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A Native Perspective of Gold Mining in Guatemala and its Devastating Impacts on Our Brothers and Sisters, the Mayans

Blog posts reflect the views of their authors.
Author Cathy Gerrior in the Guatemalan highlands. (Grahame Russell photo)
Author Cathy Gerrior in the Guatemalan highlands. (Grahame Russell photo)
A memorial to just a few of the 200,000 Indigenous people killed during the Guatemalan genocide of the 1970s and 80s. (Cathy Gerrior photo)
A memorial to just a few of the 200,000 Indigenous people killed during the Guatemalan genocide of the 1970s and 80s. (Cathy Gerrior photo)

Cathy Gerrior is a Mi'kmaq woman who participated in the International Health Tribunal in San Miguel Ixtahuacan, Guatemala, an event which examined the physical and mental health impacts of the Canadian Goldcorp-owned gold mine in the community. 


my spirit name is white turtle woman and i am a Mi'kmaq Elder and Ceremony Keeper from Turtle Island.  i was given an opportunity to visit Guatemala by a group called Breaking the Silence.  This is an organization that works towards justice and fair treatment of the Mayan People in Guatemala.

We joined a delegation in Guatemala led by Grahame Russell with the Rights Action Group to learn the truth about the Canadian Mining Companies and what they are doing to our Mayan brothers and sisters in Latin America.  Grahame was very thorough in his teachings around this issue.  At one point i asked him if this work was his passion.  He thought about it for a moment and replied, "No.  It's my social responsibility."

It is majestic and deceptive to drive through the countryside of Guatamala with its volcanoes, and seemingly endless food and natural resources.  It is shocking to learn that the Native people of Guatemala were forcibly evicted from their traditional lands so that all this could be produced for the benefit of Canada and the United States, and that the Mayan People are forced to work the fields during harvest for about $2 per day.

i watched in wonder as i saw corn growing up and down the mountainsides and learned that that is the crop of the Mayan People - corn and beans. They use all their land to sustain themselves and their families.  Some also have some livestock - often chickens and pigs which have free rein to move about naturally.  i noticed goats and a few cows, who were more confined.  The effort it must take to plant and harvest these crops on such steep terrain.  i heard that they tie themselves to a sturdy tree or rock in order to navigate the steepness.  i frequently saw them walking along the side of the highway carrying their hoes or hauling their firewood on their backs.  Even the children were carrying their own loads of firewood.  It was both beautiful and sad to see this, especially once the realities of what is happening to the People was revealed when we reached our destinations.

We first visited the communities of San Jose del Gulfo and San Pedro Ayumpac where they are blockading the mine entrance to Radius Gold. It was reminiscent of  blockades here on Turtle Island. The People standing together and saying "No" to violations against Mother Earth, families, and communities.  They take this stand at the risk of being shot (with no consequences to the shooter) because their traditional lands are all they have to support themselves and their next generations.  The mining companies trick their way into communities and then seem to stop at nothing in order to begin reaping obscene profits at the expense of the Native people and Mother Earth. i saluted their commitment to what is right in the traditional way of our People.

In San Rafael las Flores i listened to a man named Oscar Morales (whom i saw as a natural leader) who said, "We are farmers.  What did we know about mining? We had no idea that what they were telling us was all lies."   He is educating himself now and arming himself with facts and truths about the different layers of ugliness that these mining companies create and inflict, in an attempt to protect their lands and communities.  i pray often, Oscar, that you are successful.

In El Estor we met two sisters who are fighting a nickel mining company.  The husband of one of the sisters was murdered by the company for resisting them and both have a brother in prison on trumped-up charges for doing the same thing.  They do what they can to help a young man in their community who was shot and paralyzed by company men.  With some assistance from a friend who was also an interpreter, we were honoured to perform a Healing Ceremony on these women to give them the strength to continue their fight.  i understand that they are filing civil suits in Canada to try to get a measure of justice for the harms and violations inflicted on them by employees of the mining company.  i promised them i'd come back and ask the people here on Turtle Island to pray for them and their cause.  i ask all who read this to join me in these prayers.

We went to a cemetery where they are exhuming bodies from mass graves of the "Disappeared People." Often women and children, but also those who were 'detained' over different periods of time.  There are so many, dating back to the seventies; perhaps beyond.  They were 'detained' for different reasons, but none of them legitimately.  No trials were ever held and if i understand correctly, no charges were ever even filed against them.  Their pictures are plastered everywhere, both in the cemetery and in the cities, placed hopefully and lovingly by the families looking for their loved ones.  i struggled with this the most.  i was moved to do Ceremony at that place, speaking to the Ancestors specifically to the issues of,  Truth. Memory. Justice.   Grahame used those words frequently throughout the week we were together, and i will carry those very words with me always. 

We travelled to mining communities closer to the Goldcorp mine where a Health Tribunal was being held for the people to come together to tell their stories to 'the world' and in some measure, hold the mining companies accountable for the atrocities being inflicted on the Mayan People in the name of 'Progress,' but which really boils down to obscene profits for Canadian mining companies in operation in Latin America.

San Miguel Ixtahuacan. There we met Florencio Yoc who is being forced to protect himself and his land, sometimes by even his own family, from being unlawfully sold to the mining company. His land contains a natural spring that provides life-giving water to his and several other families living near him. 

We met Diodora who was shot in the head by mining company employees because she refused to sell her land.  She is now mostly alone and lonely due to the fear and community conflict created by Goldcorp. Still, she resists, doing what she knows to be right and living as best she can, which was once in harmony on Mother Earth.  You are also in my prayers, Diodora.  i will never forget you.

Lastly, we attended part of the first day of the Health Tribunal.  Goldcorp was found guilty of violations to both Mother Earth and to the Mayan People who are unfortunate enough to eke out their living on land rich in precious metals that mining companies covet.  From my conversations with these amazing people, they too believe that the taking of these metals that belong in the Earth creates an imbalance that negatively impacts all life on earth.  They are deep in Mother Earth for a reason and that ravaging of the earth for these metals unleashes things that we do not understand but which negatively impact all of us.

Is mining for precious metals evil?  That answer has not been revealed to me.  i believe though that mining in the way that these Canadian gold mining companies choose to mine, with total disregard to  human life, rights and responsibilities, and at the expense of Mother Earth and all who dwell on her, for mere profits is, at the very least, blind greed.  You judge the rest.

Please educate yourself.  Then do something.  It is all very devastatingly familiar.  "Do what you know to be right" (The Ten Indian Commandments).  That is all i have to say. 

Um Set Nogama (spelled like it sounds rather that true spelling). 

It means, "All my Relations."

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