in “marginal” areas, almost as refugees from colonization, and these areas become new commodity extraction frontiers threatening their habitats. They are deemed to be powerless to resist. However, they are sometimes able to appeal to their long histories of resistance and survival, and even to the international protection won collectively in the last 40 years of an “Indigenous revival”. I shall start this chapter with a case in Arizona (copper mining) and another case in Florida as a prolongation of the previous chapter on the United States. Then I shall continue with other cases in the Americas (Peru, Brazil and Venezuela). Then, we will see other cases of Indigenous defence against extractivism in Africa (Cameroon and Ethiopia), India and Southeast Asia. In other chapters (particularly in Chapter 7 on the Arctic) we have already asked whether such Indigenous peoples are attacked because they are weaker (political hypothesis) or because they live at the commodity extraction frontiers (geographical hypothesis).

“Commodity frontiers” is a concept that comes from “world systems theory” with Wallerstein and Moore (2000). It does not come from anthropology because anthropologists from colonialist backgrounds were often more interested in the permanent cultures, classificatory structures and kinship systems of Indigenous peoples than in the ravages to which they were subject. In university departments of anthropology, Indigenous peoples were inert objects of study rather than heroes of environmental resistance movements.

This chapter therefore emphasizes links between environmental activism and the exercise of self-determination pushed by the Indigenous revival. This revival brings back old names of tribes obliterated by colonization and racism. Many of the peoples deemed to be “without history” (Wolf 1982) are recovering their history as victims of coloniality. The main enemy of Indigenous communities has been capitalism but there is also a pattern of majority populations (and religions) attacking local minority Indigenous and/or ethnically discriminated populations in post-colonial countries. Thus, in India, one of Adivasis’ worst enemies is Hindutva politics, combined with internal capitalist growth searching for raw materials such as coal and metals.

There is a global Indigenous cultural and political revival manifested in socio-ecological conflicts. As with the feminist, human rights, anti-colonial and anti-racist movements, we are making two points here: these movements are growing on their own, and they grow p. 561together with the environmental movement. Other important social movements also overlap to some extent with environmentalism, i.e. the working-class and agrarian movements (Chapters 20 and 21). There is also a popular health and environment movement (Navas et al. 2022) very active in urban contexts.

In the Americas, 2021 marked the fiftieth anniversary of the Barbados declaration, where 15 anthropologists against the grain foresaw the strength that the Indigenous movement would acquire. They called for self-determination of Indigenous peoples. One of the fifteen, Stefano Varese, wrote a pioneering book in the 1960s, The Salt of the Mountain (La Sal de los Cerros), on Asháninka history and resistance in the Peruvian jungle. Guillermo Bonfil Batalla was also in the Barbados meeting, and he became the author of the harrowing and influential book México profundo. Then came the ILO 169 Convention of 1989 (which many countries still refuse to ratify) and the UN Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples in 2007.

The EJAtlas is not only an archive of ecological distribution conflicts, it is also a tool to support the world movements for environmental justice. A few Marxists (e.g. Jim O’Connor, with his theory of the “second contradiction of capitalism” (O’Connor (1988), cf. Chapter 30) and also obviously Immanuel Wallerstein and Eric Wolf would have sympathized with the EJAtlas, but some Marxists are perhaps still bothered by the appearance as main protagonists in environmental struggles of people who are not members of the industrial working class (Figure 25.1).

A world map presents a sample of cases of indigenous revival and resistance and of corporate social irresponsibility.
Figure 25.1

Environmental conflicts: Indigenous revival and resistance around the world and corporate social irresponsibility

Source:  A. Grimaldos


Copper Mining in Arizona: Santa Rita Mountains 1

Tribes halted the Canadian Hudbay Minerals company's plans for copper mining on ancestral lands, Santa Rita Mountains. The company proposed to dig a mile-wide open-pit copper mine, burying dozens of sacred sites under many tons of toxic waste. This is a US counterpart to conflicts in Sonora (Northern Mexico) in the same copper-belt. Arizona's best asset, it has been argued, is not the metals but the natural grandeur that draws visitors. The compact Santa Rita Mountain range alone, between Tucson and the Mexican border, offers one of the country's richest patches of biodiversity: wetlands, grasslands, desert and thorny scrub, rising through thick forests to high cliffs. However, copper has been central to Arizona's economy, as the star at the centre of its flag signifies. The state still accounts for a large amount of the USA's production and the industry is growing.

The $1.9-billion Rosemont mine was proposed to sprawl across federal, state and private land. Hudbay Minerals’ plans included clearing dozens of known archaeological sites. The company planned to target Gaylor Ranch, a historic Hokokam village, proposing to completely excavate the site and remove human remains, funerary objects, sacred items and objects of cultural patrimony. The Santa Rita Mountains cradle 10,000 years of Indigenous history. The Tohono O’odham Nation, Pascua Yaqui Tribe and Hopi Tribe, among other tribes, have lived in the mountains for generations. The Santa Ritas are home to the jaguar and southwestern willow flycatcher. Moreover, critical to this desert ecosystem are freshwater streams, which were the lifeblood of the Tohono O’odham ancestors and are considered holy by them ‒ making Hudbay's plans to pollute them especially devastating ‒ this is the notorious company that in Guatemala is trying to mine nickel in Lake Izabal.p. 562 p. 563

Hudbay decided it could get away with creating a colossal mine on public lands in the Santa Rita Mountains by using an antiquated Mining Law from 1872 granting mining companies a right to use public lands on mining claims if the land is discovered to contain a valuable mineral deposit. Hudbay filed patent claims overlying the proposed mine pit, which contained valuable minerals but also unpatented claims on adjacent lands with no mining value, where they intended to discard the waste and tailings. The Forest Service acquiesced to this land grab. However, in 2017, the Tohono O’odham tribe turned to Earthjustice for help. While the case moved slowly in the courts, the company was moving quickly to start excavation. As Hudbay challenged the Tribes by bringing machinery to the mine site, seeking a preliminary injunction became urgent although they often are not granted because parties must prove that they face immediate irreparable harm. Instead, the judge went a step further and definitively ruled on the merits of the Tribes’ case itself. The Court held that the Forest Service made a “crucial error” by assuming Hudbay had a right to use public lands without enough evidence of a valuable mineral deposit. With this argument, the judge prevented any mining activities from going forward, and called out the Forest Service “for abdicating its duty to protect our public lands”.

Conservation and tribal groups praised the ruling, saying it recognized that the Forest Service failed to protect public lands that are home to endangered jaguars and cougars, black bears and deer. The mountain range is also home to Madera Canyon, one of the premier US bird-watching spots. The judge's ruling could set a precedent among similar mining claims that abuse the Mining Law (Figure 25.2). This case in Arizona comes together, in a global perspective, with other environmental conflicts involving Indigenous groups in the West of the United States (and Canada) on oil and gas pipelines, on water and land grabbing, on disputes on metal and uranium mining and nuclear waste ‒ affecting the Navajo, the Shoshone and the Apache Stronghold in Arizona (Chapter 22).

