Tuesday, October 28, 2014

Parallel experiences in Kazakhstan and Navajo Land

While working on Ged the Goatherd, I looked at real world societies to help give form to the people of Gont in Ursula Le Guin's fantasy world of Earthsea.

Did some reading on Kazakh people in Central Asia and the Dine (Navajo) people in North America and found interesting similarities in the history of these two very different regions:


Outsiders intervene military in conflicts with old neighbors and new settlers
  • Navajo Land
    After the Mexican-American war ended in 1846, rising numbers of American settlers moved into Navajo territory.1. The U.S. army built forts in Navajo Land, with the stated purpose of protecting the different groups in the region from each other, but raids continued between Navajo, Ute, Mexicans and American settlers.2

    Relations between the Navajo and the US Army worsened after the 1858 murder of Jim, a black slave of the hated commander of Fort Defiance, which brought indiscriminate reprisals against Navajos.3
  • Kazakhstan
    17th-18th century raids from the Oirat Mongols caused the Kazakh leaders to make alliances with the Russians.4 In the 17th century, Russia started sending thousands of settlers and soldiers to colonize Kazakhstan. The Russians built forts and limited the movement of Kazakh flocks, destroying the livelihood of the nomadic herders.5

    Native political authority was abolished when the Russians dissolved the 3 Kazakh khanates in the first half of 19th century.6
Revolt, starvation, relocation and land grabbing
  • Navajo Land
    In 1860, Manuelito and Barboncito led a 1000-strong force against the U.S. Army at Fort Defiance, almost taking the fort before they were pushed back. General Carleton wanted to open the Navajo homeland to mining exploration, so he gave orders to use lethal force if necessary to relocate the Navajo to a reservation at Bosque Redondo.7

    In 1863, the US Army entered Navajo Land. The people fled while the soldiers ruined their wells and destroyed their crops. Hunger compelled some 8000 Navajos to surrender. They were forced to walk 250 miles to Bosque Redondo, where they lived off scanty rations of spoiled food provided by corrupt government contractors. Many Navajo died on the way to, or at Bosque Redondo.8
  • Kazakhstan
    Kenesary Kasimov led a revolt against the Russians starting in 1837. He was killed 10 years later.9 Russian settlers took over the fertile regions of Kazakhstan, starting more than half a million farms.10 Starvation took hold among the Kazakhs who were deprived of grazing land for their animals.11

    Another failed revolt in 1916 led to the deaths of thousands of Kazakhs, while thousands more became refugees in Mongolia and China. The nomads who revolted had their lands taken from them and given to Russian settlers.12
The return home
  • Navajo Land
    In 1868, the Navajo negotiated a treaty with the U.S. government, allowing them to move back to a reservation in their ancestral homeland, which was only about a quarter of their traditional territory.13
  • Kazakhstan
    After Kazakhstan gained its independence in 1991, thousands of exiled Kazakhs from surrounding countries were able to return.14
Forced Livestock Slaughter, Soil Depletion
  • Navajo Land
    In the 1930s, the U.S. Government enacted a livestock reduction program on the reservation, claiming that overgrazing was causing soil erosion. Without engaging the livestock owners in the decision-making process, federal agents shot the animals that could not be sold, leaving rotting or partially-burnt gasoline soaked carcasses.15
  • Kazakhstan
    When Russia needed meat, animal skins, and horses for its armies during World War I, it took hundreds of thousands of animals from Kazakhs without compensating the owners. Government appropriation of livestock continued under Soviet rule.16

    In 1958, the Soviet leadership brought in 2 million non-Kazakhs to farm the steppes in Kazakhstan as part of the Virgin Lands Campaign. The soil of the steppes, while adequate for grazing, was not suitable for agriculture. Soon, the earth was depleted of its nutrients and the Virgin Lands Campaign failed.17
Radioactive contamination by outsiders during the Cold War
  • Navajo Land
    Starting from the 1950s to the 1980s, private companies opened more than a thousand uranium mines in Navajo land to extract uranium ore for use in government nuclear programs. Neither the government nor the private companies made the effort to reduce environmental contamination or to educate the miners they hired about the risks of the job.18 Thousands of Navajo mining families were plagued by premature death, high cancer rates, and birth defects. In 2005, the Navajo Nation imposed a moratorium on uranium mining.19
  • Kazakhstan
    From the 1940s to the 1980s, the Soviets tested nuclear weapons at multiple sites in Kazakhstan, with Semipalatinsk serving as the Soviet Union's primary nuclear test site. The head of the Soviet atomic bomb project falsely claimed the area was "uninhabited"; tests were conducted with little consideration for the local people or environment. After the site's closure in 1991, the impact of the radiation on higher cancer rates and birth defects among local residents came to light.20
Air pollution
  • Navajo Land
    The rise in asthma among the young and elderly has been attributed to 3 big coal burning power plants that have been operating in the Navajo Nation since the 60s and 70s.21
  • Kazakhstan
    Much of the coal from the country's 3 major coal fields are used by coal-burning power plants and steel mills.22 Air pollution is considered a serious issue contributing to a higher rate of premature mortality.23
Notes:
  1. Liz Sonneborn, The Navajos (Native American Histories) , p22
  2. Navajo people - New Mexico Territory (wikipedia)
  3. Peter Iverson,The Navajos (Indians of North America), p40
  4. Guek-Cheng Pang, Kazakhstan (Cultures of the World, Third), p24
  5. Bella Waters,Kazakhstan in Pictures (Visual Geography. Second Series), p23
  6. Guek-Cheng Pang, Kazakhstan (Cultures of the World, Third), p25
  7. Peter Iverson,The Navajos (Indians of North America), p40
  8. Peter Iverson,The Navajos (Indians of North America), p42-44
  9. Kenesary Kasimov (enacademic.com)
  10. Guek-Cheng Pang, Kazakhstan (Cultures of the World, Third), p25
  11. Bella Waters,Kazakhstan in Pictures (Visual Geography. Second Series), p24
  12. Guek-Cheng Pang, Kazakhstan (Cultures of the World, Third), p25
  13. Peter Iverson,The Navajos (Indians of North America), p46
  14. After generations away, Kazakhs come home to an independent country (UNHCR)
  15. The Navajo, Sheep, and the Federal Government (nativeamericanrooots.net)
  16. Bella Waters,Kazakhstan in Pictures (Visual Geography. Second Series), p24-26
  17. Bella Waters,Kazakhstan in Pictures (Visual Geography. Second Series), p28
  18. Uranium Mining and the Navajo People (Wikipedia)
  19. Uranium Mining, Native Resistance, and the Greener Path (Orion Magazine)
  20. Semipalatinsk Test Site (Wikipedia)
  21. 40 Years of Coal-Burning Power Plants on Navajo Land (Indian Country Today)
  22. Guek-Cheng Pang, Kazakhstan (Cultures of the World, Third), p43
  23. Human Health Cost of Air Pollution in Kazakhstan (scirp.org)

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