Editor’s Note: The following is a summary of the proposed copper mining site Copperwood. Like any other mining, the proposed mine will have dire impacts on the ecology, health and human rights of the area, in this case, the Porcupine mountains and Lake Superior. The following text is compiled from the website Protect the Porkies.
Protect The Porkies is a grassroots campaign dedicated to resisting the development of a metallic sulfide mine in extreme proximity to Lake Superior, Porcupine Mountains State Park, and the North Country Trail. There has never been a metallic sulfide mine which did not contaminate water; Copperwood would be the closest such mine to Lake Superior in history; Lake Superior is the largest freshwater lake on the planet, representing 10% of the world’s surface freshwater.
It’s not hard to piece these facts together to see why the proposed mine is an atrocious and criminal idea. In a world which is getting hotter and drier, in which many cities must import water from hundreds of miles away, protecting freshwater is THE battle of our time.
All of the images on this piece were taken from Protect the Porkies.
Metallic sulfite mine would poison Lake Superior
Canadian company Highland Copper Inc. wants to drill under the Presque Isle River to seize minerals from directly beneath Porcupine Mountains State Park, the largest tract of mixed old growth forest remaining in the Midwest.
Unlike the White Pine North Mine (closed 1997 due to environmental concerns) which consisted of ore graded at 20% purity, Copperwood’s ore grade is estimated at only 1.5%, meaning that nearly 99% of mined material will be stored as 50+ million tons of heavy-metal laden waste rock on topography that slopes towards Lake Superior. Toxins of concern include mercury, arsenic, selenium, and lead. The data show that more than a third of tailings dams are at high risk of causing catastrophic damage to nearby communities if they crumble, and there are already multiple instances of serious failures.
Canadian company Highland Copper is a junior exploration company with zero experience opening and operating a mine, which already has a track record of violating permits and degrading wetlands. But they aren’t letting that slow them down: even though they lack key permits related to stream alterations and engineering of their tailings disposal facility, they have already begun their “summer site prep” of clearcutting and wetlands destruction.
97% of Earth’s water is salt water and thus not potable. Of the remaining 3%, the majority is frozen in the ice caps and thus not accessible. Of what remains, Lake Superior represents a full 10% of the world’s surface freshwater.
There has never been a metallic sulfide mine which did not contaminate local water. The Chopperwood Mine would erect a tailings disposal facility holding 50+ million tons of heavy-metal laden waste-rock on topography sloping towards Lake Superior.
Even if the tailings dam holds, acid mine drainage is a certainty: sulfides will combine with water and air to create sulfuric acid — a.k.a. battery acid — which then steeps over waste-rock and river sediment to leach heavy metals into the environment.
The last old-growth forest
98% of this planet’s old growth forest have been cut. The 35,000 acres in Porcupine Mountains State Park represent the largest tract of mixed old growth remaining in the Midwest.
Let’s be clear: Porcupine Mountains State Park is not just any park. In 2022, the Porkies were ranked by users of Yelp.com as the “most beautiful State Park in America.” But company maps suggest Highland Copper seeks to drill beneath the Presque Isle River and extract minerals from directly under old-growth forest on Park property.
The mine would subject the area to heavy metal dust spewed up from hundreds of meters underground, to catch and carry on the wind for miles in all directions; twice-daily subterranean blasts which are known to disrupt the reproductive cycles of aquatic life; noise pollution and light pollution which will further impact the mating rituals and calls of wildlife. And it’s unlikely that acid mine drainage will turn around upon reaching the Park entrance, only a 15 second drive from the mine entrance road.
Clearcutting enables wildfires
Already Highland Copper has clearcut hundreds of acres of so-called “secondary” forest in preparation for the Chopperwood Mine. But there’s nothing secondary about the importance of such woods— in addition to existing for their own sake and providing homes for countless organisms, forest which is allowed to mature becomes a barrier against wildfires. As trees grow old, they develop thick fire-resistant bark and shed their lower limbs, thus creating a diverse canopy which is difficult to burn. In the dense shade below, mosses, lichens, and liverworts move in, and the ground grows into a moist sponge.
At a time when wildfires are ravaging so many parts of the world, we should be doing everything we can to help our secondary forests mature, not replace them with a desert.
No more dark night skies
On the bluffs overlooking Lake Superior, the Presque Isle Campground at Porcupine Mountains State Park is one of the most popular in the Midwest. As a rustic campground, there is no electricity and no sewage dump. In just a short walk, visitors may reach three stunning waterfalls on the Presque Isle River or go fishing or swimming at the lakeshore.
Unfortunately, the Chopperwood Mine — in addition to subjecting the area to subterranean blasts, air pollution, and noise pollution — would be lit up like a casino all night long, effectively eliminating a clear view of the starry sky not just for the Presque Isle Area, but for miles around, potentially as far as Black River Harbor, another area of outstanding beauty.
In the 21st century, is there anything scarcer than a good view of the stars?
Home of wolf packs and fish
The 1500 acres encompassed by the mine site fall smack in the middle of a wolf pack’s territory, specifically the pack which travels between Black River Harbor and Presque Isle. It is one of only three wolf packs in the region.
A healthy, happy wolf pack is far scarcer than copper, and more valuable too. It is well known that large deer populations may over-browse riverbanks and bluffs around lakes. By keeping the deer population in check, wolves effectively prevent erosion— quite the opposite of Highland Copper, which is actively annihilating wetlands and rerouting streams.
The Anishinaabe Indians — also known as the Ojibwe — have fished the Presque Isle River and Lake Superior for hundreds of years and always been well-nourished. Unfortunately, fish are bio-accumulators of heavy metals, just like the kind which would be spewed from Chopperwood’s exhaust vents and leached from river sediment via acid mine drainage.