A cartoon presenting the Hudbay mine project's consequences, like water resources wasted, copper to China, sacred lands ignored, wildlife habitat destroyed etc.
Figure 25.2

Cartoon by Bob Swaim

Source:  EJAtlas

Fighting to Protect Miccosukee Tribal Rights in the Everglades 2

Since the 1800s, this small Miccosukee Tribe has lived in the Florida Everglades ‒ first seeking refuge from colonizing forces but in the process forming a deep connection with the land and water of the area. However, Miccosukee lands now face pollution from agriculture, urban development and industrialism. The Miccosukee people continue to fight forces that seek to threaten their cultural practices, through protest but also judicial activism.

There are two main areas of concern, the land in the Miccosukee Tribe's Federal Indian Reservation (lands held in trust by the federal government), and lands provided to the Tribe under a perpetual lease from the State of Florida, also known as Water Conservation Area 3A (WCA-3A). When the Miccosukee Tribe was recognized by the federal government decades ago, they were given a total of 90,000 acres of land. The WCA-3A lands were leased to the Tribe in perpetuity in 1982 with the goal to preserve the local ecosystem to protect the Tribe's cultural rights, as if it were an Indian Reservation.

Much of Miccosukee Tribal land is located in the Everglades – a large network of ecosystems where the natural flow of water has now been disrupted. It is now a network of compartmentalized reservoirs and canals – the result of large-scale engineering projects. The Miccosukee Tribe relies on the integrity of the Everglades ecosystem to support their religion, culture and economic prosperity. In the early 2000s, the South Florida Water Management District began back-pumping polluted water into the greater Everglades ecosystem. This was p. 564a prime example of environmental injustice and environmental racism – dumping polluted water for the benefit of others at the expense of a historically marginalized community. It began to cause eutrophication and overgrowth of cattails, forcing out native grasses and vegetation and jeopardizing hunting and fishing rights granted to the Tribe, as well as hurting their cultural identity.

The Clean Water Act federally recognized tribes have “treatment as states” status. This allows the Miccosukee Tribe to set its own water quality standards, which must be adhered to by both members and non-members of the tribe. Additionally, it requires that a National Pollution Discharge Elimination System (NPDES) permit is required before any pollutants from a point source can be discharged into navigable waters. The Miccosukee Tribe sued the South Florida Water Management District, stating that an NPDES permit should be required. In 2004, the Supreme Court ruled in their favour, stating that the water management district needed to acquire an NPDES permit.

In 2020, they faced another challenge to their tribal rights to a clean Everglades ecosystem. The tribe had an agreement with the federal government and never gave consent to state control of wetlands. However, the control of wetlands development was changed from the federal government to the state of Florida by the Environmental Protection Agency. This was part of a larger effort by the Trump administration to weaken environmental protections.p. 565

In response, they released a statement: “The tribe is deeply appalled about the loss of culturally sensitive sites and the potential destruction of the Miccosukee way of life. This way of life is integrally entwined within the Florida Everglades”. Betty Osceola, a Miccosukee activist, clarified that the “tribes have codified rights to these lands”. They have led several prayer walks, as well as an 80-mile march in the Everglades to raise awareness.

There is another recent threat to the Miccosukees’ tribal rights to a healthy ecosystem, since Burnett Oil Co. applied for a permit to drill in Big Cypress National Preserve in 2022. If it were to occur, it would not only threaten endangered wildlife, but an ancestral burial ground.

The Kañari in Lambayeque, Peru

Cañariaco is a copper deposit located in the province of Ferreñafe, on the northern coast of Peru. Between 1995 and 2000, it was explored by Placer Dome and Billiton Exploration & Mining. In 2001, Candente Copper Corp. acquired 100 per cent of the project. In September 2012, nearly 2,000 members of the San Juan de Kañaris Campesino Community attended a consultation previously agreed upon by the community, the Ministry of Energy and Mines, the Ministry of Agriculture, the Vice-Ministry of Interculturality and Candente Copper. According to the president of the Electoral Committee, Emilio Manayay, a total of 1,896 people participated, of which 1,719 voted against the project and 106 in favour. This consultation was attended by Regional Governor Luis Millones and other government officials, and by Jose Delgado; sociologist, Juan Vilela of the National Confederation of Peruvian Communities Affected by Mining (CONACAMI); Felix Delgado of Red MUQUI; Erwin Salazar of the Unitary Command of Struggle of Lambayeque and other leaders.

This mountainous region of Lambayeque is not often visited by journalists. The mining company Candente Copper rejected the referendum and announced that it would continue with the project. In response, the president of the community, Cristóbal Barrios, demanded respect for the will of the people and to suspend operations. Nevertheless, the company claimed to have obtained the operating permit, based on the consent given in an assembly organized by the company in July 2012 with 200 summoned villagers. The Ministry of Energy and Mines recognized the legal result of this assembly, ignoring almost 2000 villagers.

In December 2012, the community suspended the protests until the conclusions of the dialogue with the authorities were presented. The company offered to give shares to community members. In January 2013, Cristóbal Barrios announced that the decision of almost 4,000 community members was to resume protests. The police attacked community members blocking roads and several people were injured. Ten years later, the conflict is still ongoing.

Local Referendums on Mining Operations in Latin America: Two Main Varieties 3

In Latin America, local referendums have been used in mining conflicts or against other extractive industries. The precursors were Tambogrande, in northern Peru, and Esquel, in Argentine Patagonia, in 2002 and 2003 (Walter and Urkidi 2017). Although the legal validity of such referendums was not recognized, they were effective in stopping gold projects. Those examples were propagated by videos and supported by networks such as the Observatory of Mining Conflicts in Latin America (OCMAL) and by the website “No a la Mina”. These local cases became NIABY cases. Manifestations of popular and Indigenous environmentalism, p. 566local expressions of the global environmental justice movement where links between distant villages and countries were established. Slogans, videos and pamphlets circulated.

Sometimes such local referendums have been organized by Indigenous communities under the protection of Convention 169 (ILO). In Kañari, the Indigenous status of the community was disputed by the mining company and the state authority, and reaffirmed by community representatives who appeared speaking Quechua on television in Lambayeque. They would have liked to appeal to Convention 169 of ILO, but their own identity as Indigenous was not recognized by the State. Here, as so often, environmental injustice and racism involved mainly distributional issues and also previous issues of recognition and procedure.

Often, in the face of the inhibition of the authorities towards the protests and their acceptance of bribes offered by the mining companies, a feeling of proud local democracy arises, sometimes reinforced by feelings of Indigenous identity. Direct action, marches and roadblocks are used, but also local consultations. Thus, in June 2012, there was a referendum in Loncopué (Neuquén, Argentina); the initiative against open-pit mining won with 84 per cent. By 2020, there were over 50 well-documented cases in Latin America, with two main varieties. One is consultations that appeal to ILO Convention 169, which says that Indigenous peoples can withhold their consent to mining, plantations or oil and gas extraction in their territories, like in Sipakapa (Guatemala). Without achieving immediate victories, they at least increase the social legitimacy of the opposition and delay implementation deadlines. In other cases, it is simply citizens who organize referendums following the precedents of Tambogrande and Esquel, and in 2017 in the famous case of La Colosa in Tolima, Colombia. A third way is for the State to request a local referendum.

