The March 3, 2016 murder of Indigenous leader Berta Cáceres in Honduras reminded me of John Bodley’s book Victims of Progress (1982). “It is generally recognized,” writes Bodley, “that tribal people are being drastically affected by civilization and that their cultural patterns and, in many cases, the peoples themselves disappear as civilization advances” (p. 1). While I don’t prefer the word “tribal” because it suggests that the Original Nations of a given place are “primitive and barbarous,” Bodley has pinpointed something of critical importance exemplified by the killing of Ms. Cáceres. The form of domination which has been euphemistically called “civilization” has had and continues to have horrific effects on our Original Nations and Peoples throughout this hemisphere, typically called “the Americas.”
The phenomenon identified by Bodley comes fully into focus when we realize that “civilization” is “the forcing of a particular cultural pattern on a population to which it is foreign.” In other words, “civilization” is merely a cover word for domination. What is it that has caused the disappearance of so much of the languages and cultural patterns of Original Nations and Peoples, and has resulted in the disappearance of so many Original Nations and Peoples themselves? Domination and resulting dehumanization is the answer.
The killing of Berta Cáceres and some 110 environmental activists in Honduras is graphic evidence of that domination-dehumanization system. She was a fearless Indigenous leader of the Lenca Nation. She was a mother of four, and an advocate on behalf of Mother Earth and of vital ecosystems. She dared to stand up to powerful political and economic forces by opposing a hydroelectric power project. The motto of the interests she opposed seems to be: “Expand territory and access vital resources by any means necessary, no matter who you have to destroy in the process.” Many of those interests operating in Honduras are from the elite sectors of the United States. Berta paid with her life for having the courage to voice her opposition to that elitist agenda of wealth and power at the expense of distinct peoples and fragile ecosystems.
In a March 4, 2016 article in The Guardian, “Hypocrisy surrounds the murder of Berta Cáceres in Honduras,” Bert Schouwenburg reported on a phenomenon called “femicide” (the mass killing of women). “In 2014,” he writes, “513 women were killed and in 2015 it was estimated that a woman lost her life every 16 hours.” Talk about domination and dehumanization. Where was the outcry from the U.S. Department of State regarding these events? In a March 10, 2016 article in “The Nation,” Greg Grandin points out that Ms. Cáceres, just five days before she was killed, openly criticized Hillary Clinton’s backing of a 2009 coup while she was the U.S. Secretary of State. That coup removed reformist President Manuel Zalaya from power in Honduras. Clinton’s office calls “simply nonsense” any effort to suggest that the Clinton State Department’s Honduran policies created the context for Ms. Cáceres’s killing.
The large number of killings and other acts of trauma inducing repression in Honduras are clearing the way for the so-called Free Enterprise Zones, which are funded by institutions such as the World Bank. Behind all this are powerful interests which demand that their right of imperial self-determination be permitted to roll forward over the people unrestrained, like the tanks in Tiananmen Square in 1989.
Berta’s killers, as agents of power hungry interests, are part of a mindset which says through its actions: “To hell with Original Nations and Peoples; to hell with ecosystems.” The centuries-long road of “Capitalism’s Progress” is paved with the bones of Original Peoples. Behind it is a legacy of toxic waste, deforestation, and other wreckage on a massive scale.
All this has been brought to our Original Nations and Peoples throughout this hemisphere courtesy of a neoliberal ideology which has been manifested directly out of the same kind of mentality that created the Vatican Papal Decrees of Domination of the fifteenth century: invade, capture, vanquish, subdue, and dominate the “barbarous nations.” That mentality believes that it needs to maintain its domination over Original Nations and Peoples. It believes in freeing transnational and multinational corporations from any regulations that might stand in the way of massive corporate profits, and siphoning off vital resources.
The “Free Trade” Zones created by the World Bank and other banking interests in Honduras are places where domination is being given free reign so as to remove any impediment that will prevent corporations from exploiting Mother Earth, her waters, and her natural resources for greater profit and power, in perpetuity. By contrast, the Creation stories and teachings of Original Nations and peoples are designed to honor, respect, and preserve the Earth and all living things, in perpetuity. Those teachings, and the Original Nations and Peoples who maintain them, pose a fundamental and existential threat to the domination mindset and lifestyle that results from the love of riches and wealth (Ame = love; Rica = Riches and Wealth).
“The Americas” (North, Central, and South) is the hemisphere where Christendom’s Dream of empire, domination, and profit became the basis for the “American Dream” (the dream of riches and wealth), and the basis for the “the American way of life.” It is an Idealized Mental Model of life predicated on the love of riches and wealth which is accumulated by overrunning the territories of the Original Nations and Peoples of a given geographical region, and either “controlling or eliminating the native population,” as historian Samuel Eliot Morison put it. Domination is the means used to achieve that goal, and Berta Cáceres’s brutal killing is additional evidence of what we depict in our documentary movie, “The Doctrine of Discovery: Unmasking the Domination Code.”
In his book Empire or Democracy (1939), Leonard Barnes writes: “To many men the sense of domination is sweet; and to have other men working as your servants and producing wealth which you can at once appropriate and enjoy is, to say the least, convenient” (p. 187). The system of domination callously snuffed out Berta’s life, along with so many other women and Indigenous people in Honduras because she and those others tried to stand in the way of the so-called Free Enterprise Zones of “progress” for interests that are tied to the American Empire (the United States).
From its inception, the United States, which George Washington called “our infant empire,” was predicated on the love of riches and wealth. For more than two hundred years it has fattened itself through a process of imperialism. It has used that imperial process to help itself to the traditional territories of our Original Nations and Peoples. It is a Leviathan state. Its imperial policies are the means by which it extends its political and economic tentacles into beautiful places such as Honduras, with lethal and cold hearted impunity. The Original Nations and Peoples end up being sacrificed to the gods of Capitalism and Greed.
As Rupert Emerson pointed out in From Empire to Nation (1960), “Imperialism, by definition, involves the domination of people over another” (p.6); the claim to bring “human and christian civilization” to the “uncivilized” (undominated) “heathens and infidels” was the early iteration of this code. Now it is advanced by benign sounding words such as “development,” and by cover-phrases such as “the Central American Free Trade Agreement (CAFTA).” It’s all about making the enterprise of domination “free” from constraint or regulation as much as possible even if it involves killing brave people such as Berta Cáceres with impunity. And the domination continues, in perpetuity.
Steven Newcomb (Shawnee, Lenape) is co-founder and co-director of the Indigenous Law Institute, and author of Pagans in the Promised Land: Decoding the Doctrine of Christian Discovery (Fulcrum, 2008). He is a producer of the documentary movie, “The Doctrine of Discovery: Unmasking the Domination Code,” directed and produced by Sheldon Wolfchild (Dakota), with narration by Buffy Sainte-Marie (Cree). The movie can be ordered from 38Plus2Productions.com.