It’s Not What It Seems: French Farmers Protest Outside of Political Ideologies & Astroturfing in Alaska

Featuring David Lorant and Joshua Wright

by Kate Horgan
Published: Last Updated on
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It’s Not What It Seems: French Farmers Protest Outside of Political Ideologies & Astroturfing in Alaska
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In the first half of the show, David Lorant, a farmer based in Rennes, France joins host Eleanor Goldfield to contextualize the widespread farmer protests that just recently saw farmers in tractors blockading major motorways across the country, calling for what media has spun as right-wing anti-ecological demands. David debunks media’s flat and flimsy reporting and highlights a wide array of issues for French farmers, and how these protests are an example of not only meeting people where they’re at to build powerful solidarity, but in not letting ideological differences stand in the way of legitimate shared demands.

In the second half of the show, filmmaker and youth forest defense activist Joshua Wright joins the show to discuss the insidious astroturfing campaign to privatize tens of thousands of acres of Alaskan nature under the guise of land back and Indigenous justice. Joshua details the corporatization of Indigenous peoples and their land in particular in Southeast Alaska where colonization and land exploitation take on the ultimate greenwashed facade in order to serve corporate interests over nature and humanity.

 

Video of the Interview with David Lorant

 

Video of the Interview with Joshua Wright

 

Below is a Rough Transcript of the Interview with David Lorant

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Eleanor Goldfield: Thank you everyone for joining us back at the Project Censored radio show. We’re very glad to be joined right now by David Lorant, who’s a 28 year old farmer based in Rennes, Brittany, in the west of France.

He’s also a part of the left farmer union, La Confédération Paysanne which roughly translates to the Confederation of Peasants. It’s a, also a member of the Via Campesina, the largest union in the world. He’s also a member of the ecologist movement, Les Soulevements de la Terre, which is a brief, a rough translation of the Earth’s Uprising, and also a political, member of a political group Media Autonomie de Classe. David, thank you for sitting through my awful French and thank you so much for joining us.

David Lorant: Thank you.

Eleanor Goldfield: So I want to start off by setting the scene here. There are widespread farmer protests across Europe right now, but in typical fashion, France is the most rad of the group. There’s been a particularly loud and tenacious contingent in France, which also happens to be home to Europe’s largest agricultural sector.

Now here in the US these farmers are often painted pretty flatly. They’re painted as American farmers are also often painted: right wingers who hate the environment, and hate any kind of regulation. So first of all, can you address that? Is that a true description of what’s happening in France?

David Lorant: Well, farmers, try to demonstrate , it’s important for them to show that they are from far right, because it’s a way to depoliticize the movement and to invisibilize the fact that the movement is spontaneous. It’s said that it’s led by the right unions and far right unions, but in fact, it’s a movement that just want to basically defend their incomes and just to be well treated.

Politically, I would say, and I think, the fact that we see them as right wingers is interesting because it’s made us think about the yellow vests, the mobilization we had in France like five years ago now, and well, it’s kind of the same. It’s just like spontaneous, a spontaneous movement with people who just come there with their own material problems, I would say, and they just express them with very diverse manners. In fact, it’s a movement that is just constructing its own re-indications by just being together in the roads or in the streets.

And so I think it’s dangerous because there is, it’s also a speech, a discourse that we can hear in the ecologic sphere to say that they are just like rednecks and so on. And I think we absolutely have to just talk with them and to, to see that we have the same problems in the same world, I guess. And we can talk about the ecologic crisis after, but it’s a lot part of it.

Eleanor Goldfield: Yeah, absolutely. And of course, the media does not want to paint it as just people coming together because then that suggests that people can just come together.

And I want to also highlight that this idea that it just has to do with environmental regulation is not true either. There’s a lot going on from what I understand, and I’m hoping you can explain more.

