The rape of our lands

This is a myth: When the city of Rome was founded, its founder Romulus advertised the settlement as a safe haven for anyone who wanted to start a new life. In a short time, the new town, soon the iconic eternal city on seven hills, became a destination for large numbers of people: refugees and criminals and former slaves – mostly men.

The abduction of Sabines. Pablo Picasso, 1962. WikiArt

Romulus realized that the city needed an influx of women, so it could grow its own population. How to go about it? The Sabine people, who lived nearby, had refused to let their daughters marry the unruly and thuggish Romans. So Romulus organized games and invited the Sabines to come and watch. Imagine, free tickets for a top sports event! And so the Sabines came, with their wives and daughters. When everyone had arrived at the big event, Romulus gave the sign and his armed men captured the Sabine families, separated the women and let the men go. Thirty-one women were thus kidnapped, all but one of them virgins (young daughters). The Sabine men returned to their lands and vowed to get their daughters back. It took a year or so before they managed to return, but when they arrived they found the women unwilling to rejoin them as most of them had children now and didn’t want to leave them. The one woman who had been married before to a Sabine man and was now married to Romulus himself managed to broker peace between the Romans and the Sabines, and so war was avoided and the city prospered for another 1000 years.

The prosperity came at the expense of 30 young women who were kidnapped, raped and forcibly subjected to Roman rule. They had no choice to concede to their fate after having borne the Romans’ children.

The story of the Sabine virgins is a myth, but the practice of kidnapping and raping women during war have been all too familiar throughout human history to the present day.

But myths also serve as metaphors.

This is not a myth: About 400 years ago, North America began to be colonized by Europeans. The first Europeans were welcomed by the Indigenous people, but soon the colonizers turned on them and used every aggressive tactic under the sun to subject the Indigenous people to the rules of their Empire. They deliberately infected them with diseases for which they had no immunity, they stole their children, they killed them. In contrast to Indigenous practice, the colonizers raped and pillaged the lands for timber, whales, fish and mineral resources. And thus they built immense wealth for themselves, while the lands deteriorated and the Indigenous people were forced to abandon their semi-nomadic lives that were in balance with the land.

Western (colonizing) culture doesn’t perceive ‘nature’ as something that has rights or claim to consideration. ‘Nature’ is conceived as a set of ‘Natural Resources’ that exists for human use only. Mankind is perceived as ‘the crown of creation’, superior to ‘nature’. Having exhausted the natural resources of their homelands, the colonizers set out to find new lands and, when they found them, continued to exploit those lands nature the same manner, a manner that is indifferent to Nature as having intrinsic value or rights or as an entity that serves us better in the long term if we use it in such a way that future generations can benefit too.

This is a male-dominated attitude of rape and pillage, enhanced by a religion-driven notion of human superiority.

Time and time again, the colonizers made huge mistakes. The endless forests of timber were cut down within 200 years, leaving just sticks. The breeding grounds for all that plentiful wildlife are gone. North America’s migratory bird populations have plummeted by one-third in the last 50 years alone. Not a single human generation grows up knowing what nature was like when their parents were young, that’s how fast the collapse is happening. The heroic efforts of individual conservationists to bring back a few iconic species (Bald Eagles, Buffalo, Whooping Cranes) are band aids that are too small for the huge wounds that are torn into the skin of the earth.

We sprayed DDT in the ‘50s and ‘60s and brought many species to the brink of extinction and had Rachel Carson not written ‘Silent Spring’, there would be no bald eagles over our heads in Nova Scotia, nor Herons and Kingfishers and countless other species. DDT was banned, but we are likely doing similar damage with Glyphosate and Neonicotinoids, yet those toxins are still not banned. Only in the last decade have scientists learned that a forest isn’t just a collection of haphazard trees. A forest is one gigantic ecosystem where the different parts – trees, shrubs, grasses, fungi  – communicate with each other through chemical signals, thus enabling each other to be protected from invasive species and disease, but not from human predators.

