The Trenches between Languages and Nation-building

Volume #1, Issue #1


Who’s Entitled? Diamond Mining and Internal Displacement in Botswana
by Lital Khaikin

Additional content in PDF and print edition.

This inaugural issue of The Sparkplug reflects on the impact of mining on displacement, land division and the loss of language. Languages are living fields of experience, embodying the eternal human challenge of being liberated through communication, and restricted by finite terms. The shades and tones of innumerable human languages are precious, conveying to us entirely new ways of living, thinking, and connecting. But what pushes them to the edge of disappearance?

X.C. has helped with language documentation in Botswana. As they write, the study of language is never about language alone. Their submission is a personal reflection on their previous work in the field, which also hints toward the nation-building projects that have contributed to the marginalization of what are collectively known as Khoisan languages.

The article that accompanies X.C.’s submission explores one of the factors that has contributed to language loss in Botswana. Canadian companies play an active role in Botswana’s profitable diamond industry, and continue to contribute to the arms trade with Botswana.

Canada took over a decade to sign the United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples, finally adopting it in 2016. Yet, the adoption of the declaration into law across the country has been slow and widely seen as a publicity stunt for ‘Reconciliation’ clout. The recognition of the declaration of Indigenous peoples’ rights also does not seem to propose thinking critically about the impacts of Canadian industry on Indigenous rights abroad. Beyond empty posturing and sloganeering, it’s necessary to look at how Canadian industries and investors are contributing to the displacement and abuses of Indigenous peoples around the world.

At the crux of these two articles, is the displacement of people who do not choose to live by the capitalist norms of so-called “developed” or “rich” countries. The Khoisan have often been exoticized as “remote”, “isolated”, “untouched” people — all while their ancestral homelands have been encroached upon by big business, investors, and “nature reserves”. But their stories are shaped by resilience to the imposed state borders of Botswana and hard-won victories such as the 2006 legal battle that (at least legally) granted the right to return to the Kalahari. And it is in that resilience that hope has been kindled. 


X.C. was previously involved in documenting severely endangered languages in Botswana and elsewhere. They believe in the centrality of marginalized voices to an inclusive and sustainable future for all peoples. For privacy and safety, identifying information in various forms has been omitted from their article.