Simon Björkbom Nov. 10, 2016, 1:31 p.m.

Issues facing the Indigenous community now and then


        There are over 5000 indigenous peoples and nations in the world. Despite the apparent social and political advances of civilization, the world’s Indigenous peoples continue to experience great challenges at the hands of governments, corporations, and non-governmental organizations. Displacement, the loss of access to natural resources and human rights abuses are a frequent occurrence. As a result, indigenous peoples are being dragged to extinction in many parts of the world. One among many examples is the situation in Peru.

        Latin America dangerously exploitative project dates back to 1993, when the US company Newmont Mining Corp. arrived in Peru to open the Yanacocha gold mine in Cajamarca, a region located in the North of the country. It is considered to be one of the largest and most profitable on the world, and the largest and most profitable in Latin America.

        In the name of development, past Peruvian governments granted concessions to extract minerals, gas and oil without considering the negative impacts of extractive activities on the livelihood of indigenous peoples. 

        By-product of the gold mine is the extensive over-use of finite freshwater resources and the use of toxic chemicals including cyanide. The extractive process itself produces other toxins, including chromium, mercury, lead and arsenic, all of which have to be removed and transported through unprotected communities.

        More than 20 years Peruvians have used water that was contaminated with chemical products to irrigate their crops and, in a chain of disasters, it has affected their animals as well. Farmers reported widespread livestock deaths and a 40 percent decrease in crop yields. The contamination has also caused breathing illnesses in children, denounced by the inhabitants but continually denied by national health authorities.

        When Yanacocha began operations in 1993, it enjoyed substantial support within the surrounding communities. Many local residents believed that the project could supplement the region’s traditional economic activity, and bring well-paying jobs and improved infrastructure. The familiar view of mining for local economic development proved false in Cajamarca: after hosting 20 years of mining activities, the region is still one of the poorest in the country.

        Minimal compensations for real damages do not cover the real impact of the extractive activities of foreign companies in developing countries, and to some extent conceal the real situation of injustice in terms of the loss of assets and the breaking up of consolidated social structures. The impact of Yanacocha on the life of the people of Cajamarca shows how insufficiently the local people are rewarded by the mining activity.

        For example the story of Maxima Acuna De Chaupe Family. Newmont mining corporation tried every which way they could to evict Acuna family of subsistence farmers. Mining corporation used the journalists, judgements, police, guards and many other weapons. But steadfast family resisted with all her strength and would not give up. When corporation couldn’nt evict them, they destroyed their farmland. We are now witnessing a new escalation against a family of subsistence farmers. This is not an isolated incident in a forgotten corner of the Peruvian sierra, but is representative of the drama of many families throughout the continent.

        The same scenario may repeat in the most unexplored part of Earth – Arctic.

        In parts of the Arctic are found a variety of natural resources, but many known reserves are not exploited because of their inaccessibility. The Arctic region is a vast storehouse of mineral wealth, including deposits of nickel, copper, coal, gold, uranium, tungsten and diamonds.

        At the same time Arctic is the ancestral land for more than 40 ethnic groups. Many distinct indigenous groups are found only in the Arctic, where they continue traditional activities and adapt to the modern world at the same time. Humans have long been a part of the arctic system, shaping and being shaped by the local and regional environment.

        Now the extraction of natural resources has a central role in many northern countries. For decades, the mining sector has been a central economic driver in the Canadian North and the discovery of large gold and diamond deposits in the Northwest Territories has intensified the speed and scale of development. The destruction of delicate Arctic ecosystem has already started.

        Today up to half of population of the Northwest Canadian Territories may have been exposed to toxic water and dust for years, and indeed continue to be exposed to toxic water and dust.

        The degradation of indigenous environment, undermining of traditional values, and destruction of homes take an immerse psychological and social toll on indigenous groups, such as a rise in rates of substance abuse, depression, and suicide rates.

        Resources exploration immensely impacts the lives of indigenous peoples in the Arctic states, changing the natural surroundings they are used to and forcing them to change their lifestyle.