The colonizers became settlers and the lands in North America became new countries, maps and boundaries laid over unceded Indigenous territories. Forests and fish and minerals were monetized and this will continue until there’s only production forest left: long rows of a single species of trees forming a biologically dead carpet of green on disintegrating soil, the streams running between it barren of fish, which can’t thrive in such an environment. The only “edible” fish will be harvested from fish pens, their waste forming thick mats of oxygen-deprived black sludge on the sea floor. Ecosystems are diverse by nature, but diversity can’t be monetized and thus the colonizers are repurposing nature into monoculture.

In Nova Scotia we have reached a colonization super-state: the companies that deplete our resources for money are no longer ours, they are foreign.

  • Northern Pulp (which Nova Scotia tax payers consistently subsidized for 50% of its annual costs) is owned by an Indonesian billionaire (yes, I know it closed, but I also know it’s still trying to reopen).
  • The railroad behind my house, the original Dominion Atlantic railway, was privatized by the Provincial government nearly 30 years ago and sold lock, stock and barrel to an American who – of course – couldn’t maintain the infrastructure. The last train rode in 2006 and now we have to negotiate with this one foreign real estate owner for each piece of that unused rail bed that we want to repurpose.
  • Atlantic Gold, the company that exploits the Touquoy gold mine and wants to exploit three other gold mines along the eastern shore, got bought up by an Australian company (and hasn’t paid a penny in tax).
  • About 10 years ago we managed to prevent an American company from opening a giant quarry on the Bay of Fundy, designed to export basalt to New England for the road and construction industry. We escaped major siltation and habitat destruction in the Bay of Fundy by the hair on our teeth.
  • The Fundy Gypsum mine in Windsor was owned by an American company and it pulled out when the construction industry tanked after the 2008 depression.
  • And, last but not least, Kitty and Beckwith Gilbert, an American billionaire couple, seduced (or blackmailed?) our Provincial government, specifically our then minister of Lands & Forestry, now our Premier Iain Rankin, into selling our land, the land of all nearly one million Nova Scotians in order to transform it into a gated luxury golf course. Not just any land, but land that we all thought was protected. Owl’s Head was designated as a Provincial Park. And because the minister knew that it was protected, he sold it behind our back. Now we, the citizens who owned this land and wanted to protect it in perpetuity because it comprises rare and unique ecology, are spending time and money to try to get it back, to prevent its destruction, to prevent it from getting blasted and crumbled and crushed and turned into something synthetic.
Owls Head looking west towards Little Harbour – private land in foreground park reserve top right) (credit NS Nature Trust)

It’s colonization on steroids. It’s primitive. The one-time settlers together with the Indigenous people are now colonized by foreigners and made dependent on them. Nova Scotians are led to believe that they will be better off even though there’s no evidence this is or will be the case. The land is raped and lies desolate, foreign investors leave because their hot air balloons deflate. They couldn’t care less about the land or the long term future for the people who live here.

Private profit never serves the public interest. All this is rape. It’s the Sabine women all over. Our lands are raped, our future sold. The countless endangered birds, plants and sea creatures don’t speak our language and can’t defend themselves. There will be devastatingly Silent Springs across our lands.

Undo the theft. Give us back Owl’s Head!

This article was originally published on Earth Science Society, an excellent website maintained by Dr. Elisabeth Kosters

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  1. Thankyou Dr. Koster for your ongoing determination to halt this corporate-captured train-wreck of a place we call home. Thanks as well to the Nova Scotia Advocate for your continuing efforts to educate and inspire us to a better life.

  2. Thank you for this article. These obvious prevailing cultural behaviorial patterns are so dysfunctional. The collective mindset must change. The Owl’s Head situation is just so disappointing, deplorable really. It’s serves as a testament as to what the environmentally conscious are facing. Even minister’s of the crown and premiers covertly work to undermine the protection of vitally and crucially important ecosystems. Not just the corporate world, elected officials? What happened to the common good?

  3. Similarily this metaphor applies to Halifax where developers as corporate colonizers are clear-cutting the city, aided and abetted by governments which are busily enclosing the Common.

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