» REDEFINING PROGRESS: An Indigenous View of Industrialization & Consumption in North America

by Winona LaDuke
(from the online release of Tipping the Sacred Cow-The Best of LiP: Informed Revolt)

Rethink your geography a little bit, set aside your thinking, and try to think about North America from an indigenous perspective. In doing so, what I’d like to ask is that you think about it in terms of islands in a continent.

I live on one island, White Earth reservation. It’s thirty-six miles by thirty six miles. It’s a rather medium-sized reservation, as they go in North America. That’s one island. A little bit west of me is Pine Ridge, a slightly larger reservation. Rosebud. Blackfeet. Crow. Cheyenne. Navaho. Hopi. Some of the larger islands are further north. When you go north of the fiftieth parallel in Canada, which is somewhere a little north of Edmonton, you’ll find that the majority of the population is native. 85% of the people who live north of the fiftieth parallel in Canada are native people.

How that is perhaps best reflected is in a place called Nunavut. Northwest Territories, a couple of years ago, was split into two territories. One of those territories is now called Nunavut because the people who live there are Inuit. They are the people who are the political representatives. They are the administrators of the school boards. They are the firemen. They are the doctors, the physicians. They have a form of self-governance in Nunavut where the majority of decisions are made by Inuit people. That area, Nunavut, is, including land and water, five times the size of Texas. It is a large area of land. It is the size of the Indian sub-continent.

A Nunavut community

So perhaps for that reason alone, it is important to know something more about indigenous people…

Let me talk a little bit about indigenous thinking, because I believe that is fundamental for understanding the conflicts that exist in the world today. In the world today it is not a conflict so much between the left and right, or the communists and the capitalists, so much as it is the conflict between the indigenous and the industrial.

(This far-reaching, increasingly relevant speech Winona LaDuke gave to students at North Carolina State University in Raleigh appeared in LiP: Informed Revolt and was also included in the magazine’s anthology, Tipping the Sacred Cow, now available online in PDF form.)

Read the rest [PDF; 10 pages]


» NATIVE ENERGY FUTURES: Renewable Energy & the New Rush on Indian Lands

by Brian Awehali

(2006 Project Censored Award winner)

“Huge investments in electrical power grids, highways, and telecommunications would help Colombia open up its vast gas and oil resources and its largely undeveloped Amazonian territories; the projects, in turn, would generate the income necessary to pay off the loans, plus interest. That was the theory. However, the reality, consistent with our true intent around the world, was to subjugate Bogota, to further the global empire. My job…was to present the case for exceedingly large loans.”

— John Perkins, Confessions of an Economic Hit Man

“The ability for tribes to obtain bonds in the hundred-million-dollar range to finance energy projects is now a reality. And the $20 million a year for an Indian energy office at the Department of Energy is something that we started working on years ago under Energy Secretary Bill Richardson.”

— Chris Stearns, former Indian Affairs Director at the US DOE

It all started with a single 750kW wind turbine built by the Rosebud Sioux in South Dakota in 2003. At the time, the Business Journal called the turbine “a four-way transcontinental deal in which everyone makes money while fighting global warming, generating clean electricity and helping Native Americans.” In other words, the Journal gushed, the wind project was “a ‘green capitalist’s’ dream.”

The editors at the Business Journal might have been a tad hyperbolic in their assessment, but energy on Indian land is certainly big business. In 2004, some $400 million was split between 41 tribes for the sale of oil, gas, and coal on their lands. According to the Indigenous Environmental Network, 35% of the fossil fuel resources in the US are within Indian country; The Department of the Interior estimates that Indian lands hold undiscovered reserves of almost 54 billion tons of coal, 38 trillion cubic feet of natural gas, and 5.4 billion barrels of oil. Indian lands also contain enormous amounts of alternative energy: “Wind blowing through Indian reservations in just four northern Great Plains states could support almost 200,000 megawatts of wind power,” Winona LaDuke told Indian Country Today in March 2005. “[And] tribal landholdings in the southwestern US…could generate enough power to eradicate all fossil fuel burning power plants in the US.”