Redside Dace — an endangered species
In the 2009 biological monitoring report, populations of Redside Dace were found in both Namebinag and Unnamed Creek — two streams passing through the mine site which are planned to be rerouted. The Redside Dace is an Endangered Species in Michigan, and the Fishbeck, Carr, and Thompson report clearly states:
“Populations of Redside Dace within the Copperwood site should be protected from human-related impacts.”
Reishi provides medicine
Among the inhabitants of the ecosystem directly adjacent to the mine site is the Northern Reishi Mushroom (ganoderma tsugae). Prized for thousands of years in Chinese and Japanese medicine as “the Mushroom of Immortality,” the Reishi grows exclusively on Eastern Hemlock trees. Given that the Porkies hold the largest remaining tract of old growth Eastern Hemlocks — which have been all but eradicated in the East by the woolly adelgid — it is thus host to the largest and purest population of medicinal Reishi mushrooms in the country.
Unfortunately, like fish, mushrooms are bio-accumulators of heavy metals. One day, will mushroom foragers stop picking the Reishi for fear that a medicine has become a poison?
The last wild coastline
Rome wasn’t built in a day, and neither was industrial sprawl. First you build a network of roads, then you build a mine, then you build parking lots for your 100 or so employees, then those employees want to live nearby so they buy up land and build houses, before you know it there’s a sewage system, an electrical grid, and a proposal to connect the Presque Isle Scenic Area to Black River Harbor via highway, right along some of the last wild coastline remaining, and though such a thing was once inconceivable, it now strikes us as perfectly reasonable, because the mine and its infrastructure have already paved the way.
You may think this scenario sounds like fear-mongering, but just look around you and the proof is everywhere: roads already press against the North Shore in Minnesota and Canada and along all the other Great Lakes. None of it happened overnight: such development unfolds not at the pace of a Hollywood action film, but at an ooze over the course of years, decades, lifetimes. Ecologists refer to this as the Shifting Baseline Syndrome. If we don’t draw a line in the sand now, soon there will be nothing left to draw a line in front of.
A temple in hell
As we moderns come to spend our time increasingly immersed in artificial environments — staring at screens and slogging through traffic — pilgrimages into the peace of Nature fulfill a crucial role: walking along the Presque Isle River, breathing deep the conifer-filtered air while listening to the hush of waterfalls— such experiences are sacred to many. Hindus, Christians, Muslims, Buddhist, atheists and animists too — all are welcome in the Universal Church of Nature.
By threatening this thriving outdoor recreation area with rock grinding, heavy metal exhaust, light pollution, industrial traffic, and acid mine drainage, Highland Copper might as well be burning a temple.
The operation would likely lead to audible rock grinding and subterranean blasts using toxic ammonium nitrate which would be felt for miles around, both on the North Country Trail and in the Presque Isle Scenic Area of the State Park, and possibly even at Black River Harbor. As with the development of Eagle Mine in Marquette County, we can expect non-stop industrial traffic on County Road 519, heavy metal-laden dust from exhaust vents which travels far from its source on the wind. Given that the Copperwood is a metallic sulfide mine, there remain concerns regarding acid mine drainage — irreversible contamination of wetlands and waterways.
Nawadaha, Manido, and Manabezho— these are the three waterfalls of the Presque Isle Scenic Area, which still bear the names of Anishinaabemanitous.
Long before Michigan, long before the arrival of Europeans, the Anishinaabe fished and foraged these lands. There was a nomadic settlement at the mouth of the Presque Isle River. Later, at that same beach, the Anishinaabe met to trade with French trappers. To this day, park-goers find arrowheads and other artifacts on the shore.
What tribute do we pay to this fine history by allowing a foreign company to contaminate these waters, spew heavy metal dust on the wind, and potentially even drill beneath the River, beneath the old growth, even beneath Lake Superior?
Though the situation may seem dire, there is still time to build opposition:
Highland Copper will not decide whether or not to greenlight construction until 2024, and they are still lacking $250 million required to initiate their project. But in the meantime, they are already clearcutting forest, rerouting streams, and destroying wetlands, so there is no time to lose.
If we as a society do not draw a line in front of protecting freshwater seas and old growth forest, then it means we won’t draw a line anywhere, and that is a very scary place to be as a species. So please, join the campaign today by taking action:
Sign thepetitionand pass it on to others; in 2024, we plan to bring the petition off the Internet and into the real world by hand-delivering it to the Governor’s office.
Reach out to Michigan’s politicians; even if you are not a resident, tell them that the outdoor recreation industry in Michigan is over 10 times the size of mining, and no state which entertains such an atrocious project will receive a single dollar of your tourist money.
And remember, Protect The Porkies is not an organization— we are a movement, and everyone is invited to be a part. We won’t win by following their playbook, but by using our creativity to come up with our own.
DGR conducted its annual fundraiser on Ecology of Spirit. If you have missed it, you can view it here. You can also visit our auction for paintings, books, brownies and conversations. The auction will remain open till October 31.
Today is the 50th anniversary of the first Earth Day celebration. In this piece, Paul Feather describes how hope and optimism live alongside knowledge of the destruction of Mother Earth. He brings it home with the need for direct action, ceremony, and love of the self, family and the wild, natural world.
Today I saw the first blossom on the pea vines. It is a rite of spring. I’ve retreated to the warmth of my woodstove to weather a blackberry winter, but I believe this is the last fire my stove will hold this season.
It’s a time of accelerating change, days lengthen, T-shirt weather followed by surprise frosts that wilt the leaves on the potatoes. Every day new green leaves to eat after the boredom of turnips and turnips and turnips. It’s no wonder that we celebrate this time. The small community where I live has held Earth Day celebrations at this time of year for longer than I’ve been here, twenty years at least.
