As many as 90,000 Filipino natives could be thrown off their land if the government of Ferdinand Marcos proceeds with plans to build four hydroelectric power dams along the Chico River. The dams, designed to support industrial development, would flood the rice and bean fields central to the subsistence economy of the Kalinga and Bontoc tribes.
In Brazil, the government has granted the French Elf Aquitaine oil company rights to explore lands occupied by the Satere-Mawe Indian tribe. The project has reportedly destroyed large portions of the hunting, fishing and forest resources on which the tribe depends for survival.
In the highlands of Guatemala, hundreds of Indians abandoned their homes as the government ushered in major hydroelectric power development, oil drilling and nickel mining.
These were among several dozen cases presented here this week by native groups from 35 countries, seeking to dramatize the threats to their survival posed by accelerating exploitation of their land and natural resources.
Native tribes "are being dispossessed of their lands, exterminated by their governments and deprived of their most basic rights of freedom and self-determination," said Shelton H. Davis, director of the Anthropology Resource Center in Boston.
Native leaders at the conference blamed the problem on an "attitude toward development that displaces people."
The development, in most cases, is being carried out by multinational corporations and by their own governments, with financial aid from the World Bank and other international agencies, the leaders said.
"What is to happen to native people if we stand in the way of copper in Panama, of diamonds in the Philippines, of military installations in the Pacific, of coal in the United States?" asked John Mohawk, editor of a publication of the Mohawk nation, and a participant in the conference.
Sponsors of the conference said the problem of native survival has been largely overlooked by international agencies, lost amid concern over other issues, such as repression in Guatemala and the Philippines or economic turmoil in South America.
They argued, for example, that recent massacres by Guatemalan military troops -- described as attacks on "peasants" and "subversives" -- actually were aimed at Indians fighting for their land.
"These are Indian peoples, not peasants, . . . slaughtered because they stood in the way of the plans of multinational corporations," said Mohawk.
"We're appalled by this. We plead the people of the United States to express their outrage and to bring this to a halt."
Sponsors of the conference included the Anthropology Resource Center, Cultural Survival of Cambridge, Mass., the Indian Law Resource Center and Multinational Monitor. It aimed in part to attract the attention of the United Nations, the World Bank and other international agencies, and to prod them to adopt policies on native land rights, the sponsors said. "We do not seek to stop development. Development does continue if native rights are recognized," said Pat Dodson, coordinator of an Australian native council. "There is no need to commit these crimes in the name of progress."
Native groups from several countries reported on efforts to use force to resist development projects that they said were threatening their survival.
In the Philippines, for example, the Kalinga and Bontoc tribes have armed themselves and have raided the camps of survey crews working on the Chico River dams, a Filipino native leader at the conference said.
The $1 billion dam project has since been removed from the government's 10-year development plan, according to a report by the Episcopal Commission on Tribal Filipinos.