For instance, imports from other EU countries, especially Ukraine that farmers in France are protesting against as they can’t compete with these cheaper imports, but some have also voiced concerns that France has very clean food compared to some other EU countries. So they’re actually importing dirtier foods, i. e. like with more pesticides and things like that. Could you talk a little bit about the variety of issues that farmers are dealing with and therefore protesting?

David Lorant: Yeah, it’s interesting because free trade, and it’s not only in the European scale. In France, we’re talking about free trade in just an international way, and not just between European countries this free trade is a big deal. And this is typically one of the subject that government really struggled to hide. And, between the mobilization, some free trade negotiations just occurred in the EU and we just signed a treaty, I guess with Chile and, and so on.

And at the same time, the government tried to say that we will stop some of these agreements, like the negotiations with Mercosur and so on, but in fact, at the EU level, it just continues.

And, concerning free trade, I think there is an awareness on that question that this competition is not something that is good for us, but, as a left union in the Confédération Paysanne, we also say that this free trade isn’t good for anyone. And in fact, it’s because there is this free trade that poor countries has to produce with chemicals and so on because they have to be competitive and so that’s the first point.

And in the question of environmental regulation specifically, I think it’s a big point and that’s why we put a lot of parallels with the yellow vests is because in France, the movement started because of a raise on the tax on agricultural oil, I would say. And, in fact, there is a trap because the government says he wants you to take some ecological measures. But, in fact, it just put it on the shoulders of the farmers.

So again, we have a big problem with incomes and in fact, farmers today, they just can’t live from their work. I don’t know, I think it’s like, there is a farmer that commits suicide every two days in France. A third of farmers live under the poverty line, and that’s just explained by the fact that agro industry buy the products of farmers at a price that is less than the cost of production. So they just can’t live like that.

And so today, the solutions of the main unions that are more defending the industry is to get bigger and bigger farms with less and less farmers that can make money, not from food, but from other things like energy, or things like that.

And so today it’s not possible that these farmers just work like 50 or 80 hours a week sometimes, and they just earn no money. And so when they say that there is too much regulation, well, what is true is that there is a problem on regulations, like, we need regulation to protect them and not to kill them, in fact, and and today, behind the world ecology, they just see the punitive ecology, so it’s normal that all the farmers are angry.

And, maybe to talk about the last issue. The candidate at the last presidential election from the left party said on TV the other week that this crisis of agriculture is maybe the final crisis of agriculture. And I think he’s right because we are just destroying the last of the farmers that try to have a reasonable way of working, thanks to liberalism.

In fact, farmers are just disappearing in France. We had 2 million farmers in France after the World War II. And now we are just 300,000 and it’s collapsing again.

And so for instance, today I tried to create a farm to just take over a farm with a group of farmers. And it’s really complicated because all the farmers are supposed to go to retirement, to stop working because they are old and so a lot of farms are supposed to get free and we just don’t find any because it goes to the other farm that gets bigger and bigger for agro industry. So that’s the overview.

Eleanor Goldfield: Yeah, it sounds bleak and it reminds me a little bit of why a lot of farmers in the United States don’t have organic, like they don’t have the organic label, for instance, even though their practices are so much cleaner, because the organic label costs so much money so that it’s really prohibitive for farmers to get.

And so it’s like you create all these barriers to farmers who try to do things well and try to do things ecologically. And yet they’re supposed to shoulder this burden. It’s absolutely absurd.

And so I’m also curious, you talked about just these people coming together. And I wanted to get into a little bit of the diversity of perspectives and the diversity of tactics.

Could you share some about how people have been organizing to create these really powerful shows of farmers when they come from very different perspectives, like some coming from the right wing, you yourself are coming from the left wing, and centrist, like, how do you all organize based on that?

David Lorant: Yeah, so the organization of the demonstration in itself well, I said that there was a lot of parallel with the Yellow Vests and there is just a big difference in that it’s that the Yellow Vests, there was no union at all. Here they are, and there are especially two unions that are at the initiative of this movement, which is the biggest one, the FNSEA, which is, I would translate it as like the National Federation of Farm Operators, because for them, we are not farmers, we are farm operators, in fact. And the other union is the rural coordination.