This year marks the fiftieth national celebration of the holiday. There will be no gathering here this year. We’ll spend this Earth Day quarantined in our homes—hopefully very pleasantly—some of us with our most immediate family, and some of us alone. What does it mean to miss our little celebration? It means songs not sung, meals not shared; recipes not exchanged, games not played; community connections not maintained, created, or reborn. It also means other things undone: cars not driven, drinks not drunk, cans not crushed; tinfoil not thrown away, fancy foods from faraway lands not cooked and eaten. Our place as part of the “solution” un-confirmed. I do not know what to do with this.
Earth Day Gatherings
For several years, I was well fed by our yearly gathering. I do not wish to cheapen it by wallowing in hypocrisy, self-righteousness, or the unavoidable imperfections of an impure world. Nevertheless, I couldn’t help but cringe last year at the food still on plates in the trash cans. I do not mean to be this way. I’m preoccupied with the meaning of what we’re doing. Why are we here? What does this mean?
The Earth Day Network aims to “flood the world with hope, optimism, and action” on April 22nd, and I presume these are all good things, indispensable to any progressive movement. With good reason the Network celebrates their many successes. From organizing what’s become the largest secular observance in the world to their contributions toward very real and practical actions such as getting lead out of gasoline and planting hundreds of millions of trees. Their narrative is contagious. It is full of young people refusing to accept platitudes; global outpourings of energy, enthusiasm, and commitment; action at all levels; we are transformational, galvanized, unparalleled, and bold. Are we though?
For all the work put into building a successful narrative—the need for which I don’t doubt—where has fifty years of Earth Day got us? There are almost four times as many cars in the world as there were in 1970. There are twice as many people. Atmospheric CO2 is up nearly 100ppm (doesn’t sound like much, but it’s rather a lot). I’ll spare you the litany. Things aren’t getting better. There’s food on the plates in the trash cans at Earth Day.
Hope and Optimism
I wonder what we’re trading for this optimism and hope. Do we exchange honesty for enthusiasm? Truth for positivity? How much hope do we really need? Author and activist Janisse Ray, in The Seed Underground questions this preoccupation with hope and optimism:
“The assumption is that hope is a prerequisite for action. Without hope one becomes depressed and then unable to act. I want to stress that I do not act because I have hope. I act whether I have hope or not. It is useless to rely on hope as motivation to do what’s necessary and just and right. Why doesn’t anybody ever talk about love as motivation to act? I may not have a lot of hope but I have plenty of love, which gives me fight. We are going to have to fall in love with place again and learn to stay put.”
Earth Day is a Rite
Many of us are staying put now whether we are in love with place or not. Perhaps this is a call to find that love we have been missing. Perhaps we don’t need these optimistic narratives with long lists of “successes” that somehow end in failure. Perhaps we need to fall in love.
I think a lot about these rites of spring. The first pea blossom. The last fire in the woodstove at blackberry winter. These passages from one thing into another. We often say that, “every day is Earth Day,” but the truth is, it’s not. Earth Day is a rite. A ritual. A symbolic event. When we gather in community to observe a special day, there is meaning in what we do and how we do it. Our celebration of Earth Day conveys our beliefs about the Earth and our place in it, both in the content and form of that event.
The Need for Ceremony
There are different kinds of ritual, but we don’t do them very well. This essential part of what it means to be human has been long scattered to the wind, and we must do the best we can with scraps and pieces. Malidoma Somé, in his book Ritual draws from a knowledge base within tribal communities of West Africa and insists on the need for ceremony at all levels of the social structure: individual, family, and community. Without careful attention to ritual at each of these levels, the community and each individual will suffer.
Perhaps our celebrations and rituals, such as they are, need to come home.
Long before the quarantines, I found that I had inadvertently isolated myself within this community that I respect and love so dearly. My efforts to push our community toward greater integrity in various ways have moved others very little but left me on the edge. (Perhaps I am clumsy in my efforts.) But, as I have become increasingly unable to shake this empty feeling about our collective celebrations and community rites, I have become occasionally more attentive to my own rituals and observances. I wonder if that is our next step.
We cannot separate the individual from the community, the personal from the structural; the self is embedded in the system.
If our community rituals are failing, if Earth Day feels empty, if half a century of “success” by the largest environmental organization in the world leaves us worse than we’ve ever been, perhaps there is something missing from our community space.
Perhaps it is time for something different
This year, the Earth Day Network is going digital. We are unable to gather during quarantine, so we will gather in the virtual world … on Earth Day… Seriously?
I am reminded of something from the book Becoming Animal, in which David Abrams pushes back against the conventional symbolism of environmentalism embodied in the image of the whole Earth from space. Supposedly, this symbol conveys the isolation of our fragile and finite planet in an otherwise inhospitable space. Since Stewart Brand and the Whole Earth movement succeeded in introducing this image to the environmental movement in 1970, it has become one of the most familiar and widely distributed images in history—inseparable from Earth Day. Abrams suggests that there are ways in which this image is unhelpful. When we are asked to imagine the Earth, we imagine this view from space—from outside. As a phenomenologist, Abrams suggests that our perception and imagery of the Earth should remain rooted in our physical and bodily experience. The Earth is what you see before you in this moment, right now.
Finding a wild place
Is it good then that we respond to this quarantine by moving our environmentalism online into the virtuality of screens and digital interactions with far-away humans? Or is this a call to usher that movement through the front door, to invite it in, or listen as it calls us out through that door and into the yard and the streets? What would happen if we turned the screens off? What would happen if we went outside and felt the snap of blackberry winter? What would happen if we dusted out the backwoods of our DNA for remnants of remembering of being alone in a wild place, or found one and went there? Would we be braver? Would we become more galvanized and bold?
Indigenous people make up less than 5% of the world’s population, but they protect 80% of the remaining biodiversity. In Odisha India, a group of women have protected forests from timber smugglers for the past 20 years, keeping vigil in groups of ten and carrying sticks. Activists in the Philippines continue to blockade mines in spite of targeted killings that make this country the deadliest place to defend the planet. Unfortunately, in spite of these efforts, land defenders aren’t winning either: deforestation in the Amazon is up 80% since Jair Bolsonaro took office. Twenty defenders in the Amazon were killed last year, but this number fails to capture the physical attacks, threats, and criminalization that these people endure to protect us all.
