MAC: Mines and Communities

Goldman Prize winners and their battles against mining ventures

Published by MAC on 2017-04-25
Source: Telesur, Earthworks, The Hindu

The biggest award recognizing grassroots environmental leaders

For the past 27 years, the Goldman Environmental Prize has honored grassroots heroes from Africa, Asia, Europe, Islands & Island Nations, North America, and South & Central America.

The Prize recognizes individuals for sustained and significant efforts to protect and enhance the natural environment. The award winners will be honored at a ceremony at the San Francisco Opera House and at a second event in Washington, DC.

All six Goldman winners this year have battled against mining-related ventures.

See also on MAC:

2016-04-19 Peru: Máxima Acuña wins the Goldman Prize

2011-04-18 El Salvador: Leader of resistance to Canadian mine receives Goldman Prize

Goldman Prize for Prafulla Samantra, the activist who blocked Vedanta's Niyamgiri mine

The Hindu -

April 24, 2017

Social activist Prafulla Samantra was announced one of six winners of the Goldman Environmental Prize, in San Francisco, Monday.

The prize citation said this was for his "...historic 12-year legal battle that affirmed the indigenous Dongria Kondh’s land rights and protected the Niyamgiri Hills from a massive, open-pit aluminum ore mine."

Mr. Samantra was one of the key leaders responsible for rallying tribes, indigenous to Odisha's Niyamgiri region, and using legal provisions to thwart mining-to-metals conglomerate, Vedanta. The company has been forced to suspend plans to mine bauxite.

Trained as a lawyer and involved in activism "since the Jayprakash Narayan-movement" Mr. Samantara said that he would continue his work to ensure that politics play more than lip service in ensuring sustainable development." We must have a national mining policy to rationally decide how much of our natural resources can be used for mining," he told The Hindu in an interview prior to Monday's announcement.

The annual prize honours grassroot environmentalists, who undergo risk to their lives, to protect the environment and empower those who have most to lose from industrial projects threatening their traditional livelihood.

Other winners this year include Mark Lopez, United States; Uroš Macerl, Slovenia; Rodrigo Tot, Guatemala; Rodrigue Katembo, Democratic Republic of Congo; and Wendy Bowman, Australia.

Since 1990 when the awards were first instituted, five Indians — Medha Patkar, M.C. Mehta, Rasheeda Bi, Champaran Shukla and Ramesh Agrawal — have won the prize. Mr. Samantra will be the sixth.

Guatemala Indigenous Leader Awarded Top Environmental Prize for 43-Year Anti-Mining Struggle

“When they make a leader disappear, 10 more rise up," said Rodrigo Tot.

24 April 2017

When Rodrigo Tot talks about his land, his eyes light up.

The Indigenous leader of the Agua Caliente "Lote 9" community in El Estor, in Guatemala's eastern department of Izabal, has called the fertile farmlands his home for decades. But the resource-rich region is also coveted by corporate mining interests for the nickel and gold deposits that lie beneath.

For his 43-year struggle against these mining corporations, Toto was named this year’s winner of the Goldman Environmental Prize, one of six winners of the award that honors grassroots environmental leaders from around the world.

The Goldman Foundation praised Tot for his "intrepid leadership of his people and the defense of his ancestral land," despite having enduring multiple hardships in his struggle, such as the assassination of his son five years ago.

Tot’s fight began in 1974, when the government enacted a new law that required landholders to pay US$4,500 to receive property titles. And while in 1985 a provisional title was granted to Tot and 63 other Indigenous farmers in the community who were in the process of completing their payment, three years later, records of the community's ownership of the land mysteriously disappeared. In 2002, when the last payment was made, the government denied the community legal title to the land.

Instead, two years later, the government granted a mining license for a region covering 16 Maya communities including Agua Caliente, passing the land rights on to the mining corporation, Compania Guatemalteca de Niquel.

"That is why we defend it, because there are lots of natural resources," Tot told the Associated Press. "There are 10 springs that supply lots of communities. We are preserving the mountain because if it dies, there will no longer be any water."

