This is the second of a two-part feature detailing events at the fourth annual Mining Injustice Conference, May 5-6, 2012, in Toronto, Ontario, Canada. You can find the first part here.
It’s a well-known fact that Canada is home to roughly 70 percent of the world’s mining companies. Being such a majority leader in the industry, Canada is expected to behave in a certain manner, to set a good example, like all good leaders should. But it doesn’t, does it? Instead, Canada prefers to put on a good show for its audience. It’s a game show, to be sure. And most of the time, the object of the game is to win hearts and minds.
It should come as no surprise that mining companies play the exact same game. Indeed, they love breaking out their trusty two dollar magic set to dazzle us with their fancy tricks, like turning empirical evidence into opinion or victims into enemies. A case in point is the Vancouver-based mining giant, Goldcorp
For years, Maya-mam community members in San Miguel Ixtahuacan have pointed at the company’s Marlin mine for health problems they are experiencing, like hair loss, severe rashes, and the appearance of open sores across their bodies. The Maya-mam maintain that they never experienced such problems before Marlin mine opened its doors in 2004.
Would you like to know how Goldcorp explained those problems? They once said it was the result of “bad hygiene,” a “lack of water” and “fleas”. It’s the gentleman’s way of saying that the Maya are ‘dirty Indians’.
Having followed the situation in San Miguel Ixtahuacan since 2006, I was glad to hear that Aniseto López from FREDEMI (The Coalition for the Defense of San Miguel Ixtahuacan) was speak during the second day of Mining Injustice.
Just prior to López’s presentation, Mining Injustice Solidarity Network’s (MISN’s) very own Susana Caxaj offered some introductory remarks on the matter of “Water, Land and Wellbeing”. Though she kept her talk short, Caxaj, who also works at FREDEMI, went over the recent environmental and health studies that have been carried out in San Miguel Ixtahuacan including a mental health study that she was involved in. She also commented briefly on the history of Guatemala for context; and, to bring her twelve minutes to a close, she let us know about an upcoming Health Tribunal that will bring together mining-affected communities from Canada, Honduras, Mexico and Guatemala. Intercontinental Cry will have more on this in the coming weeks.
Aniseto López provided an introduction of his own, going over the many controversies that surround the Marlin mine. Straight off, he pointing out that the Marlin mine is illegal because it was established without consultation.
It’s been all down hill from there. In addition to the above-mentioned health problems, López talked about the damage to local homes as a result of blasting at the mine; the company’s targeting of community members (specifically, he mentioned the cases of eight Maya women and thirteen men); and the group of cattle that died in 2010 after drinking water from a local river. To bring the latter point home, he also showed us a nine-minute film that was translated on the spot for the English audience.
Finally, López also talked about Goldcorp’s newly-announced plan to finally close the Marlin mine. That closure plan, is, of course, totally and completely inadequate.
Next up, Kevin Best from Earth’s Big Heart Society and Chris Cosack from NDACT (North Dufferin Agricultural & Community Taskforce) sat down for a discussion on “Protecting our Watershed & Resisting the Mega Quarry”. The panel was also joined by Elizabeth Babin, an Anishinaabe from Wahgoshig First Nation, who spoke earlier in the conference on Mining & Resistance in Ontario.
This particular panel wasn’t filmed as Todd Gordon, author of “Imperialist Canada” was simultaneously giving his own talk on Canadian Imperialism. It was, nevertheless, an enlightening discussion that joined together Canadian and First Nation perspectives on the subject of resistance.
After Elizabeth Babin started things off with a ceremony of Thanks, Chris Cosack went over the details of the proposed Melancthon mega quarry and NDACTs strategy to stop it.
For some context, the proposed mega-quarry threatens the headwaters of the Nottawasaga, Grand and Saugeen watershed systems in Southern Ontario. Given the fact that more than a million people rely on that water, opposition to the quarry is considerable. In addition to the local movement, Cosack explained, they have the backing of the David Suzuki foundation and the Toronto-based band, Blue Rodeo. He also highlighted two large and very successful public events that helped put the situation on the map: Foodstock 2011 and StoMp the Mega Quarry.
Local First Nations are also getting involved, thanks in no small part to the efforts of Kevin Best, who helped arrange Anishinaabek involvement in the opposition movement. Best explained that the Anishinaabek felt compelled to take a leadership role after learning about the risks. As he explained in a later interview with Intercontinental Cry, The Haudenosuanee are also getting involved, among others.
As far as strategy goes, both Cosack and Best offered a few recommendations, including the importance of being succinct in our message to the public and generally positive in our approach. Best also made a point of mentioning that “half of direct action is science.”
Elizabeth Babin, a recognized traditional Elder in her community, had a few words of her own to share on the subject. Unwavering, she stated that “Everything needs to be grounded in Ceremony and prayer or we run the risk of becoming like them”.
Speaking about the quarry, she also shared a recent conversation she had with another Elder from Manitoulin island. The Elder explained to her that limestone is a natural filter and that, without it, the water would become dirty. Incidentally, limestone also neutralizes acids and helps to restore essential nutrient levels in water and soil.
After this panel came to a close, we arrived at a second round of caucus meetings. Keen on taking part in a much larger discussion that I had yet to see at the conference, I attended the Global Mining Struggles Caucus.
Unfortunately, things didn’t go quite as I had hoped. The room was packed with so many people from so many different walks of life that the Caucus took on a life of its own. We never really got into any specific struggles, whether that of the Saami or the O’odham or the people of Jadugoda, India. Instead, we spent our time suggesting different strategies and tactics, mostly from a more-mainstream perspective. For instance, we talked about divestment and strategic voting, the need for education, and among more divergent points, the importance of being concise vs the importance of being detailed. We also talked briefly about the left being so divided and exclusionary, something to which we probably served as an example.
Then came the final event of the conference, the report-backs and closing remarks. First up, the Spanish Caucus outlined a day of action they conceived for July 23 that will target Canadian embassies around the world; The Global Mining Struggles Caucus reported back on our exploration; the Inter-Faith Caucus mentioned using “ritual as resistance” and suggested utilizing church space to organize; and finally, the Impacted Communities Conference , most notably, highlighted the importance of moving away from the NGO way of doing things. Let your imagination run wild on that one.
Last but not least, we heard from a few of the remaining speakers at the conference . Everybody keep their comments short, but the sense of urgency was clear. Theirs’ were words from the front lines: “We need to walk the talk”, said one speaker; “Capitalism needs to be whipped” said another; We need to “destroy the criminality of these corporations with a clenched fist”; We need to “unmask the plunder”.
We need to do something. It’s not global party-time anymore. It’s time to get to work.
If you’d like to learn more about the Mining Injustice Conference, please visit MISN’s website, www.SolidarityResponse.net.