Perhaps I do us all a disservice, but it’s hard for me to imagine many people I know, people whom I love, respect, and cherish, voluntarily taking this level of personal risk to defend anything. I wonder if this galvanization can take place in a community space, at least here in this culture. I wonder what it will take for individuals to summon the strength that protection of the remnants of our future will absolutely require of us.
Think about that on Earth Day. Think about it with your family, and then go outside and think about it alone or with the blackberries and the budding trees and the orioles who have just turned up in the yard.
Make it a rite of spring.
Paul Feather is a an animist farmer and writer living in Georgia, USA. He advocates for direct, community-scale, production of basic needs. To find out more: www.paulandterra.com
The Garifuna, an Afro-indigenous ethnic group, have inhabited eastern Honduras since the late 18th century, collectively owning and conserving large tracts of Honduras’s rich coastal ecosystems.
In recent decades both their way of life and their ancestral lands have been increasingly threatened by the relentless encroachment of powerful private interests in Honduras’s burgeoning tourism and biofuel industries.
The Garifuna have been mounting a resistance, aided in part by a network of community radio stations.
In addition to serving up traditional music and shows on health and nutrition, domestic violence, substance abuse, and other topics, the stations have helped raise the profile of people struggling to protect indigenous lands and ways of life and serve as a strong means of mobilization, according to local activists.
LA CEIBA, Honduras — In the small, sky-blue studio at the Faluma Bimetu community radio station, 32-year-old Cesar Benedict reaches for the controls and slowly fades out the fast percussive rhythms and flighty guitar of a well-known Garifuna praise song. He leans his considerable bulk closer to the microphone and delivers a clipped message about the threat of deforestation and global warming in Honduras. Then he adeptly fades the track back in.Located in the rural village of Triunfo de la Cruz, in Honduras’s Atlántida department along the country’s palm-fringed northern Caribbean coast, Faluma Bimetu broadcasts the plight of the Garifuna people. The station’s name means “sweet coconut” in the distinctive Garifuna language.The Garifuna are a unique Afro-indigenous ethnic group descended from mutinous West African slaves and indigenous Carib and Arawak groups that dispersed across parts of South America and the Caribbean. The Garifuna have inhabited this part of Honduras since the late 18thcentury, collectively owning and conserving large tracts of Honduras’s rich coastal ecosystems and sustaining themselves on subsistence agriculture and small-scale fishing.
In recent decades, however, both their way of life and their ancestral lands have been increasingly threatened by the relentless encroachment of powerful private interests in Honduras’s burgeoning tourism and biofuel industries.
According to reports from organizations including Global Witness and Amnesty International, Garifuna communities along the Honduran coast have routinely faced threats, harassment and gross human rights violations. Faluma Bimetu was set up in 1997 in response to the murder of three local land activists.
Benedict was born here in Triunfo de la Cruz. When he was just 11 years old, he decided it was time to “join the social struggle,” as he puts it, to help protect the Garifuna’s land and culture against what he saw as an onslaught by external forces. He started volunteering at Faluma Bimetu, carrying out various menial tasks after school and picking up a few tricks of the trade from the radio hosts, who included his older brother.
Today, Benedict is Faluma Bimetu’s hardworking director. With no salary and minimal funding, he manages a team of seven radio hosts and oversees a 24-hour schedule that includes shows on health and nutrition, domestic violence and substance abuse, the environment, youth and women’s leadership development, religion and spirituality, and traditional music.
A “strong means of mobilization”
Benedict quickly creates a playlist to cover the next hour of his show, then we duck out for a short tour of Triunfo de la Cruz, a village of approximately 2,000 inhabitants characterized by pastel-colored wooden houses divided by uneven dirt roads. The sound of Benedict’s music selection pours through the open windows of many of the households we pass.
Benedict says that Faluma Bimetu, which broadcasts almost exclusively in Garifuna, plays a pivotal role in both informing and mobilizing the community of Triunfo de la Cruz. “I’d go so far as to say that the radio has saved the life of this community. Without it, I’m not sure we’d still be here,” he said.
To illustrate his point, Benedict cites a 2016 judgment by the Inter-American Court of Human Rights, an international appeals court in Costa Rica for countries in the Americas. The judgment found the state of Honduras responsible for the violation of collective ownership rights and a lack of judicial protection in Triunfo de la Cruz and the nearby Garifuna community of Punta Piedra, after the municipal government sold off Garifuna land to private developers.
Benedict believes that Faluma Bimetu was crucial in raising awareness of the case and reiterating the importance of conserving ancestral lands. Recordings of on-air discussions that included call-ins from aggrieved local residents were also submitted to the court as evidence.
Miriam Miranda is a prominent Garifuna activist and the general coordinator of the Black Fraternal Organization of Honduras (OFRANEH is its Spanish acronym), a Garifuna advocacy group that finances Faluma Bimetu and facilitates the training of its team. She shares Benedict’s sentiment that the radio station has served as a “very strong means of mobilization” in Triunfo de la Cruz, adding that “it’s also a very cheap one.”
Furthermore, Miranda points out that community radio can still operate with relative freedom in Honduras’s increasingly repressive media environment, where most commercial radio stations and television channels are either state sponsored or forced to self-censor for fear of heavy-handed state reprisal. In small and largely neglected Garifuna communities, independent stations like Faluma Bimetu have a better chance of flying under the government’s radar.
Miranda’s organization helps run a total of six Garifuna community radio stations across Honduras, all of which have close links with other indigenous radio stations and causes. In a country renowned as the most dangerous in the world for environmental rights activists, these stations have helped raise the profile of people on the frontlines of the struggle to protect indigenous lands and ways of life. They also highlight the regular injustices activists face at the hands of the Honduran state.