Mining companies have long used violence against poor and marginalized Indigenous communities who oppose their projects in Guatemala, with the government backing the mining companies in each of these cases, according to Calas, a Guatemalan environmental and social law non-profit group.

Living in one of the top 10 most dangerous countries in the world for land and environmental defenders, Tot has received many threats against his life. While the Inter-American Commission on Human rights ordered protective measures for him and his lawyer in 2012, the Guatemalan government has still not yet provided them.

"I will never forget the loss of my son, but I continue to fight," Tot said. "We are no longer in the 1980s, when they could make a leader disappear and everything was kept quiet. Not today. When they make a leader disappear, 10 more rise up."

Latin America is one of the most dangerous places in the world for environmental activism, exemplified through the high-profile murder of the Honduran Indigenous leader Berta Caceres last year, also a Goldman award winner. Another Goldman winner, Mexican Indigenous environmental activist Isidro Baldenegro Lopez, was murdered in January.

According to Front Line Defenders, 12 human rights defenders were killed in Guatemala in 2016, and according to Global Witness, 10 land and environmental defenders were killed in the Central American country in 2015.

Mining Activists Honored with 2017 Goldman Environmental Prize

The annual prize is the biggest award recognizing grassroots environmental leaders.

Earthworks -

April 24, 2017

San Francisco, CA -- Today, the Goldman Environmental Foundation awarded six grassroots environmental activists the prestigious Goldman Environmental Prize. Four out of six of this year’s Prize winners are fighting to stop mining and drilling projects near their homes and communities.

For the past 27 years, the Goldman Environmental Prize has honored grassroots heroes from the world’s six inhabited regions: Africa, Asia, Europe, Islands & Island Nations, North America, and South & Central America. The Prize recognizes individuals for sustained and significant efforts to protect and enhance the natural environment. Their specific fights cover a wide range of environmental challenges, highlighting the most critical issues of their time.

“We send our congratulations and appreciation to the Goldman Environmental Prize winners for their incredible work to protect water, land and health from toxic pollution. These heroes have risked their lives to defend their communities from irresponsible extraction, whether it is bauxite mining in India, oil drilling in the Democratic Republic of Congo, nickel mining in Guatemala or coal mining in Australia,” said Payal Sampat, Earthworks’ Mining Program Director. “We hope this much-deserved recognition will draw attention to the many communities around the world who are fighting dirty mining and drilling.”

The 2017 Goldman Environmental Prize winners are:

    PRAFULLA SAMANTARA, India An iconic leader of social justice movements in India, Prafulla Samantara led a historic 12-year legal battle that affirmed the indigenous Dongria Kondh’s land rights and protected the Niyamgiri Hills from a massive, open-pit aluminum ore (bauxite) mine.

    RODRIGO TOT, Guatemala An indigenous leader in Guatemala’s Agua Caliente, Rodrigo Tot led his community to a landmark court decision that ordered the government to issue land titles to the Q’eqchi people and kept environmentally destructive nickel mining from expanding into his community.

    RODRIGUE MUGARUKA KATEMBO, Democratic Republic of Congo Putting his life on the line, Rodrigue Katembo went undercover to document and release information about bribery and corruption in the quest to drill for oil in Virunga National Park, resulting in public outrage that forced the company to withdraw from the project.

    WENDY BOWMAN, Australia In the midst of an onslaught of coal development in Australia, octogenarian Wendy Bowman stopped a powerful multinational mining company from taking her family farm and protected her community in Hunter Valley from further pollution and environmental destruction.

    UROS MACERL, Slovenia Uroš Macerl, an organic farmer from Slovenia, successfully stopped a cement kiln from co-incinerating petcoke with hazardous industrial waste by rallying legal support from fellow activists and leveraging his status as the only citizen allowed to challenge the plant’s permits.

