Just Like Avatar: Scenes from India, Canada, China, and Hawaii

By Smriti Rao | March 9, 2010 4:26 pm
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Pandora on Earth

If you’re a big Avatar fan, then James Cameron’s Oscar loss may have left your eyes swollen and your popcorn soggy. But if Avatar grabbed your attention with its story of greedy humans ravaging the alien moon Pandora for a mineral that Earth needs, then here are a handful of real-life stories, from good ol’ planet Earth, that might make the plight of Pandora’s native Na’vi seem eerily familiar.

First we have members of the Dongria Kondh tribe from Orissa, India, talking to the tribal-rights group Survival International about their quest to save their sacred mountain from a large mining company. The company wants to raze a huge part of their lush, bountiful, holy mountain to mine not “unobtanium,” but bauxite. Wait, James… are you getting this down?

Survival International took out an ad in the film industry magazine Variety to appeal directly to Cameron for help. Says Survival International director Stephen Corry: “Just as the Na’vi describe the forest of Pandora as ‘their everything,’ for the Dongria Kondh, life and land have always been deeply connected.  The fundamental story of Avatar – if you take away the multi-coloured lemurs, the long-trunked horses and warring androids – is being played out today in the hills of Niyamgiri in Orissa, India.”


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  • JMW

    Hm. I wonder if anyone from those 50 environmental groups that took out the ad against the tar sands development has actually spoken to any of the Canadian natives whose environment they’re trying to save?

    John Ralston Saul, in “A Fair Country”, has answered this with a “no”, and goes on to state that the natives actually want tar sands development for the jobs it will bring – but not in the way that the oil companies are currently going about it. They want to the jobs and economic prosperity, but they also want to see more care taken not to spoil the environment while doing it. For them, their land is where they live, and once the tar sands are depleted and the oil companies go away, the natives will still be there living on the land. So they want to see good stewardship of the land coupled with the exploitation of the resource.

    Saul’s comment about the environmental groups arguing for zero development of the tar sands is that this is just more of the paternalistic “we know what’s best for you” attitude toward the natives.

    Maybe these groups should actually send someone up north and ask the natives what they want. Oh, but wait, if the natives actually want tar sands development, that’s because they’re being seduced by the evils of modern society and aren’t wise enough and mature enough to say no. [/sarcasm]

  • Woody Tanaka

    JMW

    Rather than being paternalistic, these groups are being realistic. The people who despoil the land and the environment in order to get obscene private wealth exploiting public resources are, if history is any guide, never interested in seeing that more care is taken during their raping of the environment, to protect the environment. Cuts into the holy of holies — corporate profits.

  • kelly

    There are 8,000 in the Dongria Kondh tribe of Orissa, India and 30,000 employees in the Vedanta corporation.

    Vedanta has built an illegal aluminum plant on Kondh grounds and the pollution is ruining the people’s health. Indian courts have ruled against Vedanta repeatededly, yet Vedanta is moving ahead with new strip mining and intends to increase aluminum production over 400% by 2013.

    For good reason, the Kondh are fighting for their lives.

    Meanwhile, Vedanta provides NO data to Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD).

    The British government has reprimanded Vedanta and even The Church of England has divested from Vedanta on the grounds of moral human rights. http://www.survivalinternational.org/tribes/dongria

    Art or Life – which will be imitated?

  • Katharine

    I suggest that all people have access to technological progress, but here is the key: they must be able to have it on their own terms.

    Where I depart from Survival International’s stance is on its claim that ‘progress can kill'; they are not defining ‘progress’ very clearly.

    Progress that a community wants and needs can be achieved, but it must be done using that community’s resources and people as much as humanly possible, and it must be ultimately driven by that community. Those of us with more money and resources should only stand by to give the aid we are asked to give when we are asked to give it.

    NGOs have a place and are necessary, but I think they are overstepping certain boundaries and not letting the people they serve drive their actions.

  • Katharine

    Also, the Chinese government is made up of wusses.

  • Aidan

    Katharine:

    It’s not clear how you depart from Survival International’s stance. ‘Progress can kill’ specifically warns that development can, in some cases, threaten tribal peoples. That does not necessarily mean all development.

    Survival recognises that development projects, when endorsed and guided by tribal peoples, can be positive. It’s just there’s a lot to be said about the harmful kind.

    What makes you suggest that an NGO like Survival fails to put the people they serve in the driving seat? The film embedded here, Mine, takes the testimony and opinion of numerous members of the tribe as the basis for the argument. Surely there’s no clearer illustration of the people leading the way?

  • http://blogs.discovermagazine.com/80beats/ Eliza Strickland

    Here’s another one: An environmental group on Vancouver Island, Canada has named a patch of old-growth forest “Avatar Grove” in hopes of preventing logging there.

  • http://TwoSistersArtandSoul Lisette Root

    Travelling ever forward on our journey through conciousness, towards relentless night, will we extinguish the flame of life one second before the universe does it for us? Yes, for ours is a race of fools madly blindly rushing towards destruction, for money.

  • http://casseywatson.xanga.com Adriane Grzegorek

    I like the Avatar 3D film, especially the story line, not solely it brings a totally new sensation but inspiring thoughts of humanity. I heard the New Avatar 2 is comming soon, cannot wait to see it again…!

  • http://theindiaphile.com piers

    Vedanta is a classic example of big business taking advantage of tribal peoples for its own gain. Well done Survival International

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