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Idle No More Beyond Borders

KI First Nation finds common ground at Mesoamerican gathering against mining

by Jen WiltonLiam Barrington-Bush

In Oaxaca, a mural was inaugurated in solidarity with the January 28, 2013 Idle No More global day of action. Photo by Jen Wilton
In Oaxaca, a mural was inaugurated in solidarity with the January 28, 2013 Idle No More global day of action. Photo by Jen Wilton

CAPULÁLPAM DE MÉNDEZ, MEXICO—The presence of a representative of the Kitchenuhmaykoosib Inninuwug (KI) First Nation at a Mexican anti-mining event has helped to strengthen international solidarity between Indigenous activists inspired by Idle No More.

In the southern Mexican mountain town of Capulálpam de Méndez, nearly five hundred people from across Central America gathered in late January to share local stories and strategies of resistance against the extractive industries in the region. A particular sense of excitement surrounded the presence of John Cutfeet, a spokesperson for KI First Nation in Northern Ontario, at the “Yes to Life, No to Mining” event.

Cutfeet’s community has succeeded in evicting multiple mining companies from their land in the past decade, using both court challenges and direct actions. KI First Nation has also carried its struggles in defence of its territories into the Idle No More movement. Cutfeet took part in a walk from Queen's Park in Toronto to Parliament Hill in Ottawa in solidarity with Chief Theresa Spence’s call for the Canadian government to honour its treaty commitments.

“We face similar experiences and similar tactics by companies and governments in order to try and access lands and rob us of our birth rights to those lands,” said Cutfeet, highlighting the importance of extending the Idle No More movement beyond Canadian borders.

Carmelina Santiago, Director of the Flor y Canto Centre for Indigenous Rights in Oaxaca, described the sacred connection between the environment and the people that unites Indigenous communities from different lands in defence of their traditional territories.

“We are invited to care for [the environment] and to respect it and not to see it as a resource that can be sold or used, not without talking with the Mother Earth, the forests, the hills, the water, with our own Father Sun,” Santiago told The Dominion. “We are heirs of a culture that views all of creation with respect.”

While the gathering brought together dozens of communities fighting against various mining companies in the region—many of which are Canadian—participants had no illusions that their problems started or ended with mining. Rosalinda Dionicio Sánchez was still walking with a cane at the event in Capulálpam, after being shot in the leg in March 2012. She is the coordinator of the Coalition of United Peoples of the Ocotlán Valley (COPUVO) in San José del Progreso, Oaxaca, where Canadian firm Fortuna Silver Mines has been at the centre of increasingly violent conflicts between pro-and-anti-mining factions. Despite the life-and-death struggles faced by mining opponents in the town, Dionicio Sánchez was clear about COPUVO’s broader objectives.

“We would welcome the departure of the mining company, but the idea is to join the people together to defend the rest of our resources, because we have rivers, we have forests, we also have our customs to protect,” she said.

The need for a broader struggle has also sparked the Idle No More movement. There is a growing recognition amongst both the Idle No More and Mesoamerican movements that seeing the threats posed by destructive projects in isolation has allowed the ongoing erosion of traditional cultures and their surrounding environments. Moreover, many issues faced by Indigenous people and other communities in Canada, Mexico and elsewhere in the Americas are not confined within the borders of nation states.

“We have the right to say NO to development that is imposed on us and to define our own means of economic, social, political and cultural production,” read the final declaration at the "Yes to Life, No to Mining" event.

In solidarity with the January 28, 2013 Idle No More global day of action, an evocative mural was inaugurated in Oaxaca in homage to Indigenous peoples defending their territories in Mexico and Canada. “The mural portrays the beautiful and sacred things that need to be protected,” said Jonathan Treat, a journalist, professor and activist who helped commission the piece. Both the recent anti-mining meeting and the mural “are positive steps down the road toward bi-national solidarity and activism,” he said.

Jen Wilton and Liam Barrington-Bush are solidarity activists living in Oaxaca, Mexico and they report on social and environmental issues related to Mexico and Latin America more widely. Jen tweets as @guerillagrrl and Liam tweets as @hackofalltrades.

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