Center for World Indigenous Studies
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Big Bucks: “Legal” Battles

Published: December 9, 2007, Author: MHirch

When fighting for human rights and justice indigenous nations use the legal system imposed upon them by the settlers. After decades or centuries of dealing with these systems  indigenous nations are much better equipped to protect their interests. More and more indigenous scholars are very familiar with the western judicial system after running through western education programmes, holding Master’s degrees and PhDs.
However, the immense legal costs forced to pay make it impossible for some to properly protect their interests. The landmark ruling which backs native self-determination in the case of the Tsilhqot’in First Nations in British Columbia, Canada, within the BC Treaty Process took a decade to complete and cost close to 30 million dollars. There are a lot of nations not able to wait so long for a decision nor able to raise sufficient funds and get good lawyers.

Legal systems the world over can be very cumbersome, expensive and slow. Lawsuits might cause bankruptcy. Big companies are very much aware of this and with immense financial power behind them employ legal battles and strategies to gain more control. The sting of multinational companies long legal arms can be very irritating. Monsanto, the giant agro-chemical company which is at the forefront of developing genetically modified foods, accused North American farmers of patent infringements. Many of these farmers have reached out-of-court settlements with Monsanto. They cannot pay the legal fees of their savings, plus time, travel and compensation for labour when away from their farms. They simply give in when Monsanto offers to withdraw the legal challenge if the farmers sign a contract to buy their seeds from Monsanto in the future and to pay a technology use fee. To put it bluntly: This is blackmail.

While eye-popping to most, the sum big companies pay for legal fees does not hurt those  companies. Merck spent more than $1.2 billion on Vioxx-related legal fees after withdrawing its pain medication Vioxx from the market in September 2004. Patients taking the drug suffered injury or even died. The settlement payment of $ 4,85 billion to settle 27,000 lawsuits represents less than one year’s profits for the copmapny, the third-largest American drug maker.

Sure, in the end the lawyers always win. However it is up to each and everyone of us to assist and support courageous people fighting a cause we deeply believe in, defending biodiversity, challenging environmental and moral perversity of current practices. It does not take so much if we all share.

Chief George Manuel Memorial Indigenous Library

The library is dedicated to the memory of Secwepemc Chief George Manuel (1921-1989), to the nations of the Fourth World and to the elders and generations to come.

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