So to also answer your first question, the rural coordination is depicted as a far right union. But I think it’s like a big issue here it’s that this union it’s far right. I think we have to say that it’s far right, but it’s not like an ideological far right like the National Front in France . It’s more like due to the traditional way of life of these farmers and so on. And so at the end, in this period of crisis, they have the same conclusion, that in fact, we can talk to them. It’s way, way easier.

And so to answer your first question to what we saw in these demonstrations is the political exploitation of these movements by really dangerous far right movements in each city, like some fascist groups that just say they support the movement .

We just made our first demonstration, side by side with them, and we were like, oh, there is a problem, but in fact, we don’t have to quit this demonstration because they are here. We have to stay because there is this fascists, but the rural coordination, for instance, one of its leaders said that she was not happy that the movement was exploited by the far right. So even from the leader, they say that they don’t want to be like that. So it becomes clear.

And to come back to the organization of this movement, well, I would say that it’s like classical methods, but with big instruments because we have big tractors and so on. And when I say we, it’s more the FNSEA and the rural coordination because they have just bigger tractors because they have bigger farms. So it’s impressive.

And another point is that because they are farmers I, I don’t really know entirely why, but police and the government just don’t repress them. So, they can just block all the highways of the country. The only limit the government put is when they say, we’re going to Paris and we will invade Paris. And at that time they just take like, I don’t know the word, but like the big trucks from army to just protect Paris, but they didn’t fight at any time.

So that makes it easier for farmers to do all they did. And it’s kind of crazy when you’re an ecologist or something to see that they can do everything they want. And when we just throw a stone or something, we’re like eco terrorists. I don’t know if you have this term in the US, but it’s something that is really scary in France too, the criminalization of the ecologists. So we can be shocked by this difference of treatment that I think that we should see it as an opportunity too, because we have alliance. So, yeah.

Eleanor Goldfield: Yeah. Absolutely. And yeah, we definitely have the term eco terrorist here. There are people facing terrorism charges right now for defending trees.

So yeah, and I think, just from what I’ve seen, we’re recording this on Monday, February 5th, for those listening. And as of February 1st, I saw that farmers were blocking roads leading into Paris and other major road motorways across the country, like from Lyon to Paris, Toulouse to Rennes.

Could you talk a little bit about some of those tactics and also what the status is right now? I mean, you mentioned that they placed tanks so people couldn’t like invade Paris, but what is the status right now?

David Lorant: So, right now the movement has kind of finished or not finished, but it’s, it’s getting really calm for now because, well, the the main unions just get what they wanted from the government.

And so as they are the ones who pay for the demonstration, because it’s kind of really costly to just move tractors in such big distances, well the unions just say, okay, we go back to the farm.

And, it’s hard because when the fact that all the pesticides that were going to be forbidden will not be, and so that’s a pity, but that’s like that.

And so the situation is that a lot of farmers just went back to the farms, but they have like a bitter taste about all of that because on the incomes, nothing really happened, on the system change, nothing happened.

And I think that they know, well, the discourse is that they waited and see but they know that nothing is going to really happen. And so the situation is that after the announcements of the government, only the Confédération Paysanne stayed outside on the blockages and so on.

And at that point, police came because it was not the FNSEA. And so there is no more blockages in France, but the Confédération Paysanne, we stay mobilized because we make the gamble that the movement is not over. And this is something that has to be constructed on the long term.

 

Eleanor Goldfield: Yeah. Yeah, absolutely.

So you mentioned that the government basically said, okay, we’re not going to outlaw these pesticides. Were there other things that they said were going to happen that caused the farmers to leave? Or was it really just that main thing?

David Lorant: It was that main thing and also the tax on the agricultural oil, but that’s it. And yeah, nothing else. And I think that they’re really good in just saying that they heard that farmers don’t want to make ecology, and so they responded to that. In fact, that was just not the demand, but…

Eleanor Goldfield: Yeah, well, that’s when it gets painted that way. So I’m curious what you feel, like the organization that you’re, the Confédération Paysanne, what your demands are. What would you like to see with regards to how you feel that French farmers are being treated or how would you like this to go?