In November 2016, Radio Lumamali Giriga, a Garifuna community radio station in the coastal town of Santa Fe, 130 kilometers (80 miles) east of Triunfo de la Cruz, ran an interview with local Garifuna leader Madeline David Fernandez. The activist had been detained and allegedly tortured by Honduran police in response to her attempts to occupy ancestral Garifuna land that the municipal government had sold to a Canadian company for a large-scale tourism development. Lumamali Giriga was first to pick up this story, then a number of other community radio stations and human rights organizations followed suit.
According to Francesco Diasio, secretary general of the World Association of Community Radio Broadcasters, radio is a particularly powerful and accessible medium in indigenous Latin American communities, which often have low internet connectivity and literacy rates and strong oral traditions.
However, Diasio cautioned that there is “very little protection and often considerable risk” for journalists and activists working in community radio in Central American countries such as Honduras. “You only have to do a quick Google search to see that the Garifuna community radio stations have faced harassment from the Honduran government,” he adds.
In January 2010, after various incidences of intimidation and theft, Faluma Bimetu was the target of an arson attack that destroyed broadcasting equipment and badly damaged the building. No arrests have ever been made in connection with the incident. Benedict places the blame at the feet of Indura Beach and Golf Resort, a flagship luxury tourism destination near Triunfo de la Cruz that was initiated in 2008 as a joint venture between the Honduran Tourism Institute and a number of the country’s most powerful business figures.
A January 2017 Global Witness report titled “Honduras: the deadliest place to defend the planet,” wrote of Indura that “Beneath the perfect travel brochure surface, is a story of threats, harassment and human rights abuse.” In the months preceding the arson attack, Faluma Bimetu had frequently criticized Indura on air.
The report also claimed that the boundaries of Jeanette Kawas National Park, located just west of Triunfo de la Cruz, were redrawn to allow for the construction of Indura. In addition, Global Witness alleged that in 2014 police and military units tried to forcibly evict 157 Garifuna families from the same area as part of a plan to expand the tourism complex, incorporating two new hotels that would take the total number of rooms to 600.
Keri Brondo, an anthropologist with the University of Memphis in Tennessee, U.S., who has written extensively on the Garifuna, testified before the Inter-American Court of Human Rights in 2013 for the case brought by Triunfo de la Cruz and Punta Piedra. In her testimony she said that creating protected tourism areas that excluded local populations had led to overcrowding and the perpetuation of poverty in places like Triunfo de la Cruz. She added that lack of access to these protected areas had “hindered the community’s ability to maintain its traditional way of life.”
Mark Bonta, an assistant professor of earth sciences at Penn State Altoona in Pennsylvania, U.S., who has been working in Honduras for almost 20 years, told Mongabay that coastal tourism development in this region threatens not only local communities’ environmental sustainability, “but also coral reefs, mangroves, seagrass, strand, and other marine and coastal ecosystems.”
Bonta added that “local communities themselves, against all odds, if left alone, are able to protect their own resources sustainably, and there are many cases of their doing so.” He believes that community radio can make a “huge difference” in propagating such causes.
Indura Beach and Golf Resort declined to comment for this story, but in a January 2017 press release the resort stated that it had “all legal permits required by law for the development of the project” and that Global Witness had made “several false allegations.” Indura denied any attempt to force out Garifuna and said it had sought to work hand in hand with local communities.
Featured image: Three young brothers and their mother, from a family with 6 children overall – Internally Displaced Persons (IDPs) who fled to Bilwi, Nicaragua in August of 2015 from the frontier community of Santa Clara. Their family is struggling to get by in Bilwi; they are not used to needing money to survive. They don’t consider Bilwi their home and only wish for peace to be restored in the frontier community of Santa Clara so they may return to live in their traditional ways on their legal, traditional land. Photo by Courtney Parker. 2016
One day after she received an ominous warning, Indigenous Community Judge Celedonia Zalazar Point and her husband, Tito José González Bendles, were shot to death by Colonos in the northern Caribbean region of Nicaragua, a region that has been plagued by an escalating land conflict with illegal settlers since at least 2015. The unthinkable double homicide took place in the Tungla, Prinzu Awala Indigenous territory—Judge Celedonia Zalazar Point’s jurisdiction in the municipality of Prinzapolka.
La Prensa journalist, José Garth Medina, reported a statement from The Center for Justice and Human Rights of the Atlantic Coast (Cejudhcan) on Sept. 8, the date of the killings, concluding that the settlers entered the family home and killed both husband and wife with firearms.
Despite claims issued by local authorities regarding pending investigations into this most recent incident, Medina reminded readers that the November 2016 massacre (which IC also reported on) of a Mayanga family by Colono invaders, has yet to generate any arrests.
Colonos are armed, Mestizo imperialist settlers who are terrorizing Nicaragua’s Indigenous communities. Their endgame varies from one faction to the next; however most of them are interested in expanding the agricultural frontier with cattle farms or illegal mining interests—an effort that runs parallel to what has been happening across the Amazon for decades.
Many Colonos are also in possession of illegal land permits that grant them ownership to traditional Miskito lands.
In fact, the Indigenous territories of the northern Caribbean coast, where this recent double homicide took place, is also home to the largest tropical rainforest second only to the Amazon rainforest in the Western Hemisphere. The Bosawás Biosphere Reserve received official UNESCO designation as a biosphere reserve in 1997.
La Inicativa Mesoamericana de Mujeres Defensoras de Derechos Humanos (IM-Defensoras) has issued a call on the international human rights community “to remain vigilant about the grave situation facing the indigenous communities of the Caribbean Coast.” They called on Nicaraguan authorities to investigate the double homicide of the community judicial leader and her spouse; and in the process, end the culture of impunity that surrounds the ongoing murders of Indigenous Peoples in Nicaragua.