Asháninka Leaders Assassinated between Peru and Brazil 4

The events described in this section are still ongoing in Acre, near the border in the Amazon between Peru and Brazil. On 12 March 2021, Asháninka leader Estela Casanto was killed. The Indigenous Asháninka of the Peruvian Amazon have long struggled against drug trafficking as well as mining, logging and land grabbing on their territory, in Shankivironi in the Perené River valley. Although most of the country's Indigenous population struggles with the recognition of their land rights, these communities in the central jungle have legally recognized titles. However, these titles are over 40 years old and have no defined borders.

There have been many intrusions upon their territories. Many of their defenders receive death threats, and the State does not respond to calls for help. The killing of Estela Casanto is one of the latest of nine murders of environmental defenders in Peru in 2020‒21. (The case was mentioned in the Conclusion to Chapter 4.) This increased in frequency during COVID-19 lockdowns; several murders of Indigenous activists occurred, mostly in the Junín, Pasco, Huánuco and Ucayali regions. Benjamín Ríos was assassinated in April 2020 in the Asháninka community of Kipachari. In May 2020, Cacataibo leader Arbildo Meléndez from Unipacuyacu; Asháninka leader Gonzalo Pío from Nuevo Amanecer Hawai, whose father, Mauro Pío, was also assassinated in 2013; and Cacataibo leader Santiago Vega from Sinchi Roca were killed, as also, Lorenzo Wampagkit, a park ranger at the Chayu Nain Communal Reserve, in June 2020. Roberto Pacheco, who ran a forest concession threatened by alleged illegal gold miners in the Madre de Dios region, was assassinated in September 2020. In February 2021, Herasmo García from Sinchi Roca and Yenes Ríos from Puerto Nuevo were also murdered, which caused the people of Puerto Nuevo to flee their territory fearing more killings.p. 567

On 12 March 2021, Casanto's body was found in a cave at the bottom of a ravine near her home. Official autopsies alleged that she died by choking while chewing on coca leaves. This, however, contradicts evidence of her being beaten and abducted from her bed, then dragged before being thrown down the ravine. Her body had multiple injuries as well as bloody haemorrhaging. The murderers were declared to be neighbouring settlers who had been threatening and harassing Casanto for over five years. These “colonos” occupy Indigenous territory without permission. Casanto never reported the threats out of fear. Police arrested the suspect, who was detained for less than a day. Active civil society organizations have been Central de Comunidades Nativas de la Selva Central (CECONSEC) and ONAMIAP (Organización Nacional de Mujeres Indígenas Andinas y Amazónicas del Perú).

Asháninka of Rio Amonia (Acre, Brazil, and Ucayali, Peru) 5

The Brazil-Peru border has increasingly become the scene of socio-ecological conflicts because of the advancing of road construction, oil and gas extraction and other mega-projects, and also ongoing deforestation and invasion of loggers into Indigenous lands. Indigenous groups in the region, such as the Asháninka communities of the Kampa Rio Amônia Indigenous Territory, are affected and mobilized against threats to their livelihoods. These territories of Asháninka, one of the largest South American Indigenous groups, are located in the borderland of the Alto Juruá area, divided between Brazil and Peru. Their isolation in interior parts of the forest has historical roots as their territories faced terrible abuse from the expanding rubber economy in the late nineteenth and early twentieth century but also, through the attacks from the militarized group Sendero Luminoso in the 1980s. Moreover, hydroelectric dams were constructed and new concessions to logging, mining and oil companies were handed out by the Peruvian government. All this made Asháninka communities and isolated Indigenous groups increasingly migrate to Brazilian territories.

This densely forested area rich in mahogany and cedar faces illegal logging and drug trafficking problems. The community of Rio Amônia, located in the municipality of Marechal Thaumaturgo in Brazil, became increasingly confronted with extensive deforestation during the 1980s. The companies responsible for this belong to the influential Cameli family (Orleir Cameli was governor of Acre in the 1990s and Gladson Cameli a senator for a right-wing party). The Asháninka reported that Cameli's loggers logged the forest with machinery and tractors. The company claimed to be the landowner, and the logging only stopped when the National Indian Foundation (FUNAI) identified the area as public land. In total, more than a quarter of the Kampa do Rio Amônia Indigenous territory was affected, leading not only to deforestation but also to an impoverishment of the region's biodiversity, pollution of rivers, arrival of squatters and an increase in hunting for rare animal furs. While the timber business flourished, the Asháninka communities suffered from forced labour for loggers, diseases, introduction of alcoholism and cultural loss. They started to organize and fight for land demarcation on the Brazilian side, which they received in 1992, and finally initiated a lawsuit against the Cameli family for three documented logging invasions in the years 1981, 1985 and 1987. Although the Cameli family was defeated in all instances and condemned to a fine of 35 million Reais, the process took a dramatic turn in 2018 when the Supreme Court invalidated all previous decisions. In August 2018, an Asháninka representative made a statement at the UN in Geneva, announcing that the community would continue the fight and asking the UN to make the Brazilian government respect its international obligations.p. 568

Also, over recent years, such logging invasions have remained commonplace on the Peruvian side. In 2007, the Asháninka of the Rio Amônia reported death threats from the Peruvian logging company Venao Forestal, allegedly owned by Keiko Fujimori, which had even become FSC certified by the SmartWood programme of the Rainforest Alliance in 2007. Venao is reported to have crossed into Brazil to illegally log valuable trees. As a consequence, the Asháninka called authorities for immediate action. Following an inspection in 2011, the Asháninka estimated that 15 per cent of their territory has been affected by invasions from sometimes armed Peruvian loggers. On the neighbouring Serra do Divisor National Park besides logging, there is also ongoing drug trafficking. FUNAI publicly warned against genocide in 2011 and 2012.

The Asháninka also engage in community projects and with local civil society. For example, the Asháninka of the Rio Amônia started to initiate activities to recover the forest stock and to engage as a civil society voice for Indigenous autonomy. They formed the Apiwtxa Association, a focal point for Indigenous resistance in the whole Alto Juruá region, building alliances with other groups and organizations and launching community projects, a traditional school and a cooperative. Thus, the mobilization against logging has also led to social transformations within the community and new infrastructures and institutions. Apiwtxa, which is the local Indigenous name for “union”, has become the main village of the traditionally dispersed Asháninka group in the Kampa do Rio Amônia Indigenous territory and home to about 800 inhabitants.

A leader of Apiwtxa reported that various communication sites with Internet connection were established to participate in a transnational working group. This forms a wider network and movement of local Indigenous groups, NGOs and civil society organizations to discuss and coordinate actions to defend Indigenous lands and protect isolated communities. The association was awarded several prizes for its actions in defence of the environment.

On 1 September 2014, Edwin Chota and three Asháninka leaders were shot dead. Three of the corpses were found weeks later in a swamp, one remained disappeared; a police group was sent to the area but left soon after without intervention as media attention turned away from the case. The Peruvian Indigenous organization FENAMAD was among the supporters and denounced the authorities of Ucayali for being indifferent about the crime.

The Saweto community had denounced loggers since 2011. Just some months before the murders, the Asháninka community had indicated 67 timber trafficking spots to the public authorities and called them to intervene. Some of the leaders repeatedly received death threats. When inspectors finally arrived in 2014, the four men ‒ Edwin Chota, Leoncio Quintisima Melendez, Jorge Ríos Pérez, Francisco Pinedo Ramírez – accompanied them to geolocate some of the spots; before the mission was finished, the inspectors decided to depart, confronted with harassments and death threats from strangers. The Indigenous leaders continued the mission, but never arrived in Apiwxta. In particular, Edwin Chota had been known as an activist against logging. He previously officially denounced the owner of Eco Forestal Ucayali SAC. He sent a letter with geodata, maps and photos as evidence to the State prosecution and, despite the risk, spoke in the media about the case, which ultimately gained the attention of the world press.