Now imagine, if you can, that you run a US-based energy company at a time when increasing resistance to US imperialism, coupled with rising business costs related to political instability, has made getting the oil, coal, and gas from foreign sources more difficult. Imagine that you’re savvy enough to know that your fossil fuel-based business model is about to get dramatically less lucrative. If you didn’t already have them, you’d probably want to start setting up operations in the more business-friendly, less regulated Wild West of Indian Country. If you were really devious—or maybe just smart—you might want to have your cake and eat it too, by getting tax subsidies and favorable terms for developing your next business model while greenwashing your ongoing fossil fuel operations. Wouldn’t you?

“Consistent with the President’s National Energy Policy to secure America’s energy future,” testified Theresa Rosier, Counselor to the Assistant Secretary for Indian Affairs, “increased energy development in Indian and Alaska Native communities could help the Nation have more reliable home-grown energy supplies. [The Native American Energy Development and Self-Determination Act of 2003] promotes increased and efficient energy development and production in an environmentally sound manner.”

The bill did not ultimately pass, but the idea that “America’s energy future” should be linked to having “more reliable home-grown energy supplies” can be found in other native energy-specific legislation that has passed into law. What this line of thinking fails to take into consideration is that Native America is not actually USAmerica, and that the “supplies” in question belong to sovereign nations, not to the United States or its energy sector.

Rosier’s statement conveys quite a lot about how the government and the energy sector intend to market the growing shift away from dependence on foreign energy, and how they plan to deregulate (by using “efficiency” as a selling point) and step up their exploitation (“development”) of “domestic” native energy resources: by spinning it as a way to produce clean energy while helping Native Americans gain greater economic and tribal sovereignty.

Of course, if large companies can establish lucrative partnerships with tribes, largely free of regulation and federal oversight, then so much the better. In this regard, a look at the Alaska Native “communities” Rosier mentioned is instructive.

In 1971, Alaskan tribal companies were set up by Congress with roughly $1 billion and 44 million acres of land to divide. Although the real reason for establishing these companies had to do with breaking down largely unified tribal opposition to the construction of an oil pipeline, they were pitched at the time as a way to help stimulate tribal economies and mitigate the scale of poverty on tribal lands. “Tribal companies [can] be considered small businesses even after winning billions of dollars in contracts, and there is no limit to the size of the no-bid awards they can win,” reported Michael Scherer in an excellent 2005 Mother Jones article entitled “US: Little Big Companies.”

The Alaska tribal companies have, according to Scherer, “become a way for large corporations with no Native American ownership to receive no-bid contracts, an avenue for federal officials to steer work to favored companies, and a device for speeding privatization.” Evidence for this assertion abounds. From 2002 through the end of 2004, the Olgoonik Corporation, owned by the Inupiat Eskimo tribe, garnered revenues in excess of $225 million for construction work on US military bases around the world. Because of its tribal status, Olgoonik procured this work without having to bid against others for it. It then subcontracted most of the work to the infamous multinational corporation Halliburton.

A November 2004 article in The News & Observer (UK) further reported that “Procurement rules allow native American-owned company, Alutiiq, to provide favored entrée to government contracts and then outsource them to British-owned multinational, Wackenhut.” The article also went on to note that the Chugach Alaska Corp., owned by 1,900 Alaska natives, “was ranked ahead of IBM, Motorola, Goodrich, Goodyear and AT&T in total value of defense contracts in 2003.”

Apologists and professional flak catchers, of course, claim that this state of affairs is nothing more than an unfortunate, and unforeseen accident. But Michael Brown, a major player in the formation of Alaskan tribal companies and the so-called “godfather of tribal contracting,” told Mother Jones that this explosion in federal work was “exactly what he hoped for” when he went to work as the chief executive for a subsidiary of the Arctic Slope Regional Corporation in 1982 and pioneered such practices. Arctic Slope is the state’s largest tribal corporation, and the single largest company in Alaska.