Even amidst the Guardian’s largely publicized partnership with Global Witness—a human rights watchdog group that has defended their methods, model, and investigation into the killings in Nicaragua after receiving waves of criticism from leftist groups operating ‘in solidarity’ with the Sandinista/Ortega government—the Guardian now appears unwilling to directly address the wave of deadly violence in Nicaragua, or even utter the country’s name in articles stemming from the partnership.
While the individual names of the judge and her spouse are listed at the top of their ‘recent killings list’, the Guardian‘s most recent published article, dated Oct. 11, makes no mention of the couple, let alone the cold-blooded colonialism that drove their murders.
To be sure, Community Judge Celedonia Zalazar Point and her husband, Tito José González Bendle, were killed by senseless colonial, greed-fueled violence in a country that has ironically managed to brand itself in many circles of international human rights discourse as a global leader of Indigenous rights recognition. Behind the scenes, the Indigenous Peoples of the northern Caribbean coast have been begging for years to FSLN/Sandinista authorities to end the culture of impunity that surrounds—and establishes a complicity in—this slow burning genocide.
Community leader, Brooklyn Rivera, has had his name smeared through the mud from every side but he’s still treated like a modern day mythic hero when he travels the frontier, which unlike the loud-mouthed Gringo ‘Sandal-istas’ who got caught up in the romance of a campesino revolution in the 1980’s—and have been unwilling to update their internal programming to recognize the economic and political ideological shifts that have taken place in the Sandinista model under Ortega—he travels to these violence-torn communities regularly. He is recognized everywhere he goes, every much the leader he was when Russell Means of the American Indian Movement (AIM) fought by his side during the last Indian wars.
The Moskito Council of Elders, led by Chief of the Elders, Ottis Lam Hoppington, are an entirely separate faction of tribal political influence in Moskitia and have no direct connections to Brooklyn Rivera or the various factions of the Indigenous political party of YATAMA that have emerged over the years. And yet, the message they send to the world is the same.
The colonial violence and invasion, which has greatly escalated since June of 2015 according to Hoppington, has disrupted their ancient way of life and connection to the land—and even disrupted the natural cycles of the region to the point of drying up rivers, causing animals to migrate, and causing the climate patterns to shift. The residents of Moskitia have been vigilant stewards of one of the most biodiverse areas in the world since ancient times; and, this is all being threatened – the Indigenous Peoples’ lives, and the climate mitigating biodiverse forest—by armed factions who, according to Hoppington, are directly supported by the Ortega government.
Chief of the Moskito Council of Elders, Otis Lam Hoppington, on the far left. Photo taken by Courtney Parker in February of 2016 in Bilwi, Nicaragua as the Elders met to discuss their list of demands from the YATAMA political party in a private meeting preceding the YATAMA conference in February of 2016.
In a statement collected from Brooklyn Rivera last year, he explains in great detail, the de-evolution of relations between the residents of Moskitia and the Sandinista government. This history ranges from a time of civil war when Indigenous villages were burned to the ground by the Marxist revolutionaries and tens of thousands of Indigenous individuals were internally displaced. Later, the Indigenous leaders of the region still gave Ortega and the FSLN another chance to make things right – for two election cycles – until it became apparent that the FSLN’s hollow apologies for their human rights violations on the Indigenous Peoples of Moskitia committed in the past were just empty rhetoric, hiding their real intentions to expand and nationalize the autonomous ancient Indigenous territory once and for all.
Accordingly, in the past few years, the region has been exercising more and more political autonomy which has resulted in a long line of violent attacks on Indigenous leadership in the quasi-urban Indigenous city of Bilwi – called Puerto Cabezas by colonists. This has occurred in tandem with the escalated violence and terrorism by Colonos inflicted on the frontier where Indigenous Peoples of Moskitia attempt to maintain their ancient lifestyles.
Many of the refugees fleeing to Bilwi from the frontier have never had to use money to acquire housing or food. A large percentage don’t even speak Spanish – only Miskito, the language which defines their lived experience on the frontier – and are marginalized further by this micro-cultural barrier when fleeing to Bilwi or other relatively urban regions.
Of course, the modern border to Honduras does not mean much to Indigenous Peoples of the region, as there have been Miskitos living, since ancient times, on either side of the dotted line. Yet, for whatever reason, masses have somehow been able to escape the encroaching settler violence on the Nicaragaua side, by crossing into modern-day Honduras, a part of the ancient ‘binational’ Indigenous territory of Moskitia.
This geopolitical anomaly (which has proven inconvenient for some ideologically entrenched ‘human rights groups’) seems to further disrupt the prevailing narrative that U.S. funded factions in Honduras have produced the deadliest violence towards all land defenders in Latin America. They certainly have produced an inexcusable amount of violence by any measure, but as the October 11tharticle in The Guardian noted on Honduras, their official body count of murdered land rights’ defenders for 2017 is ‘one’; and, is once again trailing behind Nicaragua’s death toll for the current year.
Stories of bloody, degrading violence associated with Canadian mining operations abroad sporadically land on Canadian news pages. HudBay Minerals, Goldcorp, Barrick Gold, Nevsun and Tahoe Resources are some of the bigger corporate names associated with this activity. Sometimes our attention is held for a moment, sometimes at a stretch. It usually depends on what solidarity networks and under-resourced support groups can sustain in their attempts to raise the issues and amplify the voices of those affected by one of Canada’s most globalized industries. But even they only tell us part of the story, as Todd Gordon and Jeffery Webber make painfully clear in their new book, The Blood of Extraction: Canadian Imperialism in Latin America (Fernwood Publishing, November 2016).