Sabino Marca el Camino: Coal, Land Grabbing and the Yukpa Resistance in Venezuela 6

This is a conflict with national political implications: Sabino's death traced a possible road out of the political impasse since President Chavez died in 2013. Hence the saying, “Sabino marks p. 569a new road”. Yukpa Indians of the Yaza and Tukuko rivers struggled against the expansion of Carbozulia in the Sierra de Perijá not far from the struggles of the Wayúu in La Guajira in Colombia also against the coal industry. This was the most emblematic socio-environmental conflict in Venezuela in the last decades.

Environmental conflicts in Venezuela can be divided into two classes (Teran 2018): those north of the Orinoco River related to oil extraction and refining, and those south related to illegal metal mining and Indigenous peoples. The coal-mining conflict in the Sierra de Perijà is in a different category, in the north-western Zulia state, on the border between Venezuela and Colombia. This state has various resources and is also a connection point to ports and cross-border transit areas, within the framework of the COSIPLAN-IIRSA projects. Several peoples inhabit the region, among which the Yukpa, Barí, Wayúu and Japreria.

Venezuela is the second largest coal exporter in Latin America. In the late 1980s, extraction began in the Mara municipality and new concessions were approved in the 1990s. These processes, together with livestock production by large ranchers, increased the dispossession of land of the Indigenous peoples. Since 2005, attempts were made to expand the extraction of coal. Despite the constitutional rank obtained by the demarcation of Indigenous lands and the promulgation of the Law on Indigenous Peoples in 2005, as well as the statements of President Hugo Chávez in favour of Indigenous rights, the reality was actual land grabbing and coal extractivism, to which the Yukpa, under the leadership of Sabino Romero, put up a strong resistance. Together with popular organizations, environmental groups and social movements, they denounced the stagnation of their demarcation process, as well as severe damage to the water, air and ecosystems in the Sierra de Perijá. The 2006‒12 official plans were geared to an extraction goal of 24 million tons of coal per year (Figure 25.3).

Poster of the documentary film released in 2018 on Sabino Romero.
Figure 25.3

Sabino Romero. Documentary film, 2018

There were reports in alternative media; denunciations by official institutions; several marches, and mobilizations; and the occupation of haciendas in the highlands, with the foundation of new communities which represented a recuperation of Indigenous lands previously taken away. The latter triggered an escalation of violence in the area, causing clashes with the National Guard and hired armed groups. Sabino Romero was imprisoned between 2009 and 2011, then killed in 2013, and some Yukpa wounded and dead.

In 2016, the government sought financing through associations to relaunch the coal extraction quotas of Carbozulia and other projects such as a coal-fired power plant (CFPP), the railroad and the American port. The danger of mining exploitation in the middle zone of the Sierra de Perijá continues. The Yukpa Indigenous people try to keep their presence in one of the few territories they have preserved.


Dawang Coffee Plantation in South Cotabato, Philippines 7

The Philippines has long ranked near the top of the list of environmental victims in the Global Witness annual reports. The victims in this case were Indigenous (Lumad) people displaced by land grabbing and killed by Army violence. Eight members of TAMASCO were killed in a military operation in 2017. T’boli, Manobo and Ubo Indigenous peoples living in the village of Datal Bonlagon have been struggling for three decades against DM Consunji Incorporated (DMCI) Silvicultural Industries and Inc.'s (SII) Dawang Coffee Plantation, which supplies p. 570coffee to Nestlé. The plantation area covers approximately 12,000 ha across Indigenous villages and was granted a 25-year Integrated Forest Management Agreement (IFMA) permit.

In 1991, armed thugs began to harass and threaten villagers, whose homes were burned, destroying the remains of their ancestors. Most of the nearby forest, which the community depended on for fruit and medicine, was cleared. The birds, wild boars and monkeys disappeared. Since then, the young are no longer taught how to use bows and arrows. The villagers were prevented from tilling their farms and those who attempted to do so were harassed by company guards armed with guns. Soon after, heavy machinery arrived and cleared the entire area of bananas, fruit trees, native coffee and other locally grown plants to make way for the coffee plantation. Fearing for their lives, T’boli families fled to the Blugsanay village. It was raining that night, and two children and an old man died. Seven years later, the T’bolis started to come back to rebuild it despite continuing threats. Moreover, the situation became even more complicated with a coal mining exploration project beginning in 2006.p. 571

When the IFMA permit expired in 2016, villagers mobilized to form the T’Boli-Manobo S’daf Claimants Organization (TAMASCO) to reclaim the land through litigation and protest actions. With the help of various church and legal rights groups, they discovered that the Department of Environment and Natural Resources (DENR) approved another secret IFMA permit in 2015. In response, leader Datu Victor Danyan and supporters hacked down a 150-ha area of coffee trees and replanted the land with corn. They ordered the guard to leave and received death threats, including from villagers employed at the plantation. To address rising tensions, the Catholic Church organized a peaceful dialogue between TAMASCO and the DENR on 4 December 2017, but the villagers never arrived. A day before, the military organized a surprise attack, killing Danyan and seven other members in what they claimed was a military operation against communist rebels.

Women like Marivic Danyan, the first female village chief, then occupied the frontlines of the movement. Widow Tarcela Ceraldo stated that they would continue the fight for ancestral land. A coalition of NGOs conducted an investigation into the crimes, including a national public inquiry. A resolution was filed in the Philippine Congress to inquire into the massacre of the eight TAMASCO members. A forensic expert was also killed for investigating the assassination in January 2018. Residents evacuated the village. Friends of the Earth and the Legal Rights and Natural Resources Centre (LRC-KsK) filed a special civic action to cancel the plantation's permit, and the Ministry of Environment agreed to form a task force looking into the controversy. In November 2019, TAMASCO and LRC-KsK filed another lawsuit at the Quezon City Regional Trial Court against Environment Secretary Roy Cimatu for neglect of duty, which he denied. LRC-KsK also supported TAMASCO in hearings with the Philippines National Commission on Indigenous Peoples. The cases remain unresolved, and the community continues to be raided (see also Chapter 3).

Marble Mining in Mollo Territory, West Timor, Indonesia 8

Mutis Mountain, a protected conservation reserve, is not only full of water sources and biodiversity, home to the Indigenous Mollo people but also a commodity extraction frontier rich in marble, manganese, gold, oil and gas. The Mollo consider Mutis Mountain's forests to be sacred and rely on them for their livelihoods. They gather food and medicine from the forest, grow crops in the fertile land and use forest materials to make art. They also consider themselves deeply connected to the territory and all of them are named after parts of the forest.