David Lorant: Yeah. So on that mobilization, our first demand was, , some floor prices. As I told you, we just don’t have the money to work. So we need some floor prices because of the inflation that is strong in Europe and that is structural. I could talk about how ecological crisis just make the inflation and the oil problem is really something that won’t be solved by a tax.

And so, we have the problem in France that the agro industry and the supermarket at the same time, they buy the products at the farmers, cheaper and cheaper, and they sell it to consumers costlier and costlier. And, that’s the main point.

It’s like, we just need another agricultural system and another alimentation system because like 10 percent of French needs the alimentation care, maybe. 10 percent of French people can’t eat without distribution. So that’s huge for like the seventh wealthiest country in the world.

And, in the environmental issue, we just say that the problem is not regulation, but money. We just need money. And the ACP, which is like the agriculture common policy of Europe just cut the agroenvironmental funds to help farmers to change their model.

And so that’s a big point for us. And we just need lots of people to become farmers. And for that, we need a lot more formations, we need some help because we calculated that, if we want a reasonable agriculture for tomorrow with less oil and so on, we need not less than a million peasants in France, which is normal because production of food is important and, and so this is our biggest claims.

Eleanor Goldfield: Yeah, absolutely. I mean, especially if, like you said, after World War II, there were 2 million and now, I mean, that’s a significant drop.

So kind of wrapping up here, I’m curious how you see, I know you mentioned that the big union kind of left and went back, but they have a bad, a bitter taste left.

So I’m wondering what you feel the potential is of building solidarity across that political spectrum or working with people that aren’t necessarily part of your union and understanding that, okay, the government doesn’t care about us. And we have to do this ourselves. We have to be the ones to push this.

What do you think the potential is for that?

David Lorant: Well, when I was talking about the yellow vests, maybe the biggest thing I didn’t, I haven’t talked about yet is the fact that this mobilization is also a mobilization against the FNSEA.

So this biggest union that is historically in a kind of co-management with the Ministry of Agriculture. So it’s half a union, half a member of state, maybe. And so politically, it’s really censored, the agriculture world.

And, that’s the biggest point is that people don’t want to be represented by these organizations. And so, we just have to make people just discuss together, because we’re just in a period of political polarization. I think that’s an important concept because in this crisis , we have to choose maybe between fascism and anti capitalism and there is no middle way.

The middle way, even in the government is just , taking position in this divide, and it’s scary to see that Emmanuel Macron, which is center is really authoritarian. And he’s like, he starts to govern with the far right, in fact. So we have to just talk to avoid that the majority just go that way.

And I think that, so I already said that but I think that the ecology could be a great entry to talk. But, I think one of the opportunity of the farmers mobilization is that farmers are not, they’re not talking with ideologies or so on.

They’re talking with very material problems and you can talk with them and I’m sure that one day we’ll succeed to understand together that we have a problem on ecology and maybe it will not be by biodiversity, but by oil issues and just to say, okay, now you are crying because the oil is like two euros a liter, but how do you make your farm turning with the oil at four euros and that’s not a long time away, yeah.

Eleanor Goldfield: Yeah. And I love that idea because I think oftentimes when people come to the table with just their ideologies too present, then you just get into fights. So I think coming to the table with just your material realities can be far more generative.

So David, thank you so much for taking the time and sitting down with us. Is there anything else that you’d like to just throw out there right before we wrap up?

David Lorant: Well, maybe just that question of ecologists, they really need to stop to be like a bit snobbish and we need to make some popular ecology.

One thing I would love to talk about is maybe a decolonial approach of ecology, which make that agriculture and immigration and colonialism just joined together because it’s just a question of the way we colonized the lands. And the land is like one of the most powerful subject that can just make us fight together.

I’m sure of it.

