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Mining company dresses real indigenous people in fake ‘Indian’ costumes

by Megan Kinch

Albadina Carmona (left) and Sergio Campusano (right) of the Diaguita Huascoaltinos, and Daniella (center), who lives and works with the Diaguita Huascoaltinos. Albadina Carmona (left) and Sergio Campusano (right) of the Diaguita Huascoaltinos, and Daniela Guzman (center), who lives and works with the Diaguita Huascoaltinos – all wearing jeans!

Barrick Gold is trying to create ersatz Indians at their Pascua Lama mine in Chile, in the name of corporate social responsibility. Ironically, this is being done in an attempt to undermine the actually existing Indigenous leadership. That photo Sergio is holding? Those are community members, but that’s not traditional dress. In fact, those outfits are completely made up, according to Sergio Campusano, president of the Diaguita Huascoaltinos.  It was created as an idea of what “Indians” should wear. An examination of the photo, taken from Barrick’s “Corporate Social Responsibility” literate,  bears this out: if you look closely, they do look ridiculously clean and unworn.

Sergio said during his statement in the Barrick shareholder meeting: “The mining company Barrick Gold has for several years conducted a process of reinvention of ethnic Diaguita which is intended to make the public believe that they have the support of the Diaguita Huascoaltinos. In this process the company has brought outside professionals to conduct training on the Diaguita’s own ancestral traditions and has manipulated these teachings for their own convenience, inventing a nonexistent Diaguita culture and denying the ethnicity of our community. They have raised false leaders, who are now attending meetings with the company and appearing in Barrick’s newsletters, and have discredited our real leaders, creating irreconcilable divisions among our people and weakening our neighbors and community’s identity.”

After the shareholder meeting, Sergio told a group of us that the company has also hired outsdiers to teacher “traditional” dances and to make pottery.  This pottery is not anything that the Diaguita’s actually make, or have ever made. Barrick claims that it is sponsoring workshops in “local crafts” (Barrick, Beyond Borders-December2007, 9).

This whole process seeks to discredit their actual elected leaders, who are against things like melting glaciers which feed rivers to get at minerals. Apparently, the people in the outfits are actual members of the community, but the clothes are made up, as they are not the actual leaders: classic divide-and-conquer tactics.

I think this speaks to the immense desire for photos of smiling, indigenous people in traditional dress in corporate literature. Whereas actual indigenous people, because they are wearing normal clothes and aren’t fitting in the with the caricature, are de-legitimized. So when there is no traditional dress, the mining company simply invents it, just as they invent dancing and pottery.

This reminds me of how, when I was working in Guatemala I was supposed to create a powerpoint to illustrate ILO 169 (The UN declaration on Indigenous Peoples). And while some of my slides did have colorfully dressed people, some of them had guys in t-shirts and baseball caps. And my boss was all pissed off with me because not every slide showed colourful outfits. Even though, in Guatemala as in many other countries, that’s what the vast majority of indigenous men wear. Indigenous people throughout the world often wear T-shirts and jeans, or western suits, or dresses.

Anyway, so while Barrick’s tactic of creating a ‘traditional’ dress and dance and pottery for people is particularly awful, it’s part of a larger essentializing tradition. People want colourful pictures of ‘Indians’ doing traditional dances, not actual people who cause disruptions the smooth functioning of corporate power.

Megan Kinch is a graduate student in Social Anthropology at York University who studies Canadian mining companies in Latin America.

 

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