According to the Indonesian Law No. 4/2009 on Minerals and Coal, the mining companies have to consult and submit endorsement from the local Indigenous people. Yet in the 1980s, local government officials from the Ministry of Forestry arbitrarily seized land and began giving illegal permits. The first of these mining projects by PT Teja Sekawan began in 2004. Community leaders initially tried to negotiate with the company but were tricked into believing that miners were only there to chisel artwork out of the rocks. Mining representatives also promised to give homes, electricity, schools and health clinics to the local populations. However, frequent landslides became an issue that displaced Mollo settlements. This is because Mutis Mountain has many underground wells, and during marble extraction rocks covering the surface are removed and erosion sweeps away the earth, making entire villages suddenly disappear and destroying habitats for many species.

Aleta Baun, also known as Mama Aleta, thus started a network. She gathered over 150 local women for an occupation protest at the mining sites lasting for about three years, where p. 572they got in the way of the miners and did traditional weaving, preventing equipment from moving. Some community members damaged company vehicles, but Mama Aleta and others convinced everyone to stand up for themselves peacefully. Nevertheless, they were often harassed and beaten, and police refused to intervene. In 2006, Mama Aleta barely survived an assassination attempt when a group of men ambushed her in the forest, slashing her legs with machetes while she was walking home holding her baby. She was thus forced to send her husband and children into hiding. Despite these threats, the movement continued growing as more women joined and men stayed at home to take over domestic work and childcare. Even though the police and the military were backing up the mine, the community outnumbered them. Finally, in 2010, the mines were shut down and the Mollo community established a strong network protecting their land from commercial exploitation. Aleta Baun was eventually awarded a Goldman Prize in 2013.

Rakyat Pununggu People vs. Oil Palm Plantation, North Sumatra, Indonesia 9

The Rakyat Pununggu are Indigenous people living in various settlements across Deli Serdang, Langkat, and other nearby districts; they legally reclaimed their land rights. The land is swampy with fertile soils. However, this also attracted the attention of PT Perkenunan Nusantara II (PTPNII), a state-owned palm oil and sugar plantation company that encroached upon their land, turning it into a palm plantation without their consent.

In May 2011, PTPNII ordered a special heavily armed “counterterrorist” police force to forcefully displace the Rakyat Pununggu living in Secanggang village. The company put up a sign claiming control over the territory; however, hundreds of locals protested, causing PTPNII to threaten to come back with 1,000 army men. However, the company instead moved onto the Indigenous Sei Nernih village in June 2011. Twenty members of the special forces beat community members in attempts to remove them from the land, five trucks loaded with armed forces came to burn down their houses, destroy plants and injure residents. Three hundred troops were sent to burn Klambir, another village.

Throughout the land seizures, not only was the surrounding vegetation and farmland razed to the ground, but plantation palm trees also disrupted the soil's ability to absorb water while chemicals polluted the ground. This especially affected the Indigenous women, almost all of whom previously subsisted on farming vegetables and rice, but now must work in the palm plantations. Such work pays only 50,000 rupiah, or $3.50 daily, which is not enough to support their families. Lack of access to land means that they become poorer even though they now have monetary incomes. Poverty is multidimensional.

In May 2013, PTPNII sent another heavily armed troop to a Rakyat Pununggu settlement without any prior notice of eviction, burning down their homes, places of worship and crops. The locals were badly beaten before they were chased away. In December, PTPNII again expanded their operations further with military and police, bulldozing gardens, fields and homes. Locals performed a blockade, with many women climbing onto the bulldozers. PTPNII aimed to seize 22 more Indigenous lands using three concessions, and the violence continued with many more incidents.

In September 2020, hundreds of Indigenous locals across Kampung Durian Selemak, together with the Indigenous Peoples Alliance of the Archipelago (AMAN), protested against PTPNII's violent displacement methods. According to AMAN chairperson Ansyurdin, locals took peaceful action as PTPNII attacked those participating, even children, the elderly and p. 573women. Some residents went missing after the incident. Although the Rakyat Pununggu own the land with customary titles, PTPNII used an allegedly falsified legal basis, with a corruption ring supposedly involving unions, government officials and more.

PTPNII claims that they offered residents compensation that they rejected and denies the people's communal land ownership. Despite the North Sumatra Commission for Missing Persons and Victims of Violence documenting 30 instances of violent conflict and disappearances against PTPNII, they also deny any unjustifiable violence. The Civil Society Alliance Against Torture and the Civil Society Advocacy Network declared the violence a crime against the humanity of farmers and Indigenous peoples, urging investigations according to military legal procedures. AMAN continues efforts to ratify an Indigenous Peoples Bill. In October 2020, the People's Watching Community also had a mass mobilization at the North Sumatran Governor's Office to revoke PTPNII's land use rights.

This is one of many examples where Indigenous and human rights intersect with women's activism and agrarian struggles. The AMAN works locally, nationally and internationally to represent and advocate for Indigenous peoples. With about 17 million members from more than 2,300 Indigenous communities throughout Indonesia, AMAN supports Indigenous people having sovereignty over land and natural wealth, socio-cultural life and customary institutions that maintain the sustainability of their lives. In 2015, AMAN was awarded the prestigious Elinor Ostrom Award.

Coal Mining in Hasdeo Arand Forest, Chhattisgarh, India 10

In 2009, the Chhattisgarh state environment ministry categorized Hasdeo Arand forest as a “no-go” area for mining for its rich, unfragmented forest cover. Soon after, in 2011, coal blocks even in no-go areas were opened up because the no-go policy never got off the ground. In 2019, the Ministry for Environment gave environmental clearance for open cast coal mining in Parsa that will be operated by Rajasthan Collieries Limited, a unit of Adani Enterprises Limited which has 74 per cent ownership of Rajasthan Collieries. In the Hasdeo-Arand two coal mines are operational apart from the Parsa mine, with a capacity of 5 million metric tonnes per annum. All three mines in the Hasdeo forests have been awarded to Adani Enterprises Limited as the Mine Developer and Operator. In 2019, Chitrangada Choudhury reported that the 90 million Adivasis are among India's poorest. Among them, the Gonds and other Adivasis who live outside and within parts of the Hasdeo Arand forest will become a lost people. They will be removed from their land, lose their fields, lose their culture and, perhaps, join the great, desolate migration to the slums of Indian cities.

For a decade, Adivasi communities have battled to preserve the Hasdeo Arand, even though successive governments have illegally bypassed local village councils to award coal-mining contracts to India's powerful Adani conglomerate.

The Hasdeo Arand Bachao Sangharsh Samitis are a village-level organization set up to protect the forest (Chapter 16). On 2 October 2021, marking the birth of Gandhi, hundreds of tribal villagers began a padayatra, a long protest march, against government plans for a major coal mining expansion. “This land is our land!” chanted men and women in Hindi as they navigated forest tracts, village paths and highways on a 300-km trek to the state capital. The local Adivasi communities are agitating to save their Jal Jangal Zameen, water, forest and land, a slogan with a long history in rebellions in central India. But they are also waging a much larger battle that goes beyond self-interest. They are trying to protect this entire p. 574forested landscape, the elephants and wildlife emphasizing the interconnectedness of all these issues. The representatives of all 30 villages of Hasdeo Arand were part of this padayatra (foot march) in 2021, demanding justice from the State and Central government. Complaints against the extractive industries use their own vocabularies and images often taken from civil society repertoires of action for multiple causes. Padayatra is a common form of action across the subcontinent. Figure 25.4 shows the well-behaved march occupying less than half the road led by Adivasi women. The banner reads: Footmarch to save Hasdeo. The portraits include Birsa Munda, Gandhi and Ambedkar.