Eleanor Goldfield: That’s beautifully put. And I absolutely agree. So thank you so much, David. It’s a powerful way to end it.

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Below is a Rough Transcript of the Interview with Joshua Wright

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Eleanor Goldfield: Thanks, everyone, for joining us back at the Project Censored radio show. We’re very glad right now to be joined by Joshua Wright, who’s an award winning filmmaker of the documentary Eden’s Last Chance and a youth forest defense activist.

He was a part of the Ferry Creek blockade, which facilitated the largest active civil disobedience in Canadian history, and currently works with the Legacy Forest Defense Coalition in Washington State. Joshua, thanks so much for joining us.

Joshua Wright: Yeah. Thanks for having me.

Eleanor Goldfield: So Joshua, I’d like to start because this is something that I feel like doesn’t pop up, at least not in my experience, with the discussion of either land back or the designation of lands and things like this is the quote unquote landless aspect, which came up onthe website in discussion of this issue.

So just starting with a little bit of backstory here, could you talk about who the Landless Five are and what that really means in terms of being landless and how that relates to the legislation that you’re currently fighting?

Joshua Wright: So in 1971, the Congress passed a bill called the Alaska Native Claims Settlement Act, which was supposed to settle native claims on the newly acquired territory of Alaska.

And that act did not give land to communities, it gave them to corporations, it corporatized the existence of indigenous peoples in Southeast Alaska. So, instead of being part of a tribe which then had lands that the tribe could use for subsistence, for, you know, economic development, for whatever they would want to use them for, tribal members in Southeast Alaska and across Alaska were given shares in regional and local corporations.

So, these were called village corporations and then you had regional corporations. So, for the South, Southeast Alaska on the Tongass, you had the Sealaska Corporation. And, these corporations board of directors were predominantly white at the beginning, and they started out having absolutely no money on hand, but they were given, in the case of Sealaska, around 200 or 300,000 acres of old growth forests.

So, as you can imagine, those were brutally clearcut. Through the 80s and 90s, some of the biggest clearcuts on earth were in Southeast Alaska. And even until today,these corporations have still been logging out these lands. And to put this into perspective, these clearcuts are some of the biggest in North America. They, some of them are over 5,000 acres.

There are not stream buffers on many streams. On salmon bearing streams, there are tiny buffers, but some of them are logged straight through, and there’s no maximum cut block size, and these logs are exported in the round, they’re not milled in Southeast Alaska, and I’ve been to one of these clear cuts, and it was one of the most horrible things I’ve seen in my entire life.

So, as part of this Native Claims Settlement Act, if a community was considered urban in nature, then it would have local quote, unquote, village or urban corporations. And those corporations would have their own land entitlements. So folks living there would be a shareholder of that local corporation and the regional one.

Some communities that were considered not to be urban in nature, and think of communities like Tenekee Springs, which is one of the quote unquote landless communities in this bill. Tenekee Springs has a hundred people in it. It’s predominantly a white town. And it has no roads, you have to take a day’s boat ride from Juneau to get there.

So these communities that had very few people and were not traditional village sites, those communities, the Alaskan Natives living in those communities received larger dividends from the regional corporations, but they did not receive their own local corporations.

So, for the past ten years or so, Lisa Murkowski, who is the Republican senator who represents Southeast Alaska, has been introducing this legislation called the Landless Legislation. And the sensible purpose is to fix an injustice where five of these communities were overlooked in land claims in Southeast Alaska.

And the idea is to address this by giving each of them A township which consists of 23,500 acres of cherry picked lands, and these lands would then be used for economic development. Under a best case scenario, which would still be bad, these lands would be used as carbon credits to justify drilling in Alaska and in a worst case scenario, they would just be clear cut. And the most likely outcome is some combination of the two.

You might have heard about the 2001 roadless rule, which is the rule that protects many millions of acres of old growth forests on the Tongass.

52 percent of these land selections are areas currently protected by the roadless rule. So, overall we’re talking about 80,000 acres of productive old growth forests that are at imminent risk of being privatized, and once they’re privatized, they’re going to be logged.