    MARK! LOPEZ, United States Born and raised in a family of community activists, mark! Lopez persuaded the state of California to provide comprehensive lead testing and cleanup of East Los Angeles homes contaminated by a battery smelter that had polluted the community for over three decades.

The award winners will be honored tonight at a ceremony at the San Francisco Opera House and at a second event in Washington, DC on Wednesday.

Meet the Grandmother Standing Up to the Coal Mining Industry

Jason Mark

Apr 24 2017

Wendy Bowman hates rudeness, and she can’t stand the idea of unfairness, either. So when some of Australia’s biggest coal companies came to the Hunter River Valley in New South Wales in the late 1980s, strong-arming local farmers and dairies to sell their land, she was not pleased. “They [the coal companies] came and treated people so badly. Really, they were dreadful,” Bowman said in an interview. “I had women calling me on the phone crying, saying, ‘So-and-so has been here and I’m terrified. He said this and said that.’ So many of the families that were here—small blocks and bigger blocks—they are just gone.”

At first glance, Bowman—an 83-year-old rancher in the town of Camberwell, New South Wales—cuts the typical figure of a relatively well-to-do, well-established farmer. Her skin is tanned and deeply lined from the brutal Australian sun, and her strong-looking fingers show the evidence of years of farm work. On a recent day in San Francisco, she was dressed with understated sophistication: turquoise sweater, brightly colored silk scarf, sensible slacks. When talking about her six grandchildren, she’s unquenchably gregarious.

But spend a bit of time with her and it quickly becomes apparent that Bowman doesn’t suffer fools gladly. Wiry and intense, she’s possessed of a righteous impatience for injustice of all kinds. “I couldn’t believe the way that [the mine companies] dealt with little people who wouldn’t answer back,” Bowman said. “They were nasty to them. They frightened people. . . . We told people, ‘If the mine manager comes into your place and says you have to sign this access agreement, tell them, ‘No, I want to have time to think about it. Let me read it properly. I haven’t time to read it. You just handed it to me.’”

Since 1991, when she cofounded an organization called Minewatch: New South Wales, Bowman has spearheaded efforts in her community to monitor the public health and environmental impacts of open-pit mining and to organize area residents to defend their rights. Today, her decades of grassroots leadership will garner international recognition when she receives the Goldman Environmental Prize. (You can read about all six recipients of the 2017 prize here.)

The Hunter River Valley—located north of Sydney, just inland from Australia’s eastern coast—was one of the first areas settled by Europeans and for generations was a major agricultural producer. The fertile region produces wine grapes and beef cattle, and is also well known for dairy production and horse-breeding. To the dismay of many area farmers, in the 1980s, coal mining companies began establishing open-pit mines in the area. Coal mining is big business in Australia (the country is the world’s top coal exporter), and the mining companies acted with imperiousness as they sought to obtain land titles. “The coal mining industry in those days just thought they were, you know, Jesus Christ himself,” Bowman said. “They thought they could do whatever they wanted.”

Companies like Costain and Peabody engaged in a kind of divide-and-conquer strategy, Bowman said, at first offering big payouts to area farmers and then, once they had purchased a critical mass of properties, low-balling the remaining holdouts. “They were dividing communities, dividing families, dividing best friends,” Bowman said. “So many families broke up. So many fathers and sons broke up. So many of the families that we all knew, that had been there for generations, have all gone.”

Bowman was one of those who tried to remain on the land. Her husband’s family was among the first nonconvict English settlers, and Bowman (who was widowed in 1984) had no intention of leaving the family property. But those like her who decided to stay found that their bucolic way of life was gone anyway. Between the blasting and the heavy machinery, the mines made awful noises 24 hours a day. Floodlights disrupted the night. Coal dust cloaked the landscape and clogged up the rainwater catchment systems that many rural Australians use for drinking water.

Bowman says that the mine companies were determined to show that farming and coal extraction could exist side by side, but it soon became evident what a fantasy that was. The alfalfa in her fields (Aussies call it “lucerne”) began to wither and die. After one government official tried to assure her it was simply a case of soil nematodes—an anecdote that Bowman recounts with withering sarcasm—she had the water tested and found that her main source of irrigation had been contaminated with salts and heavy metals. “The cattle wouldn’t even eat the lucerne,” she said.

