Victims of Progress | April 10, 2012


            The term Indigenous means “Members of formerly independent tribal societies who are engaged in a contemporary struggle for autonomy and survival in a world dominated by national governments and commercial elite.” That is synonymous with the term “Victims of Progress.” Tribal peoples who have been living previously autonomous lives and are trying to recapture that and return to their lives without the diseases, without their land which they depend on being destroyed, and without industry and “modernized” life. But with this “modernized” life comes impoverishment, the inability to sustain themselves, and disease.



            Progress is the development of an individual or society in a direction considered more beneficial than and superior to the previous level. This definition is justification for one group to come in and impede on the indigenous population’s way of life. This was illustrated in the article “The Tractor Invasion”. In it, the Xavante people are being moved out by agribusiness. This can happen because the Xavante, while protected by the government, are independent people from the government and don’t have legal documents or in most cases real government enforcement protecting them. The agribusiness is producing soy, on land that used to sustain the Xavante’s way of life, and also is being exported for profits for the agribusiness men (The Tractor Invasion, Laura Graham).

            The agribusiness’ motivation is for profits; its purpose is to sustain a capitalist way of life, to keep up in the world market. And by expanding into the Xavante’s land, the Cerrado, they put the Xavante, who fight for autonomy, into the world market, and thus become victims of progress. Living as a part of the world market, capitalists equate happiness, or quality of life, with the standard of living. In “The Price of Progress”, it states that measures we employ like GNP, literacy, employment rates, education, and income do not necessarily equate to a better standard of living (Price of Progress, John Bodley). But naturally, people living in capitalist societies or who participate in the world market equate happiness with profits.

            Capitalists and world market participants equate happiness with standard of living because as Robert Sapolsky says in his article, “Sick of Poverty”, that Socioeconomic status (SES) correlates with overall well-being; That when we just “feel” poor we actually are at greater risk of diseases and shorter lifespans, even with the advanced medical care and technology. So when the agribusiness thrust the capitalist ideals onto the Xavante in the name of “progress”, they are lowering the quality of life for their people.

            Not only are the victims of progress being forced into a lower quality of life and are having their land and way of life made virtually inaccessible, they are also being forced to participate in a world market that they themselves can never truly progress in. When industrialized civilizations put the tribal societies into the world market, make them integrate into society or government, the tribal societies become impoverished because they now are put to the standard of material wealth. So they virtually start with near nothing and are forced to compete in a world they neither want nor belong to (The Price of Progress, John Bodley) “They are then forced to transform their cultures and work to achieve what many economists now acknowledge to be unattainable goals.” (John Bodley)

            By putting them into the world market, governments and capitalists not only introduce them to disease, not just from feeling poor but also because they become dependent on those same institutions and people. This is because their land was taken from them (The Tractor Invasion) to produce food that is then shipped out not to be used by the indigenous. Prior to this they survived completely autonomously and off of the land. Now that same land is being torn apart to be used to produce things that doesn’t go to them. Capitalism is a commitment to sale, with the objective of maximizing profits rather than supplying domestic need. (Kary, lecture, 11/10/11) This leads to the indigenous not able to supply themselves with their land because the crops being produced are going off to foreign lands, and sometimes being only cash crops, nothing to survive off of. So having no way to feed themselves, once autonomous people are now dependent on governments and the capitalist way of life, in which they become impoverished people. This way of life leads to higher death rates because not only are they poor, but not they are not able to live a life that is sustainable unless they bring in imported foods.

            This life opens up the formerly independent and autonomous group to bad health because of dependence on imported foods. This was documented by Weston Price who noted tooth caries and overall bad dental health was because of a diet based on non-traditional food (Price of Progress). This diet coupled with the feeling of being impoverished leads to bad overall health that cannot be avoided because of the dependence on governments and the world market to sustain their lives. Also, this opening to the world now introduces diseases that were virtually unknown to the indigenous people. With that, they have no genetic defenses or immunities against them, their health is further decimated. (Arrow of Disease, Jared Diamond)



            Indigenous peoples like the Xavante did not ask to become a part of “Progress” and they try to live their lives autonomously. But yet they gain impoverishment and disease from “Progress” and as being a part of “Progress” they enter at a level which they must stay and they are given a standard in which they cannot attain.



Laura Graham

Summer 2009, The Tractor Invasion, Cultural Survival Quarterly


John Bodley

1998, Victims of Progress, Mayfield Publishing


Jared Diamond

October 1992, The Arrow of Disease, Discover


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1 Comment »

  1. This is a thoughtful post. Thank you.

    One of the things I, and many others, have been thinking about a good deal is the problem of using the term “victim” in conversations about Indigenous people. While there is no doubt we have been, and continue to be victimized, the use of victim based language to discuss our current situation misses the crucial aspect of our lives and histories: survivance. Those of us who are still here, are STILL HERE. We have not gone away or become extinct. We are speaking and writing about our experiences, and placing our lives in the context of persons and peoples who remain. When the children of the colonizers see that we remain, they may join us in acts of caring and solidarity for our lands and the Mother Earth. Thus it is crucial to see us as alive, vibrant, and actively engaged in authoring our own histories.

    Comment by michaelwatsonvt — April 10, 2012 @ 7:20 PM

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