Chhattisgarh: Amid protests, coal block in Hasdeo gets stage-II forest clearance (The Week, Sravani Sarkar).
Figure 25.4

Chhattisgarh: Amid protests, coal block in Hasdeo gets stage-II forest clearance

Source:  The Week, Sravani Sarkar

The general context is the offensive against Adivasi peoples at the frontiers of extraction. The economic context here (Roy and Schaffartzik 2021) is the “transition to coal” in India. While China extracts nearly four billion tons per year, India has barely reached one billion (including some imports), with a similar population.

Uranium Mining in Jadugoda, Jharkhand, India 11

Conflicts along the nuclear chain, from uranium mining to NPP, to nuclear waste disposal and even to military nuclear testing have often involved Indigenous peoples. Beyond those mentioned in Chapter 10, here I give space to two conflicts on uranium mining in India involving Indigenous peoples. In Jharkhand, a mining state east of Chhattisgarh, the scale of uranium mining in Jadugoda is as large as the damages to health. Mining activity in the region started way back in 1967 and the place is now one of the major sources of uranium in India. A large number of villagers suffer from cancer, skin diseases, physical deformities, blindness, brain p. 575damage, disruption of the menstrual cycle or loss of fertility. The Santhal, Munda and Ho tribes, evicted from their lands, work as miners and are exposed to a heavy dose of radiation. The government owned corporation responsible for the mining refutes the allegations.

The conflict became well known thanks to the documentary “Buddha Weeps in Jadugoda” on the deadly impacts on people living near the mine, mill and tailings dam. It depicts the misuse of power by the authorities, the utter lack of concern for internationally accepted norms and safety precautions in the handling of uranium and their contempt for the disastrous impact. The mines, set up decades ago, employ around 5,000 people. Intense civil society activity has made the situation public and to some extent remedied some consequences. Organizations active include at various times the Indian Doctors for Peace and Development (IDPD), Jharkhandi Organisation Against Radiation (JOAR), Jharkhand Mukti Morcha, Communist Party of India Marxists Leninist, Indian Federation of Trade Union, Human Right Law Network and All Jharkhand Student Union.

Uranium Mining in Meghalaya, India 12

The second case is a proposal to mine uranium in Meghalaya state in the North East region of India. Meghalaya is the third most uranium rich state in the country after Jharkhand and Andhra Pradesh. The state accounts for 16 per cent of India's uranium reserves, with rich deposits in West Khasi hills region. The Killing-Pendant Sohiong Mawthabah (KPM) uranium mining project is located there. Uranium deposits were found in 1972, confirmed in 1996 after drilling and it is estimated that they would last for 25 years.

The Khasi are local Indigenous peoples. Formerly, this project was also known as the Domiasiat uranium mining project. Uranium Corporation of India Ltd (UCIL) proposes to mine it using an open-pit mining method up to a depth of 45 metres. The processing plant would be constructed at Mawthabah. The plan to mine uranium in Meghalaya to address the needs of the nuclear industry in India has run into opposition and protests in the state. For instance, the Khasi Students Union opposing the project fears that uranium mining will affect the environment, open floodgates of outside influence in the state and precipitate health hazards in and around the mines.


It is common for African states not to recognize the category of Indigenous, on the grounds that the bulk of the population is African by origin, even if there are ethnic minorities. Africa is different in this legal respect from the Americas or Australia. There is no doubt, however, that in Africa some populations self-identify as Indigenous, as the Ogoni and the Ijaw famously do in the Niger Delta.

This conflict complements the palm oil conflicts analyzed in Chapter 14 in Nigeria and other West African countries. The rubber tree plantation of Hévéa created by the State in 1975 is a case of colonial land grabbing and displacement of Indigenous peoples. From that moment and especially after privatization, different populations, including Bagyeli and Bulu people, claimed compensation for the expropriation of their lands and condemned the destruction of the rainforest and the water pollution. In the first years, there were conflicts with the Bulu communities especially. Hévécam is one of the main producers of natural rubber in p. 576Cameroon – along with the Cameroon Development Corporation (CDC), a public company. The Hévécam company was acquired by a Singapore firm, and later by a Chinese company. The local peoples mainly demand compensation for damages, infrastructures, recruitment of residents for high rank positions and the possibility to have their own plantations and to establish clear limits for the concession (plantations cover about 42,000 ha).

In September 2015, the residents of Hévécam accused the company of “monopolizing cultivable lands, going beyond the limits of its concessions and depriving the people of their means of subsistence”. In response, the company denounced “illegal occupation of land” alleging that the population was planting palm oil and cocoa in its concession. Also, in 2014, the Bagyeli people, one of the most affected communities, raised their voice: they are hunters, relying on a forest that no longer exists. Animals disappeared (Gerber 2007). Moreover, the workers of the plantation complained about low wages, hard work, health issues and the impossibility of trade union organization.

The rubber plantation borders the National Park of Campo-Ma’an, a 246,000-ha reserve created in 1999 with about 80 different species of mammals, 307 different species of birds and 122 species of reptiles. According to WWF, the area is in danger because of big infrastructure projects, extractives and agro-industries, including the Kribi deep sea and industrial port complex, the Memve’ele Hydropower Dam, the Mount Mamelles iron ore exploration project, the Hévécam and Socapalm rubber and oil palm plantations and the construction of a railway terminal for raw materials export (Socapalm appears again in Chapter 27).


Irrawaddy Dam in Myanmar 14

Myanmar is a country with many Indigenous peoples. Military rule in Myanmar lasted from 1962 to 2011 and resumed in 2021. After the 2011 democratic change President Thein Sein declared that the Myitsone dam project would be suspended because “it is against the will of the people”. It is a large dam and hydroelectric power development project by a joint venture between the China Power Investment Corporation (CPI), the Burmese Government's Ministry of Electric Power and the Asia World Company. The dam was to produce electricity primarily for export to Yunnan, China. At 152 m high and with a potential capacity of 6,000 MW of electricity, the Myitsone was to be the largest of seven dams at the headwaters of the Irrawaddy River. Its planned location is near the birthplace of the Irrawaddy River, a sacred place. The river waters are essential for fishing, irrigating rice cultivation throughout the country and supplying silt in the delta. The reservoir would submerge important historical and cultural sites and destroy much wildlife. It would be located in Kachin territory, an ethnic group which has often been in armed rebellion against the state.

The Burma Rivers Network (BRN) had been encouraged by the President's words in 2011, but urged the people to demand an official declaration and pull-out of all personnel and equipment from the dam site. Stopping a very large dam scheduled for completion in 2019 in the upper reaches of the Irrawaddy River seemed to be a success story. Spokesperson Ah Nan declared: “I think pressure from China will be too strong” but “It will be difficult to send material to the dam site. And this kind of development is only fuelling the conflict”. What the plans are with the new military Junta in Myanmar by 2021 is not clear yet. “Seeing like states” (Scott 1998), both China and Myanmar might dam the river.p. 577

In Ethiopia, Gilgel Gibe III Dam: Transborder Effects 15

Aboriginal communities in the Omo valley are facing the threat of starvation in the name of sustainable development and clean energy. The Omo River in southern Ethiopia is the largest Ethiopian river outside the Nile Basin. The river is the principal stream of an endorheic drainage basin, the Turkana Basin. In December 2016, Ethiopia inaugurated Gibe III dam. According to the project promoters, the dam was going to boost the Ethiopian economy and bring prosperity to the country.