And what you’re seeing now is an astroturfed campaign supported by the regional corporation, Sealaska, and by a number of major environmental groups, including the Nature Conservancy to privatize these lands in the name of land back, but I guess what people aren’t realizing is that this is a Trojan horse supported by the Republican delegation from Southeast Alaska, and it could be the biggest potential logging project in, in the Pacific temperate rainforest this century, so the stakes are really high.

Eleanor Goldfield: Yeah, and I want to circle back to a word that you used because I think it’s a word that not a lot of people are familiar with: astroturfing. And actually it’s shared on your website, notongassprivatization. org, and you have a definition of it: “organized activity that is intended to create a false impression of a widespread spontaneously arising grassroots movement in support of or in opposition to something, such as a political policy, but that is in reality initiated and controlled by a concealed group or organization, like a corporation.”

So with that, I mean, how is this an astroturfed legislation in terms of control of that land or native claims to ancestral lands? Can you explain that and why you’re fighting that specific legislation?

Joshua Wright: This legislation is being supported by the regional native corporation, Sealaska, which is deeply invested into resource extraction in southeast Alaska and would potentially stand to gain the subsurface rights to these lands if they were privatized. At least that’s my understanding.

So they’ve donated in a altruistic sense, from their perspective, $500,000 to try to see this legislation through because they see it as correcting an injustice. And I’m not, you know, I think it’s mixed with financial interests, but also they genuinely believe that this is the right thing to do to, you know, in terms of correcting the injustices of colonization.

And the reason that I’m opposing this legislation is not because I’m by any means against land back. Those of us who are opposing this aren’t, we don’t not support land back, but we don’t support corporatization and destruction of old growth forests. Wanda Culp, who was hoping to be here today,she ‘s an elder, a Tlingit elder who lives in Huna, which is one of the villages that had the regional corporation land selections around the village.

And those land selections, which were selected in the 1970s, those were brutally clear cut. 25,000 acres, and those were lands that her village used for subsistence living, for wild salmon, for gathering. And the fact is that the roadless acres of the Tongass National Forest in a roadless, wild state provide more services for all residents of Southeast Alaska than these lands would to the Alaska natives of these particular communities who would be receiving shareholder dividends from them.

And, you know, this, I, I think one of the things that we as environmentalists are known to do, especially lately, is see something that says it’s land back, that says it’s good, and immediately take it at its word. And that, those good intentions of the environmental movement to incorporate land back are, they’re important, they are critical, but they are also being exploited by cynical interests who, in the case of this bill, you know, they have a petition that has 3,000 signatures.

People I know have signed their petition unknowingly because they see it as, it’s being framed as a land back proposal. But you will also hear the advocates of this bill say, we cannot take logging off the table. And the only reason they would say that is if they didn’t want to take logging off the table.

And another thing that I would say in terms of this bill, is if it was land back, wouldn’t you want land around the village sites? Wouldn’t you want land that the people could access? I think that that’s a given. The land selections in this map can be overlaid with maps of planned timber sales and high timber volumes on the Tongass National Forest.

Under the Trump administration, they did away with the roadless rule, and the Forest Service made maps of where they would want to do the sale called the Prince of Wales Landscape Level Analysis and the Central Tongass, and both of these were mega timber sales that would be logging around, I think it was 60 and 20 thousand acres each.

If you overlay the location of the cut blocks with these land selections, it’s almost a perfect match.

So there’s only one reason that you would be selecting lands. In the case of Ketchikan, the house version of this legislation is selecting lands that are 92 miles north of the actual city of Ketch.

So the only reason you would do that, it’s in an area called Red Bay, the Northern Prince of Wales Island, which is known for having the best timber on the Tongass. The only reason you’d do that is if you wanted to log it, and that’s just the plain and simple truth of it.

