Debbie Trudeau has seen, firsthand, how mining companies destroy the traditional life of indigenous peoples.
They begin by ignoring pleas for consent and consultation, she said.
“Everything flows from consent,” said the 45 year-old Trudeau. “They have the right to consent. That’s their backyard. That’s their home land. That’s their life.”
Some mining companies thrive on giving the illusion of consultation, while simultaneously using the governments of Third World countries against their own inhabitants, said Trudeau.
She’s travelled to Central America to see it happen for herself, and now she’s bringing her knowledge to the Yukon.
Trudeau will present All That Glitters Isn’t Gold, a film produced by Rights Action, at the Alpine Bakery at 7:30 p.m. on April 3.
Rights Action is a
charitable organization for human rights projects in Guatemala, Honduras, Mexico and El Salvador.
The film, available on Youtube, documents the tragedy of the Goldcorp-owned San Martin Mine in Honduras, where a small, local indigenous populations suffer from health problems after 10 years of open pit heap leach mining.
Goldcorp is a Vancouver-based company operating across both Americas.
“The film that I’ll be showing talks about the major health problems they’ve having in Honduras,” said Trudeau.
Local groups are only now realizing the full extent of the devastation after years of being intimidated and suppressed. But they’re dedicated to helping other indigenous people, especially those living near the San Marlin Mine in Guatemala, also owned by Goldcorp.
“The exact same problems are beginning to show up in Guatemala,” said Trudeau.
Her only weapon is information when cutting through corporate swindling.
“The western highlands where (the San Marlin) mine is happens to be very rocky,” she said. “So they can’t line the (tailing ponds) and it’s going into the groundwater.”
The company swears it’s safe, she said.
“They take the rock, crush it up, put it in this big pile and there’s these sprinklers that spray cyanide on the ore,” she said. “The company will tell you that it’s not dangerous because cyanide breaks down with oxygen, so it’s neutralized.”
“The company is saying the water’s fine; we haven’t released any tailings. There’s no problems.”
But water studies are beginning to say otherwise.
A Catholic organization in Guatemala, the Pastoral Commission on Peace and Ecology, found high arsenic in the water around San Martin this February.
The US Environmental Protection Agency sets the maximum acceptable level of arsenic in water at 0.01 milligrams per litre. The World Bank sets the standard at 0.1 milligrams per litre.
The pastoral commission found arsenic levels at 0.70 milligrams per litre.
The tests were done down stream from the dyke near the San Martin Mine, which flows into the Cuilco River, one of 33 most important basins in the country, said the commission.
Back in Honduras, the decade of repression lives on.
An elderly woman who shut down power to the San Martin mine by throwing a wire over the power lines is now in hiding after authorities put her on capture order.
“That means they live in fear of being snatched up and put in jail, and who knows what the process would be after that,” said Trudeau. “That falls from the criminalization of protesters, which is happening down there.”
People have no other way of voicing disapproval of the mine, said Trudeau.
“Their homes are cracking because of explosions at the mine,” she said. “The roads are all torn up. There are threats all the time.”
“There’s been at least two people killed directly in protests.”
The national police force is used to keep the population quiet, she said.
“People are afraid, and that’s carried over from political repression and the civil war.”
“The way (Guatemala and Honduras) deal with First Nations is different than in other countries,” she said. “Here there are consultations; there they disregard everybody. There are no rights recognized at all.”
“At least here there’s a semblance of consultation.”
Trudeau use to work for the Council of First Nations and was a minute taker for Yukon land claims agreements.
She’s now having doubts that her work made a difference.
The proposed Western Copper’s Carmacks mine, scheduled to begin if the Yukon government approves it, will also use a heap leach process to extract copper from rocks, just nine kilometres from the Yukon River.
The mine passed an environmental and socioeconomic assessment last September, despite the fact that the Little Salmon Carmacks First Nation thinks the mine will poison its water.
Last November, the Council of First Nations joined the Little Salmon Carmacks First Nation, which is prepared to go to Ottawa if the Yukon gives Western Copper full permission to develop.
“That mine will be there for 10 years,” said Trudeau. “Then (the company) going to walk away and there’s going to be people still living there 200 years from now, living with the same problem.”
“In Carmacks, that water table goes into a creek which feeds into the Yukon River watershed,” she said. “So what are we doing to the Yukon River?”
The Yukon Environmental Socioeconomic Assessment Board could only recommend certain mitigating efforts to keep the leftover sulphuric acid used in heap leaching from leaking into the ground.
“I really don’t understand how it got through the (board’s) process,” said Trudeau.
“I know there’s a huge list of things they have to do to meet the (board’s) requirements, but I don’t even know how we could threaten our Yukon River watershed with that kind of stuff.”
“It’s salmon-bearing rivers where people are still subsistence living.”
The Yukon government pays a lot of lip service to First Nations, but when push comes to shove, they don’t seem to matter, she said.
“What kind of consultation was there with the Little Salmon Carmacks?” she said. “Same thing in Keno. We know they haven’t consulted with the people until after they had their project ready.”
The Keno mine is owned by Goldcorp through a series of subsidiaries, she added.
When Trudeau visited Guatemala for a second time last fall, she did some presentation on her work for Yukon land claims agreements.
“I put together a Power Point and briefly explained the process, and the mining history of the Yukon,” she said. “They’re interested with what’s happening with other indigenous nations around the world.”
Sharing knowledge is the key to her efforts, she said.
The Rights Action film was shown in Honduras and in Guatemala last December, and she thinks technology is favouring the dissemination of information that some companies would rather have ignored.
“People are more aware,” she said. “There’s an eight-minute video on You Tube of people getting evicted. There’s a video of the woman who threw the wire.”
Trudeau hopes Carmacks will have a different fate than Honduras and Guatemala.
“I don’t want to encourage civil disobedience,” she said. “In Guatemala, they did a 42-day blockade of the road when they were trying to bring in new equipment.”
One person was killed and 20 were injured.
“I don’t think people would ever be killed in the Yukon. But what do you do?”
Contact James Munson at