But one should question the word ‘prosperity’. Some 50 members of the Suri tribe in the Omo were massacred by Ethiopian government soldiers who were forcing them to move from their land. This is just an indicative episode of a long period of controversial practices around the construction works in the UNESCO World Heritage site Omo valley. In fact, the consequences of the impacts of the dam have attracted the international attention of NGOs fighting for human rights and environmental justice.

The Gilgel Gibe III dam is the third largest hydroelectric plant in Africa with a power output of about 1870 Megawatt (MW), after the existing Gibe I (184 MW) and Gibe II (420 MW), as well as the planned Gibe IV (1472 MW) and Gibe V (560 MW) dams. Together with the Grand Ethiopian Renaissance dam (6,000 MW, the largest in Africa), the structures form part of an energy strategy included in the “Growth and Transformation Plan”, a five-year development plan to “eradicate poverty and dependence on food aid in a shorter period of time” (Figure 25.5). But the plan cannot avoid dealing with the 700,000 inhabitants of the valley and Lake Turkana, which are characterized by a multiplicity of ecosystems, cultures and languages. Lake Turkana is a lake in the Rift Valley in northern Kenya threatened by the Gilgel Gibe III dam in Ethiopia since the Omo River supplies most of its water (Figure 25.5).

Map of the Omo River basin, with the different Gibe dams and national parks threatened by them.
Figure 25.5

The Omo River basin

Source:  A. Grimaldos

These communities belong to at least 16 distinct ethnic groups whose survival depends on traditional farming, forestry, breeding, herding and fishing. Salini-Impregilo was proud to declare that the dam offers benefits for local communities, enabling the development of fisheries, preventing the occurrence of floods and preserving traditional recess agriculture. But Survival International had a different take, enough to report to OECD for human rights violations and file a petition against the Ethiopian Government through the African Charter of Human and Peoples Rights (ACHPR) in April 2012.

At the stage of project design, a positive EIA was produced by Italian consultancies. The Africa Resources Working Group (ARWG) promptly responded with a counter-assessment which deeply criticized the official one. They individuate (i) a radical decline of fish productivity in Lake Turkana; (ii) risk of increased seismic activity and landslide potential; (iii) major transboundary ecological degradation of the Omo delta shared between Ethiopia, Kenya and Sudan; (iv) elimination of a consistent part of riverine forest and woodland due to 50 to 60 per cent reduction of river flow volume; (v) recession of cultivation for Indigenous communities; (vi) land expropriation; (vii) obfuscation, distortion and “fabrication” of public consultation and of flood simulation data.

Salini-Impregilo has a long-documented history of what we call Corporate Social Irresponsibility (Chapter 27). The governmental company Ethiopian Electric Power Corporation contracted them for Gibe III through directed negotiation, at the time when the Italian Minister of Foreign Affairs was considering financing the project. After both the European Investment Bank and World Bank decided not to, the Industrial and Commercial Bank of China (ICBC) stepped forward and approved a loan in 2010. At the same time, the Chinese company Tebian Electric Apparatus Stock Co was contracted for the transmission p. 578 p. 579line to Addis Ababa. Finally, in 2012, the World Bank financed US$ 684 million for the high-voltage direct current transmission line between Ethiopia and Kenya.

Four years after the completion of Gilgel Gibe III dam, various predicted negative outcomes became reality. It altered the magnitude and seasonality of the Omo River flood pulse tremendously. It further increased the vulnerability by diminishing the food security of the regional populations. The fish population has already been adversely affected. The dam is a threat towards Lake Turkana. On the other hand, Gibe III dam's river regulation enabled the Ethiopian Government's plan to develop large-scale sugarcane and cotton plantations going hand in hand with the agrarian-industrial transformation.


An Indigenous cultural and political revival is in evidence, which manifests in environmental movements which are growing on their own and also alongside feminist, anti-colonial and anti-racist movements of social and political awakening. Incommensurable values arise and make money compensation inappropriate at extraction commodity frontiers inhabited by Indigenous peoples. It is common in the literature on environment and society to approach Indigenous peoples in terms of their worldviews. I am favourable to collecting such Cosmovisions and experiences in a “pluriverse” of alternatives to industrial, destructive development (Kothari et al. 2019). Nevertheless, in this chapter I have not focused on the Indigenous worldviews, on what they say, think and believe in, but rather on what they do. The resistances display different values and a whole repertoire of claims and actions. Indigenous peoples struggle, in the conflicts in this chapter, against copper and coal mining, marble extraction, logging, uranium mining, oil palm, cotton and rubber plantations, hydropower and other old or modern commodities.

So-called economic development often deprives Indigenous peoples of access to their lands, water and clean air, and therefore curtails their freedom. Indigenous resistance around the world is a remarkable phenomenon on several accounts. Indigenous communities are assumed to be only 5 per cent of the world population, but they appear among the protagonists of resistance in almost 40 per cent of cases in the EJAtlas, where about 800 names of Indigenous groups are recorded (Scheidel et al. 2023). Perhaps around the world there are 4,000 named Indigenous groups. Adivasis from India are perhaps the most numerous. Anthropology and other related disciplines have shown a longstanding interest in Indigenous peoples’ lifeways and cultures. There are colonialist traditions to such disciplines but recently they have been attentive to resurgent Indigenous-led governance. They have pointed out “ontologies” that do not separate between nature and culture. It was anthropologists who founded Survival International, which works on Indigenous communities suffering from the arrival of extractive industries. Ethno-ecologists emphasize bio-cultural values (Toledo and Barrera-Bassols 2008).

Indigenous resistance mostly takes place at the commodity extraction frontiers, and also at the waste disposal frontiers. Growth and changes in the social metabolism and Indigenous resistance are two sides of the same coin, accompanying capitalist economic expansion. Indigenous peoples are exercising “degrowth in practice”. However, Marxists have not looked at Indigenous and peasants’ resistance as harbingers of a global world movement for p. 580environmental and social justice. For instance, Harvey's “accumulation by dispossession” looks at the world from above, contemplating “the logic of capitalism” (Harvey 1995, 2002). He really does not place Indigenous peoples, peasants, fisherfolk, pastoralists, women, local EJOs, religious groups and scientists at the vanguard of a successful resistance to industrial capitalism. Marx, at the end of his life, was interested in the revolutionary potential of peasant communes (as shown in his letters to Vera Zasulich that he did not send), and also of colonized peoples (Shanin 1983). But Indigenous people were placed at the margins. “Environment” and “Indigenous” are rather unexpected words in the old Marxist dictionaries. Later Marxists liked the concept of “militant particularisms” that Raymond Williams had used (Harvey 1995) for his analyses of working-class movements before they coalesce into trade unions or socialist political parties. However, applying a notion such as “militant particularism” to environmental movements of the poor and the Indigenous must be avoided. It is a sort of “Nimbyism” (“Not in My Backyard-ism”) denying the reality of many interconnected instances and movements of environmental resistance. Thus, the AMAN in Indonesia is a country-wide movement, with international links. The claims under Convention 169 of ILO are very common in Latin America. The self-identification as “Indigenous” is in itself a denial of “particularism” because there is a growing Indigenous movement around the world. In an era of planetary environmental issues, how to interpret the revival of Indigenous identity? Is this not a reactionary “back-to-the-land” movement? No, “identity” is not a new opium of the people, even when it comes together with feelings of sacredness. It is a refusal of the colonialist robbery of their livelihoods (Mbembe 2020).

