RedWolf Pope is interning with Nanish Shontie, a native nonprofit cultural center focused on outreach to non-natives. He is working with Professor Thomas Antkowiak and Antkowiak's wife Alejandra Gonza on a project analyzing canadian mining practices in indigenous areas. This work is close to home since the world's largest gold mining company Barrick has been extracting billions in gold out of the Nevada reservation on which RedWolf's father is from. RedWolf's aunts, the Dann sisters fought to the supreme court in Dann v US and helped form the UN Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous People, through which the tribe secured a CERD (Committee to End Racial Discrimination) ruling asking the US to immediately cease its actions on the Shoshone homelands.
RedWolf is focused on tribal and international indigenous law since "the struggles are the same everywhere." It is his hope this research project will assist other groups facing similar issues such as the Huichol in Northern Mexico, and one day find the key to holding Canada accountable for the mining actions and human rights violations it directly supports through subsidies and PR campaigns.
July 5, 2012
The internship had begun with coffee and lunches. Discussing the Huichol of Northern Mexico. Leaders came up and met with myself and Professor Antkowiak.
Their situation is dire but all too familiar. The tribe survived the colonization by staying in land the colonizers didn't want, but now minerals have been found in the desert.
Mazatl, a leader of Wirikuta, speaks in Spanish to prof Antkowiak. I remain largely quiet trying to translate what I can in my head on the fly. The need for Rosetta stone and an immersion trip cross my mind.
Mazatl speaks of the importance of the region. Their legends, their homes, their farms, their cemeteries are all threatened. Their religion is based around a sacrament known as peyote. Imagine the meaning of the bread and wine of the catholics, plus a ceremony thousands of years old, singing all night and praying. The region of northern Mexico they live is the one place on the entire earth where Peyote grows. Some of the cacti are so old that their roots stretch a mile into the earth. The Canadian mining company First Majestic Silver wants to strip mine the entire area.
Mazatl is in his late 50's and looks healthier and more athletic than any elder I have ever met. He is the teacher of several traditional dance groups. I have learned from him and attended his ceremonies before. I find myself wondering how many other native elders could be this healthy if they were still living the old ways. If cultures and people were on endangered lists, Wirikuta would be protected, instead we discuss plants and animals, hoping to find something the law will protect.
The Muckleshoot tribe has already sent support to the people. Unfortunately, the lawyer hired went straight to the Mexican courts, not to an international forum. An injunction was granted to study the situation. However, this granted no recognition of Huichol land rights, the elders have come to believe it was a stalling tactic to let the protests be forgotten. They call it a ploy.
Even worse, as long as the case is within the Mexican judicial system, the Inter-American Court which has historically been very supportive of indigenous land rights, will not intervene. The best we can seek now is an opinion from the inter-American Commission. The would act as pressure for the Mexican government to rule in favor of the Huichol, since the Inter-American court could overrule them.
Mazatl takes his leave. Antokowiak and I discuss the international aspects and implications. And I head back to the law school.
My head is swimming, seeking a way to get the western system to respect the indigenous culture of that area. I find myself discussing the importance of the area and how I am trying to find a way to protect the Huichol's holy land. The student at the table next to me chimes in "really? your going to help people protect drugs?" I realize this is going to be harder than I thought.
July 30, 2012
The government is colluding with the industry. That is what we realize when we stepped back and looked at the pattern. My advisor recommends speaking with colleagues at another organization; this research project is becoming larger. As it turns out through research, the Huichol case shocks the conscience, yet it is only one of hundreds of such cases within the Canadian mining industry as it travels the world.
Canada offers massive subsidies to the mines, mines that have faced public outcry have been covered through PR campaigns financed by the government, and potential legislation to begin addressing the industry offenses (C-300) was voted down in 2010.
I speak with a colleague over the phone who explains they are drafting a paper that can be used as an amicus brief for educating the courts and international bodies to the pattern and extent of the Canadian mining abuses. My work will be reviewed and combined with several other international law professionals.
We talk at length about my own tribe and its experience with a Canadian mining company that has strip mined our former home in Nevada at the behest of the US government. During our legal battle SCOTUS created a brand new legal tool to justify the taking of reservation land with billions of dollars in gold with no compensation, "gradual encroachment." The United Nations CERD (Committee to End Racial Discrimination) issued a decision under its Urgent Action Procedure directing the United States to immediately cease violating Western Shoshone land rights. The US promptly ignored the decision.
We know this is the key, the Obligations of States with Regard to Non-State Actors. We must find out what actually can be done about the Canadian mining companies which are being directly assisted in their efforts by the Canadian government.
Now having a new larger focus, over the course of the weeks to follow I begin to develop a short chapter about the relationship between human rights, environment (health, water) and mining industries from international law perspective. Since mine is to be one of several sources being combined I need to write a short, 5-10 page memo about this.
Thirty pages later I decide I should begin to exclude any further directions in research. I need to focus the paper. Further discussions give a better idea of where to trim. I have learned a lot in the research. The connection between human rights, land rights and waters rights from an international law standpoint. Land rights are well established, land is property and all nations are founded on the idea of land ownership and therefore have readily accepted the norm.
Yet mining doesn't just use land, it uses vast amounts of water. Water rights are new. Life cannot exist without water, and land is generally useless without access to water, yet no international norm has been established. Governments seem to be hesitant since claiming ownership of something that spans borders and moves on its own has always been problematic. Yet water is becoming a norm, several treaties have stopped just short of ensuring it, and many non-binding resolutions and statements have explicitly stated it. Currently it is an implicit right, which must be argued.
And so we do.