Now jump forward with me, to April 2003, and the completion of the first large-scale native-owned wind turbine in history—the aforementioned Rosebud Sioux project, built in partnership with NativeEnergy, LLC. During the preceding 21 years, reports ranging from the cautionary to the apocalyptic about carbon emissions and global warming have piled up, and all but the most pig-headed of carbon-emitting industrialists now concede that a fossil fuel-based business model is soon going to be a lot less lucrative.

NativeEnergy, which wants to help consumers “enjoy a climate neutral lifestyle,” was founded in 2000 with a mission “to get more wind turbines and other renewable energy systems built.” There were no Native Americans present in the management of NativeEnergy at the time of its founding. The multiphase wind development initiative, which began in earnest with the completion of the first wind turbine in 2003, was billed as a way to bring renewable energy–related jobs and training opportunities to the citizens of this sovereign nation, who are among the poorest in all of North America.

NativeEnergy’s President and CEO Tom Boucher is an energy industry vet who formerly worked at Green Mountain Energy, a subsidiary of a company now controlled by oil industry giant BP and Nuon, a Netherlands-based energy company. Boucher was convinced there was profit to be made in alternative energy, and the Rosebud project was his test case. Boucher financed the project by selling, of all things, air. More specifically, he took advantage of the new “flexible emissions standards” created by the Kyoto Protocol. Essentially, the standards created tax-deductible pollution credits (or “green tags”) for ecologically responsible companies, which can then be sold to polluters wishing to “offset” their carbon dioxide generation without actually reducing their emissions.

As you might expect from a company staffed largely by energy industry vets, NativeEnergy was fiscally crafty. In a novel accounting move, they bought from the Rosebud Sioux, at deep discount, all the green tag pollution credits that they speculated would be accrued over the lifespan of the Rosebud wind project—a total of 50,000 tons of carbon dioxide—then made a lump-sum, one-time funding commitment to the construction of the project. In an April 2003 interview with the Business Journal, Boucher would not divulge how deep the discount he got was, nor would he divulge the terms of subsequent sales of green tags.

Since their first test case proved successful, NativeEnergy has moved forward with plans to develop a larger “distributed wind project,” located on eight different reservations. NativeEnergy also became a majority Indian-owned company in August 2005, when the pro-development Intertribal Council on Utility Policy (yes, Intertribal COUP), purchased a majority stake in the company on behalf of its member tribes.

Pat Spears, the President of COUP and a member of the lower Brule Sioux tribe, described the purchase as “a great day for Native American people everywhere, because we are demonstrating that living in harmony with our Mother Earth is not only good for the environment, it is also good business. We look forward,” he added, “to bringing in more tribes as equity participants and taking NativeEnergy to the next level.”

It’s probably no coincidence that this purchase coincided with that month’s passage of the 2005 Energy Policy Act, which contains native energy–specific provisions in its Title V. Supporters like Tex Hall, president of the National Congress of American Indians, touted the act as “one of the most important tribal pieces of legislation to hit Indian country in the past 20 years. [It] provides real incentives for energy companies to partner with Indian tribes in developing tribal resources.” Keeping in mind that tribal-owned companies are exempt from a great deal of the regulation, oversight, and competitive bidding stipulations that apply to other businesses, and that the legislation increases subsidies for wind energy in particular, the act leaves NativeEnergy ideally situated to exploit its tribal status.

But there are a host of alarming provisions in the act. For starters, Section 1813 of Title V gives the US the obviously dangerous power to grant rights of way through Indian lands without permission from Indian tribes, if deemed to be in the strategic interests of an energy-related project. Other critics have derided the act as a fire sale on Indian energy, characterizing various incentives as a broad collection of subsidies for US energy companies, particularly those in Texas. And, according to a 2005 Democracy Now! interview with Clayton Thomas-Muller, Native Energy Organizer for the Indigenous Environmental Network, the act “rolls back the protections of the National Environmental Policy Act and the protections of the National Historic Preservation Act, both of which are critical pieces of legislation that grassroots indigenous peoples utilize to protect our sacred sites.”

Most importantly, under the guise of promoting tribal sovereignty (leaving out those aspects of sovereignty that have little or nothing to do with economics), the act also releases the federal government from its traditional trust responsibility to tribes where resource development is concerned.