“Rather than a series of isolated incidents carried out by a few bad apples,” they write, “the extraordinary violence and social injustice accompanying the activities of Canadian capital in Latin America are systemic features of Canadian imperialism in the twenty-first century.” While not completely focused on mining, The Blood of Extraction examines a considerable range of mining conflicts in Central America and the northern Andes. Together with a careful review of government documents obtained under access to information requests, Gorden and Webber manage to provide a clear account of Canadian foreign policy at work to “ensure the expansion and protection of Canadian capital at the expense of local populations.”
Fortunately, the book is careful, as it must be in a region rich with creative community resistance and social movement organizing, not to present people as mere victims. Rather, by providing important context to the political economy in each country studied, and illustrating the truly vigorous social organization that this destructive development model has awoken, the authors are able to demonstrate the “dialectic of expansion and resistance.” With care, they also show how Canadian tactics become differentiated to capitalize on relations with governing regimes considered friendly to Canadian interests or to try to contain changes taking place in countries where the model of “militarized neoliberalism” is in dispute.
The spectacular expansion of “Canadian interests” in Latin America
We are frequently told Canadian mining investment is necessary to improve living standards in other countries. Gordon and Webber take a moment to spell out which “Canadian interests” are really at stake in Latin America—the principal region for Canadian direct investment abroad (CDIA) in the mining sector—and what it has looked like for at least two decades: “liberalization of capital flows, the rewriting of natural resource and financial sector rules, the privatization of public assets, and so on.”
Cumulative CDIA in the region jumped from $2.58 billion in stock in 1990 to $59.4 billion in 2013. These numbers are considerably underestimated, the authors note, since they do not include Canadian capital routed through tax havens. In comparison, U.S. direct investment in the region increased proportionately about a quarter as much over the same period. Despite having an economy one-tenth the size of the U.S., Canadian investment in Latin America and the Caribbean is about a quarter the value of U.S. investment, and most of it is in mining and banking.
Canadian mining investment abroad
To cite a few of the statistics from Gordon and Webber’s book, Latin America and the Caribbean now account for over half of Canadian mining assets abroad (worth $72.4 billion in 2014). Whereas Canadian companies operated two mines in the region in 1990, as of 2012 there were 80, with 48 more in stages of advanced development. In 2014, Northern Miner claimed that 62% of all producing mines in the region were owned by a company headquartered in Canada. This does not take into consideration that 90% of the mining companies listed on Canadian stock exchanges do not actually operate any mine, but rather focus their efforts on speculating on possible mineral finds. This means that, even if a mine is eventually controlled by another source of private capital, Canadian companies are very frequently the first face a community will see in the early stages of a mining project.
The results have been phenomenal “super-profits” for private companies like Barrick Gold, Goldcorp and Yamana, who netted a combined $2.8-billion windfall in 2012 from their operating mines, according to the authors. (Canadian mining companies earned a total of $19.3 billion that year.) Between 1998 and 2013, the authors calculate that these three companies averaged a 45% rate of profit on their operating mines when the Canadian economy’s average rate of profit was 11.8%.
Compare this to Canada’s miserly Latin American development aid expenditures of $187.7 million in in 2012—a good portion of this destined for training, infrastructure and legislative reform programs intended to support the Canadian mining sector. Or consider that the same year $2.8 billion was taken out of Latin America by three Canadian mining firms, remittances back to the region from migrants living in Canada totalled only $798 million (much more than Canadian aid).
Without spelling out the long-term social and environmental costs of these operations—costs that are externalized onto affected communities—or going into the problematic ways that private investment and Canadian aid can be used to condition local support for a mine project, Gordon and Webber posit that “super-profits” may be precisely the “Canadian interests” the government’s foreign policy apparatus is set up to defend—not authentic community development, lasting quality jobs or a reliable macroeconomic model.
State support for “militarized neoliberalism”
The argument that the role of the Canadian state is “to create the best possible conditions for the accumulation of profit” is central to Gordon and Webber’s book. From the Prime Minister’s Office (PMO) down, Canadian agencies and foreign policy have been harnessed to justify “Canadian plunder of the wealth and resources of poorer and weaker countries.” Furthermore, they write, Canada has actively supported the advancement of “militarized neoliberalism” in the region, as country after country has returned to extractive industry, and export-driven and commodity-fuelled economic growth, which comes with high costs for affected-communities and other macroeconomic risks:
The extractive model of capitalism maturing in the Latin American context today does not only involve the imposition of a logic of accumulation by dispossession, pollution of the environment, reassertion of power of the region by multinational capital, and new forms of dependency. It also, necessarily and systematically involved what we call militarized neoliberalism: violence, fraud, corruption, and authoritarian practices on the part of militaries and security forces. In Latin America, this has involved murder, death threats, assaults and arbitrary detention against opponents of resource extraction.
The rapid and widespread granting of mining concessions across large swaths of territory (20% of landmass in some countries), regardless of who lives there or how they might value different lands, water or territory, has provoked hundreds of conflicts and powerful resistance from the community level upward. In reaction, and in order to guarantee foreign investment, in many parts of the region states have intensified the demonization and criminalization of land- and environment-defenders, while state armed forces have increased their powers, and para-state armed forces expanded their territorial control.
Far from being a countervailing force to this trend, the Canadian state has focused its aid, trade and diplomacy on those countries most aligned with its economic interests. It is not unusual to see public gestures of friendship or allegiance toward governments “that share [Canada’s] flexible attitude towards the protection of human rights,” such as Mexico, post-coup Honduras, Guatemala and Colombia. Meanwhile, Canada has used diverse tactics (in Venezuela and Ecuador, for example) to contain resistance and influence even modest reforms.
Canada’s ‘whole-of-government’ approach in Honduras
One of the more detailed examples in Blood of Extraction of Canadian imperialism in Central America covers Canada’s role in Honduras following the military-backed coup in June 2009. Documents obtained from access to information requests provide new revelations and new clarity into how Canadian authorities tried to take advantage of the political opportunities afforded by the coup to push forward measures that favour big business. Once again, though other economic sectors are discussed, mining takes centre stage.