In 1992, not long after she and neighbors established Minewatch, Bowman decided she had no choice other than selling her largest land holding to the coal companies. But the coal companies followed her as the industry’s footprint kept getting larger and larger. In 2005, she was forced to relocate again after she received an eviction notice that gave her just six weeks to move. Then, in 2010, after establishing a 650-acre ranch in another section of the Hunter River basin, a Chinese multinational, Yancoal, sought to purchase her land as it tried to expand the Ashton South East Open Cut mine.

Determined not to move again, Bowman challenged Yancoal in court. The judge sided with her, ruling that Yancoal could only proceed with its mine expansion if Bowman agreed to sell her land—which she had no intention of doing. Yancoal appealed and lost again, though the company is lobbying Australian officials to approve the mine expansion even over Bowman’s objections.

Today, coal concessions dominate some two-thirds of the Hunter River Valley, and Wendy Bowman continues to organize her neighbors to push back against the industry. She has enlisted doctors to monitor public health risks in the area, where many people suffer chronic respiratory conditions due to the coal-mining dust, and attorneys to advise local landowners on their rights. “People don’t know their rights, and so we give them moral support.” And she continues to speak out against what she sees as the coal industry’s reckless arrogance.

Bowman says that she is surprised that coal companies are still intimidating landowners to cede their properties, given how concerns over global warming are depressing global coal demand. “There are still mines expanding—why, I can’t imagine at the moment,” she said. “There’s been a very big downturn [in the coal industry]. A lot of people [miners] have lost their jobs. They still have contracts to fulfill, but I think with the way the world is going now, people in a lot of other countries are thinking we need to do something else.”

The coal industry’s latest gambit is a promise that it can find a way to burn coal cleanly. Having been involved in coal watchdogging for decades, Bowman responds to the idea of “clean coal” with wry disbelief.

“In Australia, they have been working on clean coal for 25 years, and they haven’t gotten it yet,” she said. “I can remember being at a meeting all those years ago, with a man standing up telling us all about how they were going to ‘make coal clean.’ Well, they haven’t come back and told us they’ve done it.”

Niyamgiri activist gets world’s biggest green prize

Exclusive interview with Prafulla Samantara, a key leader in the long struggle against bauxite mining in a forest safeguarded by indigenous people for centuries.

Juhi Chaudhary

April 24, 2017
The battle for the Niyamgiri hills in Odisha pitted indigenous residents of the Dongria Kondh tribe against a multinational seeking to mine aluminium ore. It was a battle waged through rallies and marches in one of the deepest forests of eastern India and then through litigation. After 12 years, the rights of the residents over the land was affirmed by the courts.

Now the 8,000-odd members of the tribe have a chance to continue worshipping the hills they consider sacred. Prafulla Samantara, one of their leaders, has just been declared winner of the 2017 Goldman Environmental Prize – often called the world’s most prestigious prize for grassroots environmentalism.

The struggle has been on since October 2004, when the government-owned Odisha State Mining Company (OMC) signed an agreement with UK-based Vedanta Resources to mine over 70 million tons of bauxite in the Niyamgiri hills. Activists estimated that this would destroy 1,660 acres of pristine forest, plus pollute the air, the soil and critical water resources.

At that time, Samantara had been leading agitations against other mining projects that affected the environment. When the bauxite mining agreement was signed, he was among those who went from village to village, informing the residents of the development and its implications. They organised rallies and marches. When that did not work, they went to court.

After years of litigation, in a judgement with far-reaching implications, India’s Supreme Court declared that village councils in the area had the right to vote and decide if they wanted the mine. The votes went against continuation of the mining activities.

Soon after Samantara received the news about the Goldman Prize, he recalled the long struggle and its implications in an exclusive interview with Excerpts:

Ques: How does it feel to be selected for this award?