The trust relationship between the US and native tribes has been a crucial way for Native Americans to hold the government legally accountable, as evidenced by the many recent court losses suffered by the Department of the Interior and Treasury during the years-long Indian Trust Case filed by Eloise Cobell on behalf of more than 500,000 Native American landholders. The trust relationship was originally imposed on Native Americans in 1887, after the passage of the Dawes Allotment Act. This act was a fairly straightforward (and successful) attempt to break down tribal unity by dispersing parcels of land to individual Indian “heads of household” who signed on to the government’s “tribal rolls.” The land was not to be managed by Native Americans, however: It was held “in trust,” and the government was supposed to disburse to Native landholders the royalties generated by the leasing of their lands to timber, mining, livestock, and energy interests. But for the most part, the government didn’t disburse the money, and now admits that at least $137 billion of it is simply missing. Without the trust relationship, which among other things makes the government legally responsible for the money it manages, Cobell and her coplaintiffs could not have sued.

The Energy Policy Act also shifts responsibility for environmental review and regulation from the federal to tribal governments. This, too, was promoted under the auspices of increasing tribal sovereignty, but it doesn’t take a genius to know that Native Americans won’t be any more successful in regulating the energy industry than the US government, a host of well-funded environmental groups, and the UN have been. In fact, it probably only takes a village-variety idiot to comprehend the predictably disastrous outcome of this shift for Native Americans.

It’s hard to believe, in light of the relevant history, that an ever-avaricious energy industry—which has been all too willing to play a game of planetary ecological brinksmanship in the name of profit—places any value on tribal sovereignty unless there’s a way to exploit it. It’s hard to believe, after hundreds of years of plunder and unaccountability, that further deregulation, coupled with economic incentives, and even with the participation of some well-meaning “green” players on the field, is going to deliver anything but the predictable domination of Native Americans by white European economic powers.

In fact, I’ll go out on a limb and say that the emerging Native American energy infrastructure looks more like the beginnings of a new rush on Indian lands than it does the advent of any kind of brave new sovereign era.

But don’t take my word for it. Take it from Billy Connelly, the senior advisor on marketing and communications for NativeEnergy, the company, you’ll recall, that helped usher in the dawn of this renewable energy rush. When asked during a March 2006 phone interview why the demonstration of a potentially viable renewable energy economy on Native American lands wasn’t simply an example of small businesses laying the groundwork for the eventual control and megaprofits of major corporations, Connelly sighed and said simply, “I’d be pleasantly surprised if this didn’t follow that age-old pattern.”

Perhaps, at a minimum, tribes can attain a modicum of energy independence from the development of wind, solar, and other renewable energy infrastructure on their lands. And there may well be a way to ride Native American renewable energy resources to a future of true tribal sovereignty. But it won’t come from getting into bed with, and becoming indebted to, the very industry currently driving the planet to its doom.

Body of (Written) Work

Here is a fairly comprehensive archive of work by Brian Awehali.



» Drift to Live: Words with China’s People’s Historian, Liao Yiwu
“Why should the government fear me?” says Liao smiling, the first day we meet, along with an interpreter and several of his writer friends, at a riverside teahouse outside of Chengdu, in Sichuan province. “I’m just a guy who tells stories…”
:: Counterpunch :: April 2011

» China’s Underground Historian
Liao Yiwu may be the most censored writer in China. His work has been translated into several languages and has enjoyed international critical acclaim, yet in his hometown of Chengdu, where his books are banned, he’s virtually unknown.
:: The Progressive :: April 2011

» Mongolia’s Wilderness Threatened by Mining Boom
Multinational mining companies eye Mongolia’s earthy fortunes
:: Earth Island Journal / Guardian (UK) / Third World Resurgence (Malaysia)/ Ger (Denmark) :: 2010-11

» Native Energy Futures
Renewable Energy, Actual Sovereignty & the New Rush on Indian Lands
:: LiP :: 2006 :: Project Censored award winner :: PDF version