The resistance by Indigenous peoples has its own characteristics. Beyond the few cases in this book, many more are collected in the EJAtlas. What most of these conflict cases have in common is the presence of commodity extraction. The price of these commodities is desecration of Indigenous territories including their burial grounds, chapels, mosques and historical patrimony, land and water grabbing, displacement, violence, and sometimes death. The availability of resources is very specific to the geology or orography of places. There are also social factors (legal concessions, “social licence to operate”, bribery and co-optation of local stakeholders, naked violence) that play a role. The social factors are even more relevant when the commodities may be obtained from large territories (as in the tragic case of the Dawang coffee plantation in the Philippines, or for coal in Central India). In all cases there are both physical and social factors at play.

Indigenous peoples must be given a place of honour in a book such as this one. First, because of the very many recorded instances that have already allowed original work on statistical political ecology (Scheidel et al. 2020, 2023). Second, because of the links between such environmental activism and the Indigenous revival as the pressure against the remaining Indigenous communities increases. In this chapter, I pose and give provisional answers to two hypotheses. The first is geographical: Are Indigenous peoples attacked and sacrificed to commodity extraction (or to waste disposal) because they live at distant frontiers while other nearby territories have already been sacrificed? Is this the main reason why they appear so often in the EJAtlas, in greater proportion than their presence in the population censuses would warrant? Is the march towards new places for extraction and for waste disposal occupied by the remaining Indigenous peoples explained by the geography of the growth and changes in the social metabolism? For instance, where to find the lithium for the “electrical transition”? Where to locate the windmills and solar panels? There are physical conditions required which are not spread around at random. Physical availability tends to be far away p. 581from the metropolis. Then, the geology and geography of the commodities plus coloniality and racism lead to genocides.

This is the geographical hypothesis. Then I also pose a political question: Are the Indigenous populations attacked disproportionately because they are politically and socially weaker than other populations? I tend to answer “yes” to the geographical question and “no” to the political question. Indigenous populations appear often in instances of resistance because they live at as yet untouched resource frontiers, and also because they are not weak but increasingly strong. They have learnt to defend themselves by legitimately displaying their Indigenous identity, and thus sometimes are able to argue in terms of Convention 169 of ILO and in other countries, such as India, are able to bring in other legislation (such as the Forest Rights Act) into the disputes.

Recognition is however often lacking, and legislation is certainly not their only arm. Their own cultures, religions, self-governance and the “arts of not being governed” learnt over many centuries can be displayed politically against robbery by outsiders. Despite the resistance, in most cases environmental justice is not achieved. However, each case of success reaffirms the Indigenous revival closely linked to an environmentalism of the dispossessed and the subaltern. Thus, the international Convention on Biodiversity and the IPBES reports should recognize not only the rights of Indigenous peoples and local communities and their agency in biodiversity policy but their militant resistance at the frontiers of commodity extraction and waste disposal.



Tribes halt Hudbay Minerals’ copper mine on ancestral lands, Santa Rita Mountains, AZ, USA (Ksenija Hanaček), EJAtlas.


Elsken, K. (2020). Miccosukee Tribe representative protests plan to let the State of Florida rule on wetlands permits, South Central Florida Life, 21 December.

Fighting to Protect Miccosukee Tribal Rights in the Everglades, Florida, US (Arielle Landau), EJAtlas.


Cañariaco Norte ‒ San Juan de Kañaris, Peru (Patricio Chavez and Joan Martinez-Alier), EJAtlas.

Martinez-Alier, J. (2013). Referendos mineros locales: Kañaris, en Perú, La Jornada, 22 February.


Killing of Asháninka leader Estela Casanto Mauricio in Junín, Peru (Dalena Tran), EJAtlas.

Ashaninka community against Tawaya biopiracy, Acre, Brazil (Max Stoisser), EJAtlas.

Ashaninka people against dams, Peru (Malena Bengtsson), EJAtlas.

Deforestation and colonization of Indigenous Ashaninka Territory, Peru (Lucie Greyl), EJAtlas.

Quadruple murder of Asháninka in Alto Tamaya, Saweto, Peru-Brazil (Max Stoisser), EJAtlas.


Asháninka of Rio Amônia and Saweto against illegal loggers at border Peru-Brazil (Max Stoisser), EJAtlas.


Indígenas yukpa de los ríos Yaza y Tukuko luchan contra la expansión de Carbozulia en la Sierra de Perijá, Venezuela (E. Teran), EJAtlas.


Dawang Coffee Plantation on Indigenous territory in South Cotabato, Mindanao, Philippines (Dalena Tran), EJAtlas.

Friends of The Earth International (2017). Murder of Indigenous peoples in Philippines as blatant human rights abuses continue, 14 December.


Marble Mining in Indigenous Mollo Territory in West Timor, Indonesia (Dalena Tran), EJAtlas.

Goldman Prize (2013). Aleta Baun 2013 Goldman Prize Recipient Islands and Island Nations.

Firdaus, F. (2016). Mollo: The bulbous house, the sacred mountain of Mutis, and “Mama” who against the marble quarries, Medium, 22 November.p. 582


Plantations in North Sumatra displacing indigenous Rakyat Pununggu, Indonesia (Dalena Tran), EJAtlas.


Choudhury, C. (2021). Chhattisgarh's Adivasis are on 300-km march to save the Hasdeo Forests, latest in a decade-long protest against coal mining, Article 14, 17 October.

Sarkar, S. (2021). Chhattisgarh: Villagers take out 330-km march to oppose coal mining projects, The Week, Updated: October 08.

Coal mining conflict in Hazaribagh with NTPC in Jharkhand, India (Brototi Roy), EJAtlas.

Zameen Samadhi Satyagraha against land acquisition in Neendar village, Jaipur, Rajasthan, India (Brototi Roy), EJAtlas.

Direct violation of Forest Rights Act in the mining belt of Surguja district, Chhattisgarh, India (Brototi Roy), EJAtlas.


Uranium Mining in Jadugoda, Jharkhand, India (Sohan Prasad Sha, Swapan Kumar Patra), EJAtlas.


Uranium Mining in Meghalaya, India (Swapan Kumar Patra), EJAtlas.


Rubber tree plantation in Kribi, Cameroon (Aurora M.C., Carros de Combate), EJAtlas.

Gerber, J.F. (2007). Les communautés bulu contre la plantation industrielle HEVECAM au Cameroun, Master thesis.


Myitsone dam on Irrawaddy River, Myanmar (Joan Martinez-Alier, Talia Waldron), EJAtlas.

Seng Raw, L. (2019). Kachin appeal to save the Irrawaddy, Asia Times, 10 May.


Gilgel Gibe III Dam, Ethiopia (Antonio Bontempi ICTA UAB), EJAtlas.

Monograph Book