After the terrible experience of affected communities with Goldcorp’s San Martin mine (from the year 2000 onward), Hondurans successfully put a moratorium on all new mining permits pending legal reforms promised by former president José Manuel Zelaya. On the eve of the 2009 coup, a legislative proposal was awaiting debate that would have banned open-pit mining and the use of certain toxic substances in mineral processing, while also making community consent binding on whether or not mining could take place at all. The debate never happened.
Instead, shortly after the coup, and once a president more friendly to “Canadian interests” was in place following a questionable election, the Canadian lobby for a new mining law went into high gear. A key goal for the Canadian government, according to an embassy memo, was “[to facilitate] private sector discussions with the new government in order to promote a comprehensive mining code to give clarity and certainty to our investments.” Another embassy record said that mining executives were happy to assist with the writing of a new mining law that would be “comparable to what is working in other jurisdictions” and developed with a resource person with whom their “ideologies aligned.”
In a highly authoritarian and repressive context, and under the deceptive banner of corporate social responsibility, the Canadian Embassy—with support from Canadian ministerial visits, a Honduran delegation to the annual meeting of the Prospectors & Developers Association of Canada (PDAC), and overseas development aid to pay for technical support—managed to get the desired law passed in early 2013, lifting the moratorium. Then, in June 2014, with full support from Liberals and Conservatives in the House of Commons and the Senate, Canada ratified a free trade agreement with Honduras, effectively declaring that “Honduras, despite its political problems, is a legitimate destination for foreign capital,” write Gordon and Webber.
Contrary to the prevailing theory in Canada that sustaining and increasing economic and political engagement with such a country will lead to improved human rights, the social and economic indicators in Honduras have gotten worse. Since 2010, the authors note, Honduras has the worst income distribution of any country in Latin America (it is the most unequal region in the world). Poverty and extreme poverty rates are up by 13.2% and 26.3%, respectively, after having fallen under Zelaya by 7.7% and 20.9%. Compounding this, Honduras is now the deadliest place to fight for Indigenous autonomy, land, the environment, the rule of law, or just about any other social good.
A strategy of containment in Correa’s Ecuador
In contrast to how Canada has more strongly aligned itself with Latin American regimes openly supportive of militarized neoliberalism, the experience in Ecuador under the administration of President Rafael Correa illustrates how Canada considers “any government that does not conform to the norms of neoliberal policy, and which stretches, however modestly, the narrow structures of liberal democracy…a threat to democracy as such.”
In the chapter on Ecuador, Gordon and Webber provide a detailed account of Canada’s “whole-of-government” approach to containing modest reforms advanced by Correa and undermining the opposition of affected communities and social movements to opening the country to large-scale mining. A critical moment in this process occurred in mid-2008, when a constitutional-level decree was issued in response to local and national mobilizations against mining. The Mining Mandate would have extinguished most or all of the mining concessions that had been granted in the country without prior consultation with affected communities, or that overlapped with water supplies or protected areas, among other criteria. It also set in place a short timeline for the development of a new mining law.
The Canadian embassy immediately went to work. Meetings between Canadian industry and Ecuadorian officials, including the president, were set up to ensure a privileged seat at talks over the new mining law. Gordon and Webber’s review of documents obtained under access to information requests further reveals that the embassy even helped organize pro-mining demonstrations together with industry and the Ecuadorian government. Embassy records describe their intention “to create sympathy and support from the people” as part of a “a pro-image campaign,” which included “an aggressive advertisement campaign, in favour of the development of mining in Ecuador.” Meanwhile, behind closed doors, industry threatened to bring international arbitration against Ecuador under a Canada–Ecuador investor protection agreement (which a couple of investors eventually did).
Ultimately, the authors conclude, Canadian diplomacy “played no small part” in ensuring that the Mining Mandate was never applied to most Canadian-owned projects, and that a relatively acceptable new mining law was passed in early 2009. While embassy documents show the Canadian government considered the law useful enough to “open the sector to commercial mining,” it was still not business-friendly enough, particularly because of the higher rents the state hoped to reap from the sector. As a result, the embassy kept up the pressure, including using the threat of withholding badly needed funds for infrastructure projects until mining company concerns were addressed and dialogue opened up with all Canadian companies.
Not discussed in The Blood of Extraction, we also know the pressure from Canadian industry continued for many more years, eventually achieving reforms, in 2013, that weakened environmental requirements and the tax and royalty regime in Ecuador. Meanwhile, as the door opened to the mining industry, mining-affected communities and supporting organizations were feeling the walls of political and social organizing space cave in, as they faced persistent legal persecution and demonization from the state itself, while the serious negative impacts of the country’s first open-pit copper mine started to be felt.
Canada’s “cruel hypocrisy”
The Blood of Extraction is a helpful portrait of “the drivers behind Canadian foreign policy.” Gordon and Webber lay bear “a systematic, predictable, and repeated pattern of behaviour on the part of Canadian capital and the Canadian state in the region,” along with its systemic and almost predictable harms to the lives, wellbeing and desired futures of Indigenous peoples, communities and even whole populations. They call it Canada’s “cruel hypocrisy.”
The problem is not Goldcorp or HudBay Minerals, Tahoe Resources or Nevsun. These companies are all symptoms of a system on overdrive, fuelling the overexploitation of land, communities, workers and nature to fill the pockets of a small transnational elite based principally in the Global North. If we cannot see how deeply enmeshed Canadian capital is with the Canadian state—how “Canadian interests” are considered met when Canadian-based companies are making super-profits, even through violent destruction—we cannot get a sense of how thoroughly things need to change.
Jen Moore is the Latin America Program Coordinator at Mining Watch Canada, working to support communities, organizations and networks in the region struggling with mining conflicts.