Ans: It is not one man’s achievement. The prize is given for Niyamgiri, for the gram sabha (village council), and for my role, and I can say my role is just that of a catalyst. The people are supreme. I feel this prize is a global recognition for the Dongria Kondhs and the fact that saving biodiversity-rich forests of Niyamgiri is very relevant. Else, it will enhance the climate change, it will intensify fossil fuel use and it will also deplete the green cover. Two rivers and 36 streams originate from these hills and these forests are crucial to check climate change locally and globally. And I can say that natural resources are actually safer in the hands of the local people and that’s the message that we have sent out to the world. Dongrias don’t believe in private property or individual ownership. They believe in community ownership.

Ques: What made you take up the issue?

Ans: I was already fighting against environmental destruction by mining projects in Odisha using the legal route. When the issue of Vedanta bauxite mining came up, my friends expected that I would take it up. Then in 2003, I read in a local newspaper about the announcement of public hearing for the project that was a crucial part in granting clearance. But I realised that the information about the public hearing wouldn’t even reach the tribes in Niyamgiri, who would actually be affected by the project and who live in remote areas. So, then I wrote to the state pollution control board to cancel the hearing. Then I started cycling and walking to meet the Dongrias – who had hardly interaction with the outside world – to explain to them the dangers of the project.

Ques: Was that very challenging?

Ans: Yes, for one there was a language barrier. They didn’t speak Oriya and secondly, they didn’t believe us initially for a year. I was an outsider for them and it was only when officials started visiting them for enquiry, that they realised that the threat of losing their land was very real. It was the local people who faced a lot of challenges. When the (aluminium) plant came up in 2005 in violation of several laws, massive displacement occurred and they were bulldozing the villages below the hill. People were put in jail, there have been several cases of violent deaths and the whole state machinery turned against them to threaten them to leave their homes. No one was sympathetic to the tribals. I was also attacked at least thrice. Once my vehicle was also held and several attempts were made to stop me from addressing people. I was branded as an anti-development person by the elite and the corporates.

Ques: So how did you achieve success, and how did you get so much national and international attention on this agitation?

Ans: I never own any movement or say that this is my organisation’s movement. All we say is that let’s give support and after that let people decide who they want to give their support to. I provided support and brought many leaders to give united support, so that it becomes an issue. We had no money to fight. Young lawyers like Ritwick Dutta and Sanjay Parikh joined us and all this help started the debate and (it) became a national issue.

Later, in 2007 I was invited by a London-based lobby group that was against mining companies. Vedanta’s headquarters were in London. Later Survival International also joined us. In various reports and (the) Centrally Empowered Committee’s reports it turned out that many violations were done to set up the project of bauxite mining. And many things came out like how bureaucracy was misused to push for Vedanta’s mining and how the Indian state was working for the corporate interest.

The Norway government that has some investment in Vedanta took note of that and formed an ethics committee to enquire all over the world about Vedanta, so they did this enquiry but Vedanta didn’t answer their questions and ultimately, they blacklisted Vedanta and withdrew their investment. This became a morale boost for us and it also positioned the campaign internationally. Because of these, celebrities started joining us. The fact that what (the) corporate was doing here can happen at other places too turned the local movement into a global one.

Ques: What is your current plan?

Ans: People need to understand that the presence of bauxite in hills is crucial to manage (the) environmental cycle. Bauxite helps hold the rainwater which is released through springs in summer. Of course, mining is important but there is no policing mechanism in India that says how much should be mined and how much should not be. The 80,000 strong Dongria Kondhs are still being threatened and being demoralised by the state though they have taken a leadership role and it is totally their movement on (the) ground.

What we are doing now is fighting against the plant that still exists. Just shutting down the plant is not enough. This plant should be dismantled as we don’t want any environmental pollution in the area. These forests are pristine and an important corridor for elephants and home to various rare species. We also want to focus on health, education and development of the Dongrias who are mainly fruit gatherers and cultivators to make them more economically empowered.

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