Saturday, 10 October 2015

My Truth, Your Truth, Their Truth, and.... "The Truth"?

My truth, your truth, their truth and the truth

In the Americas, especially South America, the conversation is still about “the Discovery of the new World”. The fact is that it was not quite “new” and neither was it “discovered”.

In 1492 many indigenous peoples inhabited the land of what we call “The Americas” with their own culture, and their own economic, social, political and spiritual ways of organization. They had their own ways of studying and understanding the world, interacting with nature and learning and acquiring knowledge even more advanced than those who came from the “old continent. In many areas, including mathematics, astronomy, astrology, architecture, even today, they are still teaching us (from the Northern Hemisphere) alternative social aspects such as economics, ecology and politics. Thus, more than discovery, we should refer to that episode in human history as a contact and clash of cultures, civilizations, visions of the cosmos and different ways of thinking and knowing. First Nations who used to live in what we call “The American continent” shared and fought for territories but also lived with their ecosystems according to their own values and ways of knowing.
One truth about this story lies in the so-called “Discovery Doctrine”, which had its origins in the Papal Bull “Inter Caetera” released in 1493. The document says that “in remote and unknown islands… live a large number of people who seem to be “sufficiently apt” to embrace the catholic faith and be “embodied” by good customs”. Spain considered, according to medieval tradition, that it was legal to appropriate the land of non-Christians, supporting that idea with the Discovery Doctrine.
Under those historical circumstances, thus, indigenous peoples where subjected to some level of domination in the name of a god and a powerful religion. Indigenous people were seen as savages with inhumane practices (Bartolome de las casas, 1540), and with that argument their land was taken, they were enslaved and in the best of the cases, they would be “converted” into pure souls.
“Indians, by natural law, should obey people who are more humane, more prudent and more excellent to be governed, with better customs and institutions” (JuanGines DeSepúlveda, 1534). They were told how to think, which god to worship, how to work, in which language to communicate, under which code of conduct to behave and, above all, who to serve. Later an economic model was imposed on them and a state was designed in accordance with that model. Rules and laws were established consistent with that dominant way of thinking and laws established in favor of ownership of possessions according to what that way of thinking considered just and fair to distribute, legalize and privatize.  If I occupy something that I see abandoned I have the right to own it. It was never thought that the indigenous peoples understood their connection with ecosystems in a different way, as part of them. Land was part of them and they were part of the land. The forests, rivers, and animals were not “raw materials or factors of production”. They were, instead, part of the extended family of humans who lived among them.

Today, after more than 500 years, the western world seeks to "get out of poverty" indigenous groups measured as having income of merely $2 dollars per day, even though they continue being marginalized, excluded, used, displaced and denigrated for the sake of being different from those who conquered, developed, snatched, discovered, transformed or destroyed…… It is said that they are now free. It is said that today they can choose where to live, how to live or to work... But, what is the alternative for those who see the world according to the worldview of their ancestors when the state was organized from an ethnocentric, predatory, exclusive and colonizing perspective?  An alternative is to try to live outside of that state and be again marginalized, accused, excluded, judged or stereotyped by refusing to enter a model in which only sees a truth, "our truth". Do we really understand ‘theirs’?

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