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Arms industry a significant force in the suppression of Indigenous peoples

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Photo: Larry Wright/Twitter

The weapons industry plays a significant role in the ongoing oppression of Indigenous peoples.

The weapons that are used by the military, para-military groups and police against Indigenous peoples are manufactured, bought, sold, provided as aid and generate profit. They are used to suppress territorial sovereignty and to contain struggles in defence of land and water.

Historically, Popular Mechanics has noted, "The U.S. Army used the Gatling [manual machine gun that could fire 200 rounds per minute] extensively throughout the 1870s during its campaigns against Native American tribes in the West."

In more recent times, a mine-resistant, ambush-protected (MRAP) armoured vehicle was deployed by police against Indigenous land and water defenders opposed to the Dakota Access Pipeline on their territories in North Dakota.

In this country, tanks, Grizzly infantry fighting vehicles, trucks and artillery pieces were deployed in and around Kanehsatà:ke and Kahnawake during the Oka Crisis in 1990. And just this year, RCMP officers armed with assault rifles violated Wet'suwet'en territory to enable pre-construction work for the Coastal GasLink fracked gas pipeline.

A brief overview also demonstrates how the arms industry produced the weapons used against Indigenous peoples in Latin America.


U.S. and Israeli weapons were used in the genocide against Maya Indigenous peoples during the 40-year-long "civil war" in Guatemala.

National Public Radio has reported, "Maya communities bore the brunt of almost four decades of a civil war that ended in 1996, leaving over 200,000 casualties, the majority indigenous Guatemalans, according to the United Nations."

The Los Angeles Times adds, "The Guatemalan government was responsible for more than 90% of deaths, disappearances and other human rights violations during the war, the [United Nations-backed Commission for Historical Clarification] said."

That newspaper also notes, "The Reagan administration lifted the embargo on arms sales to Guatemala in 1983, allowing the country to obtain equipment and parts for helicopters and fixed-wing aircraft, among other items, for its counterinsurgency efforts."

And Electronic Intifada highlights, "Some years earlier, when Congressional restrictions under the Carter administration limited U.S. military aid to Guatemala due to human rights violations, Israeli economic and military technology leaders saw a golden opportunity to enter the market."

Furthermore, Sandra Cuffe quotes Feliciana Macario, an Indigenous Maya Kiche woman, in The Intercept commenting, "One of the Peace Accords that we highlight is the accord on the role of the army within society. It says that the army has to reduce its numbers, its budget, and everything."

Macario highlights, "But on the contrary, what [Guatemalan president] Jimmy Morales is doing is militarizing. He is increasing the army's budget and wants to remilitarize the country."


Over a 15-year period, the United States poured $10 billion into Plan Colombia, of which 71 per cent went to Colombia's security forces.

Colgate University professor Teo Ballve told teleSUR that, "Plan Colombia is one of the major reasons that ethnic [Indigenous and Afro-Colombian] groups are disproportionately victimized by the conflict. U.S. military aid helped push the conflict into the heart of their territories."


Al Jazeera has reported, "US exports of weapons to the Mexican armed forces have grown enormously as part of the militarised security strategy that has disastrously failed to reduce homicides."

Victoria Tauli-Corpuz, the United Nations Special Rapporteur on the rights of indigenous peoples, has commented, "The militarization of public security [in Mexico] is not the answer; steps should be taken to relieve the army of its temporary public security functions and to handle public security as a civil matter."

She has also written about "abuses committed against indigenous persons during military operations undertaken as part of government efforts against organized crime" and "alleged impunity in various cases of arbitrary deaths of indigenous individuals caused by excessive use of force by military officers and also of sexual violence against indigenous women."


And The New Yorker has reported, "Since 2009, when a military coup brought the key players in Honduras's right-wing government to power, the U.S. has given the country two hundred million dollars in police and military aid."

The National Catholic Reporter adds, "A Carnegie Endowment for International Peace report characterizes the Honduran military as 'an instrument for the consolidation of power' used to patrol indigenous communities."

Human rights defenders

Front Line Defenders has reported, "In 2018, 321 defenders in 27 countries were targeted and killed for their work."

It then highlights, "More than three-quarters of these, 77% of the total number of activists killed, were defending land, environmental or indigenous peoples' rights, often in the context of extractive industries and state-aligned mega-projects."

In its review of human rights defenders killed in 2017, Global Witness notes that 30 of these killings were linked to the army, 23 to the police, 13 to paramilitary forces, 12 to poachers, 10 to armed militias, nine to landowners, and another 45 to criminal gangs, private security and hitmen.


The CANSEC weapons "trade show" will be taking place in Ottawa this coming May 29 and 30. Promotion for it notes that "over 40 delegations from around the world" are likely to attend. In past years, there have been delegations from Mexico and Colombia.

Just as climate justice activists are beginning to see the weapons industry as a major driver of climate change, Indigenous solidarity activists need to deepen our understanding and analysis of the role of the weapons industry in the violation of Indigenous rights.

A special thank you to peace activist Colin Stuart whose comment on the need to make this connection at a recent Indigenous Solidarity Ottawa meeting inspired this blog.

Brent Patterson is a political activist and writer.

Photo: Larry Wright/Twitter

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