» Trust Us, We’re the Government
How to Make $137 Billion of Indian Money Disappear
:: Alternet :: 2002 :: Project Censored award winner

» The Bureau of Indian Affairs’ $100-Billion Shell Game
:: Z Magazine (cover) :: April 2002 :: with Silja Talvi

» Broken Promises
Government malfeasance continues in landmark Indian Trust case
:: ColorsNW :: 2003 :: Society of Professional Journalists award-winner :: with Silja Talvi

» New World Disorder
How U.S. arms dealers and their Cabinet-level cronies profit from the war on terror
:: LiP / Alternet :: 2002

» Monitoring Your Every Move – A Guide to Biometric Technologies
What are the facts about biometrics? Predictably, industry leaders and critics paint wildly different pictures. Here, however, are a few brief looks at today’s leading biometric technologies, which may be a much bigger part of your life than you’d expect, in a considerably shorter time than you’d imagine.
:: High Times :: 2002

» Profit, Control, and the Myth of Security
The advance of Total Surveillance Society, aka Total Security, promises a world free of danger and uncertainty, yet the arguments for a comprehensive surveillance society comprise a fear-addled litany of threats and fantastic promises of security that are grossly exaggerated by the very corporate and government serial offenders who pose the greatest threat to our health and safety.
:: LiP :: 2006 :: with Ariane Conrad

» Life After Corporate Death Care
As traditional religious death rituals have given way to more secular alternatives, a consumer revolt against the high cost of dying in America is well underway.
:: Alternet :: 2004

» David and Goliath in Indian Country
The feds are on the losing side of the largest class action lawsuit ever filed against the U.S. government. This time, the Indians may actually beat the cavalry.
:: Alternet :: 2005

» Propaganda, Public Relations, and the Not-So-New Dark Age
Edward L. Bernays birthed the public relations industry in the United States. His clients included General Motors, United Fruit, Thomas Edison, Henry Ford, the U.S. Department of State, Health, and Commerce, Samuel Goldwyn, Eleanor Roosevelt, the American Tobacco Company, and Proctor & Gamble. He directed public relations campaigns for every president from Calvin Coolidge in 1925, to Dwight Eisenhower in the late 1950s. He was, in the estimation of cultural historian Ann Douglas, the man “who orchestrated the commercialization of a culture.”
:: with Stephen Bender :: LiP :: 2006

» Challenging the War on Drugs
A landmark conference on drug policy in Los Angeles convened nearly 600 attendees from across the U.S. and Europe.
:: Santa Fe New Mexican / Alternet :: 2002

» Nike Come Home, All is Forgiven
Oregon invites shoe giant to consider the economic advantages of domestic prison labor.
:: LiP :: 1998


» Inventing Thanksgiving
Thanksgiving Day provides an ideal opportunity to consider the formation of national identity and the concept of a civil religion. It’s also a living metaphor of the prevailing American model for immigrant assimilation and the ways in which history can be reinterpreted, and indeed wholly reinvented, to serve competing ethnic, patriotic, religious and commercial ends.
:: Britannica.com :: 2002

» Where Fools Rush In – Custer’s Last Stand
July 25, 1876 ― The U.S. Army today suffered its worst defeat ever in Plains Indian warfare, as more than 260 soldiers in the 7th Cavalry were killed along the banks of the Little Bighorn River in the disputed Montana Territory. The bloodbath ensued after an evidently ill-conceived charge under the command of Gen. George Armstrong Custer.
:: Britannica.com :: 2000


» Madness and Mass Society
Pharmaceuticals, Psychiatry, and the Rebellion of True Community
:: an interview with Dr. Bruce Levine :: LiP :: 2006

» Torture Taxi – Anatomy of a CIA Front Company
Anatomy of a CIA Front Company
:: an interview with A.C Thompson and Trevor Paglen :: LiP :: 2007

» Remote Control Hip Hop
Culture, power and youth…
:: an interview with Jeff Chang :: LiP :: 2005

» Who’s White?
Race, Humor and the New Black/Non-Black Breakdown
:: an interview with damali ayo and Tim Wise :: LooseLiP podcast :: 2007