People need to realize that colonization and land exploitation can come in many, many forms. And some of them are awfully convincing. And I think that that’s the case here, and every, not every, but many major environmental groups have shut up about this because they are afraid, I guess you’d say. They’re afraid of being called racist, they’re afraid of the backlash. But ultimately this, we are talking about an industrial mega project that would be disastrous for biodiversity and for the people that live there, you know, Indigenous and settler, you know, people rely on these lands. These are lands that foster wild salmon. They’re lands that people hunt on, lands that people live in.

Yeah,

Eleanor Goldfield: absolutely. It brings me back to something I’ve talked about before, which is the malleability of the system in terms of co opting phrases like Black Lives Matter or Land Back and using it for its own means.

And I’m reminded of Klee Benally’s book, No Spiritual Surrender. And he points out that actually the Marshall doctrine which established Indigenous people’s lands, are held in a federal trust. So under the actual doctrine, tribal sovereignty is non existent as indigenous nations are, quote, domestic dependent nations.

So any land that is negotiated back by tribal entities remains a state resource managed by its wards. And I’m quoting from his book right there. So even when we talk about land back, if it’s still under the context of this colonial structure, even that is, is problematic. And so I’m curious, what are the alternatives that No Tongass Privatization is pushing for?

Like, what would y’all really like to see? What would these Indigenous communities like to see as opposed to the corporatization of these lands?

Joshua Wright: So, I’ll give you two answers, and one answer is a answer based on the system that was set up by the government, and based on the Alaska Native Claims Settlement Act, which is a colonial act for sure, you know, no arguments there. Based on that act, these quote unquote landless groups, which there are five represented here, but there are dozens of other claims across Alaska, so you could be talking, if these communities were recognized with ANCSA claims, you could be talking about two million acres privatized across Alaska.

So, under the actual legislation passed by Congress, these communities have already been compensated in the sense that they’ve received much greater shareholder dividends from those regional corporations than those who are also members of tribal corporations. And that, you know, that is an answer that is based in colonial law, I guess.

What I would say on a more, on a broader scale is, if there are outstanding land claims, and if what the aim of these land claims is to have money, get revenue from these lands, then why on earth doesn’t the government just give them a pot of money? Why do you need to have the land get destroyed for that to happen?

You know, 23,000 acres, you might be talking about a hundred million dollars. Okay, I don’t think anybody’s gonna cry about that. That’s, that’s alright with us. And on a broader scale, these lands that are currently managed for exploitation, 44 million acres across Alaska in these ANCSA corporations, those lands should be, those corporations should be dissolved and incorporated into actual tribal governments so that these lands are managed on behalf of the people for all of their benefits, not just their financial benefits.

And, you know, I think that there’s absolutely a greater role for Indigenous peoples, tribal rights, for instance, like fishing and hunting without needing to go through the bureaucracy of the colonial state in Southeast Alaska.

I think that there’s a lot of room for co management, not in a, we’re going to manage it sense, which always is covert for logging, but in the actual, you know, Indigenous peoples of the land have the right to be involved in the land. I think that that’s really important, but I think, ironically enough, part of colonialism has been removing Indigenous peoples from their lands for protected areas and for conservation.

But ironically enough, the very lands that have Indigenous people removed from them, not because of that, but because of the aims of the colonial system, those are the lands which have the potential to be the most important lands to Indigenous peoples because they’re still protected, because they’re still functioning systems.

So what you want to do is return Indigenous people to the land and return everybody to that land, but not in a way that you’re going to destroy that land, in a way that you’re going to protect that land. So as far as we’re talking about that, I think that that’d be fantastic, but right now, this entire bill is ultimately a corporate bill, it’s a corporate scheme.

Senator Lisa Murkowski’s had a bone to pick with the forest. She’s been wanting to privatize, like in 2014, she privatized 70,000 acres on the Tongass National Forest to the Southeast Alaska Native Corporation, Sealaska. And funnily enough, those lands were logged and then they were put into a carbon project.

