New Tribes Mission

The New Tribes Mission (NTM), set up in 1942, is one of many fundamentalist christian missions that is trying to peddle its message to vulnerable groups, in this case the remaining tribal peoples of the world. It sets itself the ambitious and frightening target of continuing with this "until the last tribe is reached". It is active in nineteen countries

The role of a missionary is to infiltrate a tribe, and convince or coerce them into rejecting their own indigenous spiritual beliefs in favour of the christian church. Many times much more than this is lost, as people are 'educated' by missionaries, or missionary activity is the harbinger of further economic development Indigenous people find themselves suddenly brought in to the global economy with a bump, totally exploitable and the bottom of a pile. What's more, the people who are targetted are certainly those who are living in the most ecological manner possible, and where they do not face problems from other development projects, are also the most free.

The work of missionaries has since the start of the colonial era been as an initial subjugating force to herald the arrival of civilisation, and this continues to be the case today, as ideologially-charged missionaries raid the world's remaining ecological frontiers in search of new blood.

Nowhere in its statement of core values, or anywhere on its many websites, does the NTM claim any concern for the welfare of the people it is targetting. Even oil companies can usually manage some sort of greenwash bullshit, but the approach of NTM clearly defines indigenous people as 'savages' (it has even used this word in its literature) to be converted.

In the South Pacific, news continues to filter in about the NTM's activities. In West Papua they have been active for many years, and much of their work of 'conversion' is now complete. Recently however, observers monitoring the actions of the Indonesian state against the anti-development struggle of the OPM, have noticed that NTM aircraft flying from village to village, now distributing Coca-Cola and crisps, bringing the people there further into the cash economy.

Meanwhile in the Philippines, one of the countries where NTM is most active, Stefan Keulig of Friends of People Close to Nature found on a return visit last year that "...the last group of people on the island who had lived untouched for millennia, have now almost lost their culture, the Taut Batu. Only years ago a large part of the group lived their traditional way in their caves in the southern part of [the island of] Palawan. But the efforts of the American-Christian Mission " New Tribal Mission" had the result that the groups were forced into settlements, they were taught to build houses, to practice kaingin [slash-and-burn agriculture] and to work. Today most of those independent "Cave-people" have to earn their living through the producation of mats made of rattan to be able to participate in the 'blessings' of civilisation like clothing, industrial sugar and industrial white rice."

But none of this is new. Sporadic stories of abuse from the NTM have been emerging for years, despite the fact that most of their activities take place well hidden from outside scrutiny. Many stories have come from the rainforests of South America where the missionaries found that the only ways to convert nomadic communities was to force them into camps, or reservations, driving out into the forest to roundup those who do not come.

When Norman Lewis was researching his book "The Missionaries: God against the Indians" in 1988, he visited one such camp in Paraguay to find "...two old ladies lying on some rags on the ground in the last stages of emaciation and clearly on the verge of death. One was unconscious, the second in what was evidently a state of catalepsy...In the second hut lay another woman, also in a desperate condition and with untreated wounds on her legs. A small, naked, tearful boy, sat at her side... The three women and the boy had been taken in a recent forest roundup, the third woman having being shot in the side while attempting to escape."

In Paraguay, the NTM acted in collusion with the dictator Stroessner, for who the policy of settlement camps and conversion fitted in nicely with his plans for opening up the forest to mining and logging interests.

The NTM are also accused of killing many more people, for example the Ayoreo, also of Paraguay, by bringing western diseases into the area. They are also not deterred even by government rulings; in 1998 the Brazilian Association of Anthropology exposed the fact that the NTM were trying to re-establish their reservation for the Zo'E indians, which was closed down by the Brazilian state seven years previously because it emerged that 40 people had died from respiritory diseases, and the NTM's policy of keeping people at the camp by distributing industrialised goods had increased dependancy on these products.

*NTM are based in Sanford, Florida, but have loads of bible schools, language schools, aviation centres and so on all around the US and the rest of the world. It's all on their website www.ntm.org

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