A new study quantifies the extent of extractive capitalism’s colonial violence against Indigenous Peoples worldwide

Las Bambas copper mine in Peru.
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A new study has highlighted that extractive projects are disproportionately harming Indigenous Peoples across the world.

Published in the journal Science Advances, the analysis quantified the impacts of industrial and extractive projects on Indigenous communities. The study utilised information from the Environmental Justice Atlas (EJAtlas) – a crowdsourced database – which holds details of over 3,000 cases of environmental conflict.

It found that cases had impacted 740 distinct Indigenous groups across the globe. This is approximately 15% of the known Indigenous groups worldwide. Moreover, Indigenous Peoples were overrepresented in the data. While they make up just 6.2% of the world population, 34% of the projects listed in the dataset had impacted them.

In 56% of these cases, projects had caused the loss of landscape in Indigenous territories. Likewise, livelihood loss and land dispossession were reported in 52% and 50% of the environmental conflicts, respectively. These were the three impacts that occurred most frequently in the dataset.

Environmental injustices of the mining sector

The new study described what it termed the “colonial-economic drivers of environmental injustices”. Specifically, it stated that:

Indigenous Peoples’ lifeways, lands, and rights continue to be substantially disrupted by the resource demands of the world economy’s metabolism.

In short, industrial and extractive projects are continuing colonial processes of violence against Indigenous communities. Notably, it highlighted that four sectors were responsible for nearly 80% of these projects perpetrating environmental injustices against Indigenous Peoples. Mining was the top sector, accounting for nearly a quarter of recorded cases.

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Echoing this finding, a recent report by the Business & Human Rights Resource Centre found that transition mineral mining projects were linked to 510 allegations of human rights abuses between 2010 and 2022. In 49 of these cases, the allegations involved abuse against Indigenous People

The report highlighted that projects in Peru had the highest number of allegations during this period. The Centre has recorded 127 allegations in the South American country alone.

Significantly, the report attributed nearly half of these cases to China Minmetals’ Las Bambas copper mine. The mine had 63 allegations linked to its operations. The mining project has also violated the right to prior consultation of the local Indigenous Quechua communities inhabiting the area.

Furthermore, the EJAtlas study identified the Quechua Indigenous Peoples as the group harmed most frequently by industrial and extractive industries. The Indigenous group featured in the dataset in 51 separate conflicts.

Other destructive sectors causing harm

Naturally, the mining industry was followed closely in the dataset by the fossil fuel industry. The sector was responsible for 20.8% of the conflicts harming Indigenous groups.

The Canary has reported on a number of fossil fuel companies that have violated the rights of Indigenous and local communities in the Global South. Many of these featured in the EJAtlas dataset.

For example, in Laguna del Tigre National Park, Guatemala, Anglo-French fossil fuel company Perenco funded a “green battalion” which has displaced Indigenous Maya inhabitants.

Likewise, the Canary has also highlighted the fight of the Mapuche against a fracking mega-project in Argentina. The new study in Science Advances found that after the Quechua, the Mapuche were the Indigenous group most frequently impacted by projects in the dataset.

Meanwhile, the study grouped agriculture, forestry, fisheries, and livestock (AFFL) into one sector, which equated to 17.5% of the violations.

In this sector in particular, the study found high rates of land dispossession and livelihood loss for affected Indigenous communities. Additionally, there were severe levels of environmental degradation. Specifically, deforestation and biodiversity loss were listed commonly in the impacts from projects within these industries.

Dams were the last of the top sectors responsible for a large number of the cases harming Indigenous communities. In an investigative report, the Canary previously used the EJAtlas database to show that UK aid-funded hydropower projects had dispossessed communities of their lands.

On the findings, we previously argued that:

Alongside land-grabs for mineral extraction, food monocultures, and livestock farms, the land rush for renewables is also becoming a common capitalist trend.

As the EJAtlas analysis shows, this is particularly the case for hydropower dams. Alongside infrastructural dams, they made up 15.2% of cases impacting Indigenous groups.

Continuing the ‘legacies of intergenerational trauma and land dispossession’

The study demonstrates that Global North extractive and development industries continue to target and harm Indigenous people. In its analysis, the study pointed out that:

Indigenous Peoples’ lands intersect some of the world’s most unexploited natural areas, which have been a target for extractive and industrial development and a breeding ground for environmental conflicts from colonialism to the present.

In other words, greedy capitalists seek to appropriate Indigenous lands and natural resources in a process little changed from the criminality of the colonial empires that preceded them. The industrial and extractive expansionism of today perpetuates patterns of colonial violence and:

exacerbate legacies of intergenerational trauma and land dispossession

The fight against the exploitative capitalism wrecking the planet is therefore inextricable from the work to restore the land rights of Indigenous Peoples.

As the EJAtlas study illustrates, companies enact this violence through land-grabbing and the destruction and pollution of landscapes of cultural and spiritual importance to Indigenous communities.

Speaking to the United Nations Permanent Forum on Indigenous Issues (UNPFII) in 2022, chair Darío José Mejía Montalvo explained how Indigenous Peoples’ rights are:

routinely violated by States in the granting of lumber, timber, mining, mega-dam and other contracts. The pillaging of their resources, loss of their ways of life, cultures and languages, and the disappearing and killing of their leaders are the results of harmful business activities.

Without addressing this system of neo-colonial extractivism, corporations will run roughshod over the planet and its precious ecosystems. Of course, as ever, Indigenous Peoples continue to stand on the frontlines of this destruction.

Feature image via MMG Limited/Youtube screenshot. 

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