Global indigenous resource struggle


Social movements are turning to creative means to call attention to this problem

Have you ever thought about where salt comes from? What about gold? These two materials may be very different in price, but their meaning to communities that extract them artisanally is actually very similar. Ada is an area in the South of Ghana famous for its salt lagoon, which is the biggest in West Africa. Historically, people from all over Ghana and other parts of Africa would come to collect and sell the salt. In the 1970s, however, a company gained control over the whole lagoon and prevented community artisanal salt collection. As a result, the Ada communities who had once used the salt as the basis of their livelihood rose up in protest, eventually forcing the government to return the resource to open, communal use.  Despite this victory in the past, the lagoon today is seeing the return of individual ownership with the spread of small-scale salt-pans being promoted by local elite, and that are dividing the community between those with pans and those without.

Gbane, a village in the North of Ghana, sits on a large reserve of gold, although it was not until the 1990s that mining was introduced as a form of livelihood. The locals took on small-scale mining on land reserved for Indigenous mining. In 2008, a Chinese mining company, called Shaanxi, came to Gbane in with the pretence of being a service provider for local mines. While the chief approved the entrance of the company, others were opposed, causing the community to become divided.  It was not long until Shaanxi started to mine gold themselves on a much larger scale with much more sophisticated technology that the community began to unite – calling on the Chinese company to be removed. The gold from Indigenous people’s mines is now less valuable and the environment around the mine is being destroyed.

In Ada and Gbane, the livelihoods of the women have been the most affected by the loss of access to natural resources and these livelihoods are no longer sustainable. In Ada, women used to be the primary collectors of salt which gave them the money they needed to take care of their families. Now women must compete for lowing paying jobs gathering the salt in pans owned by men. In Gbane, farms of both men and women have been acquired by Shaanxi, but women have also lost access to wild sheanut trees that have traditionally formed the basis of their livelihoods. In both cases, the women’s ability to care for themselves, their families and their environment has been diminished.  

Yet, the people in Ada and Gbane have refused to take the theft of their natural resources lying down. In both places, movements have mobilized to challenge the capitalist forces that have taken their resources. In Ada, the main mobilizers have been a group of women know as Yihi Katseme (Brave Women). It wasn’t long ago that due to the women’s low status in the community they called themselves dogs, but now they see themselves as wolves defending their community. In Gbane, a group of youth emerged along side a group of men, who traditionally protect the community, to resist Shaanxi.

The social movements in both places have used creative methods to get their message across. For instance, the women of Gbane are using songs to call for unity as well as to question what has caused the disunity. Similarly, in August, the Yihi Katseme along with other members of the community created and preformed a dance drama to explain the importance the Songor has on their lives. They presented the play to a number of traditional and national authorities to better explain their struggle. Both movements are using innovative strategies in their fight to take back their resources.

To learn more about these resource struggles, as well as movement resistance and learning in both Ada and Gbane, come to our presentation on November 9, 7pm in Desmond Hall. This event is hosted by the Canada Research Chair for Sustainability and Social Change Leadership.