So, she has a goal of creating a 2 million acre state forest in southeast Alaska to maintain a timber industry that employs, and I kid you not, 100 people in the region. That’s her goal. And this is her backdoor way of completing that.

If she gets this bill through, she will then be able to say, Well, there are other landless groups across Alaska. And as we’ve already established, the lands that they select do not need to be anywhere near them. They could be in southeast Alaska, in the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge with the most oil. And that will be her backdoor way of creating the state forest to continue the exploitation of the Tongass in a way that goes around the roadless rule and makes every environmental group too afraid to say anything that this legislation slips through without anybody saying a thing.

And that’s the position that we find ourselves in is I originally learned about this when I was filming for my documentary Eden’s Last Chance. And in December, this bill, for the first time in the years that it’s been introduced, had passed out of committee in the Senate and could be voted on in the floor any day.

And I found myself looking around and saying, well, literally nobody else except a few people in Southeast Alaska are saying a thing. And we need to start speaking up about this.

Eleanor Goldfield: Yeah, absolutely. Again, the malleability of the system and its ability to find these back doors. So, I mean, you said like any day now, so what is the status of this bill?

And, are there plans to fight it if it passes through more doors of the legislative process, so to speak?

Joshua Wright: Well, right now, I think the biggest thing that people, and you know, I’ve been a direct action activist. I’m not a person for calling your representatives and signing petitions, but that’s not even happened yet.

Right now legislators don’t even know that this is bad. They just hear about it. So it passed out of committee. Joe Manchin let it out of the Senate Natural Resources Committee. Last time there was a bill like this, Lisa Murkowski attached it to a National Defense Authorization Act, a must pass legislation, and it was signed into law by Obama.

And right now in March, at the end of March, there’s gonna be a government funding bill. So that is an opportunity where she could sneak it through the Senate, and potentially then it could go through the House. It still has to advance out of committee in the House, but, you know, that could happen any day.

So what I would suggest folks do is go to Notongassprivatization.Org. There’s a bunch of action items you can take. Really, call all of your representatives. The bill is S-1889, Senate Bill 1889, and spread the word about this. There’s a petition. Call your representatives, make your voice heard as much as possible, because, there’s been so little dissent on this issue, no major media has actually covered it yet, and it’s gonna be stopped through the grassroots, or it’s going to sail through, and we’ll be regretting it.

Eleanor Goldfield: Yeah, absolutely. And I mean, you mentioned corporate media. Obviously, at Project Censored, one of the things that we do is combat corporate media, both in terms of propagandization and uplifting the stories they’ll never touch. And I think that it’s very telling that this is the kind of story that has that nuance that they wouldn’t want to touch regardless, because they don’t want to come out and make it look like they’re against Native people getting land back, but they also don’t want to anger the powers that be by going against legislation that they’re pushing through.

So, yeah, this is absolutely the kind of thing that alternative media and folks on the ground should really be paying attention to. So Joshua, thank you so much for taking the time to sit down with us.

Is there anything else that you’d like to highlight or throw out there before we wrap up here?

Joshua Wright: I think it’s just important for people to think about, you know, in this bill, we can get lost in abstractions, and we need to realize that these lands, these 80,000 acres, these 115,000 acres total, you know, these lands are lived in by the Alexander Archipelago wolf, which is an endangered species. They are lived in by millions of trees, hemlock and cedar and yellow cedar that have been there for over a thousand years in many cases, and I guess I would say that their lives matters just as much as ours do, and we can’t be silenced just because it’s scary, you know.

We can’t allow ourselves to be silenced just because the advocates of this bill have framed it in a way that makes dissent seem like it’s anti indigenous. You know, I think, ultimately, if you know what you’re doing is right, if you know that it is right to save a forest from being clearcut, then take that conviction and let’s stop this bill, let’s fight.

Eleanor Goldfield: Amen. Thank you, Joshua, so much for framing this all for us and putting it into context and folks can check out Notongassprivatization.org. Thanks again, Joshua.

Joshua Wright: Thank you so much for having me.

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