In a moving show of solidarity, more than three dozen people from Fredericton visited the Wolastoqiyik grandmothers’ camp in the woods near Napadogan on May 26.
Almost one year ago, the grandmothers established a permanent camp to defend their traditional hunting territory from the Sisson Mine project, which is proposed in the headwaters of the Nashwaak Watershed.
If built, HDI Northcliff’s Sisson Mine project would be one of the largest open-pit tungsten and molybdenum mines in the world.
“I was so surprised to look up and see all the vehicles coming down the road to help with the garden and longhouse,” said Andrea Polchies, one of the Wolastoqiyik grandmothers living at the camp.
The grandmothers have named the location of the camp, Macehcewik sipohsisol, which means “where the brooks begin” in the Wolastoq language. The camp is located where a huge tailings dam is proposed to contain the Sisson Mine project’s waste. Experts from MiningWatch Canada have condemned the project as economically unfeasible with significant negative long-term environmental impacts.
The caravan of farmers, professors, students, writers and retirees travelled to the camp to help construct a traditional longhouse at precisely the location of the proposed open-pit mine, plant a raised bed vegetable garden, and donate food, supplies and money for the camp.
Sister Maudilia López, a Maya Mam Catholic nun resisting the Canadian mining company, Goldcorp, in San Miguel Ixtachauan, Guatemala, was one of those who visited the camp with the caravan. Goldcorp operated the Marlin gold mine in López’s community for 12 years, from the year 2000 to 2012.
Sr. López shared her community’s struggle with Goldcorp to the grandmothers and allies gathered in front of the solar-powered tiny home at the camp.
“I want indigenous people to fall in love with the Earth and their own roots, not just follow European and North American beliefs that have nothing to do with our culture,” Sr. López told the National Catholic Reporter in 2016.
Sr. López has been working with activists in the United Church of Canada’s Mining the Connections Working Group to get the church to stop investing its pension plan in Goldcorp.
Alan Hall, the United Church’s staff person responsible for the pension board, told Sr. López in a meeting, days before at the United Church’s Maritimes Conference in Sackville, that Goldcorp had resolved many of its problems with communities.
Sr. López challenged Hall’s positive depiction of the company’s actions by sharing the ongoing problems of the Goldcorp mine in her community, after which she received a standing ovation from the conference participants. Hall said he would study the information that she shared.
On the matter of Goldcorp divestment, Kathryn Anderson, a member of the United Church’s Mining the Connections Working Group, says, “The church’s Pension Board is in opposition to the will of the church, strongly expressed at its last General Council in 2015.”
Sr. López is one of many Maya Mam people affected by Goldcorp’s Marlin mine in Guatemala to visit Fredericton over the past decade.
In 2015, Crisanta Perez, a Mayan Mam grandmother, spoke of her community’s struggle against the Marlin mine on a panel about the criminalization of land defenders. Perez blamed the Marlin mine for shortages in water, cracks in homes, health problems and criminalization and violence against opponents.
Almost ten years before, in 2006, Juan Tema, a farmer from Sipakapa, spoke to an audience in Fredericton about the farmers’ struggles against the Marlin mine.
In 2004 and 2005, Sipakapa farmers staged a 42-day blockade that stopped the mine’s trucks from passing through their community. The blockade violently ended when more than 1,200 soldiers and 400 police officers fired shots at the unarmed protesters, killing Raul Casto Bocel, a farmer, and injuring many others.
Sr. López who is now dealing with the aftermath of the large-scale mining operation in her community was especially interested in learning how the Wolastoqiyik plan to stop the mine from starting.
Hart Perley, one of the Wolastoqiyik grandmothers, explained to Sr. López and the group gathered at the camp that she has written many letters, including to the Canadian Prime Minister, Ministers responsible for indigenous affairs and the Queen of England to state her community’s opposition to the Sisson Mine project.
In her letters, Perley cites the Peace and Friendship treaties that never surrendered any land in New Brunswick away from the indigenous people. She also references numerous legal conventions dealing with indigenous people and consent, including the United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples. Minister of Justice Jody Wilson-Raybould is the only Canadian official to have acknowledged Perley’s correspondence.
“Hart, you are my hero. You are my hero for being out here, defending the land,” Joan McFarland, a grandmother, economics professor at St. Thomas University and long-time solidarity activist with Guatemala, told Perley.
Tracy Glynn is a member of the Fredericton committee of the Maritimes-Guatemala Breaking the Silence Network.