» Bad Vibes – Poison Pleasure Products?
Words with Jessica Giordano, co-founder of the Smitten Kitten and the Coalition Against Toxic Toys (CATT).
:: with Lisa Jervis :: LiP :: 2006

» Conveying Correctness
The Prefabrication of Political Speech
:: an interview with Chip Berlet :: LiP :: 2005

» Designing Our Demise
One respected Cornell robotics expert is in firm belief that machines will acquire human levels of intelligence by the year 2040, and that by the middle part of this century, they will be our intellectual superiors.
:: an interview with Hans Moravec :: Britannica.com :: 2000

» Membership Has Its Disadvantages
Whiteness and the Social Entropy of Privilege
:: an interview with Tim Wise :: LiP :: 2005

» Notes On a National Disorder
A look at the growing problem of excessive concentration in the U.S. culture industries, and the oligopolistic sway of just a few giant players over television news, book publishing, popular music and cable TV. Also, how the hell Bush II happened.
:: an interview with Mark Crispin Miller :: LiP :: 2005

» Addicted to Waste
Harm Reduction, Disposability and the Myth of Activist Purity
:: an interview with Julia Butterfly Hill :: Tikkun :: 2005

» On Irony
A pointed Q&A with author Rebecca Solnit
:: LiP :: 2006

LiP: Informed Revolt

In 1996, I started a zine called LiP in Chicago, learned a lot from it, took a break for several years to do other things, then relaunched it as a full-fledged North American periodical in 2004. The magazine, always printed on 100% recycled PCW paper, using non-petroleum-based inks, and with either worker-owned or union printers, explored radical (root/fundamental) aspects of the world and its power relations in a way we hoped could reach beyond the choir and be compelling for a wide readership. We did surprisingly well with our all-volunteer staff, 600+ contributors and no appetite for running an actual business, garnering awards from Project Censored, Utne Reader, East Bay Express, South by Southwest and Clamor during our run. Below are links to one complete issue of the magazine, and to various items related to the publication of the LiP anthology, Tipping the Sacred Cow (AK Press).

LiP No. 5:
The Relentlessly Persuasive Propaganda Issue

Featuring: Eduardo Galeano, Vandana Shiva, Dr. Bruce Levine, Guillermo Gomez-Pena, Jeff Conant, Antonia Juhasz, Timothy Kreider and Hugh D’Andrade, among many others. 

“‘Making the world safe for democracy,’ that was the big slogan.” – Edward Bernays, on his work for the first US government propaganda ministry, the 1917 Committee on Public Information

“In really hard times the rules of the game are altered.” – Journalist and social theorist Walter Lippmann, speaking of both elite manipulations of society and history’s mass cataclysms.

Tipping the Sacred Cow
The Best of LiP: Informed Revolt
(AK Press)

Tipping the Sacred Cow is a savvy and well-curated collection of the comics, illustrations, articles and interviews featured in LiP’s myriad print and online incarnations from 1996-2007. Capturing the magazine’s cheeky nature, it reads like a super-special edition of LiP—complete with illustrations by cartoonist Eric Drooker, a “theft ethics” quiz, a glossary of culture-jamming lingo and other useful appendices—including some exclusive, behind-the-scenes, previously unpublished material…. Tipping the Sacred Cow serves as a worthy headstone for a publication that died before its time.”

— “R.I.P. LiP” – In These Times, 11/2007

“Every single article in this anthology forced me to shift my thinking about issues near and dear to my heart (feminism, the teachings of Martin Luther King, Jr., eco-friendly policies—even the fine art of using the toilet).”

Feminist Review, 11/2007

“[There’s a] paradox that’s becoming increasingly difficult for independent publishers–especially progressive, environmentally conscious ones–to resolve. ‘Being values-driven,’ says Awehali, ‘I think we’re fundamentally and structurally at odds with the systems we use to print, to distribute, and so on. It’s really no surprise that [LiP] found it difficult to survive and thrive in a hypercapitalist periodicals marketplace.'”

— “Shelf Life,” Utne Reader, 11/2007