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Women Waiting on a Mining Company

I recently published a political opinion piece called “Harper’s Anti-Politics Machine: Canada’s Mining Industry and International Development Assistance” for The Harper Decade.

The article was inspired by my conversations last year with Maya-Mam women farmers in the northwestern region of Guatemala. It was the dry season when I visited. Women had strung their maize seed — vibrant purples, reds, white and black — from the rooftops and sat in wait for the rains.

They invited myself and my colleague, KJ Dakin, a Canadian photojournalist, into their adobe brick built homes to eat steaming tamales, drink plastic mugs of pinol, a hot maize porridge and talk.

What surfaced many times in our conversations had nothing to do with seed or soil, but everything to do with what lay beneath the earth.

Women were adamant that the number one threat to their security and well being as farmers was a Canadian-owned gold mining company operating “The Marlin Mine” only a few kilometres away.

Since 2005, Goldcorp, a Vancouver-based mining company (one of the largest in the world) has been cracking open the Mam’s mountains to mine for gold, nickel and silver.

Women were worried the mine was over-consuming and polluting the groundwater. They wondered if it had anything to do with increasing temperatures and the failure of their yields. Wild plants they used in the traditional chuj, a sweat ceremony, could no longer be found growing on the sides of the mountains. Was it an effect from the mine? The women worried. Science wouldn’t back their fears because most surveys have been financially backed by the government or the mining company.

What women knew to be true; however, is that no one in Comitancillo or San Marcos had ever asked for the Marlin Mine. The project arrived without consent, without permission, without need, or want.

I’ll never forget the fire in one of the woman’s words. She was round as an apple. Her hair had turned silver. But she wasn’t about to sit back as a grandmother and watch her land disappear to the mine.

“We are saying [to Goldcorp], leave our territory because it doesn’t belong to them,” said Victoria. “God created it for the Maya people. They have their own land, their own houses [in Canada], so they should leave us in peace. That’s what we want here.”

The women farmers in Comitancillo were waiting for the rains to return so they could plant their frijolesmaize and squash on the arid hillsides. They were also waiting for the day the mine would finally leave. It was probably their greatest prayer of all. They knew the mine was short-lived. Their seeds had endured over five hundred years. But would the mine poison the roots of their land, water and resources?

Over the past ten years, the Canadian government, led by Stephen Harper, has dismantled everything good about Canada’s role in international community development to favour Canadian mining companies. The piece I wrote for The Harper Decade is an emotional cry to put an end to the unjust mining practices (committed by Canadian companies and their subsidiaries) in the Americas and around the world.

Women farmers shouldn’t have to wait in worry any longer.

For more information about the Marlin Mine in Guatemala, read “Indigenous Farmers Confront Canada’s Goldcorp” in Briarpatch Magazine.