MAC: Mines and Communities

Indigenous Peoples

Published by MAC on 2002-04-17

Indigenous Peoples

"Mines and minerals provide an important source of livelihoods that support whole communities and natural economies" declares MMSD at the start of its report [Introduction, pages 11-14]. It's a recurring refrain, but always without adequate backing. When the project addresses gold mining, it becomes almost impossible to distinguish MMSD's view from that of the industry's own self- promotional World Gold Council (WGC) [Chapter 5, page 24] (In fact, MMSD makes claims which even the WGC might balk at).

We're told that "[a] reduction in gold mining would impact the millions of rural poor whose livelihoods are dependent on gold mining". Apparently Mali, Peru (sic) and South Africa are "gold dependent" economics, while the "economic security of people in South Africa and the Middle east, who hold their wealth in gold", will be jeopardized by any fall in the price of this precious metal [Chapter 5, page 25]. (What, they possess no oil, no forest products, no tourism, no agriculture, no fishing, no shipping, no service industries…?) The references here are of course to corporate gold exploitation which must be saved at any cost. In contrast, the future of artisanal small-scale mining (ASM) is left in some doubt. Although fairly substantial recognition is given to the contribution of small scale enterprises to global production of gold, gems and tungsten and to the alleviation of rural poverty, "most ASM activities will - and should (sic) - disappear naturally if progress towards Sustainable Development is made, since alternative more attractive employment options for small-scale miners will become available" [Chapter 13, page 4]. Once again, sustainable development is being entrusted to (if not equated with)- the tender mercies of companies and other bodies, rather than the self-activity and cooperative organization of farmers, rural poor, and Indigenous Peoples themselves.

Given its implicit assumption that mines can - and in most situations will - engender development, it is little wonder that Indigenous Peoples mostly receive a rough ride, at the hands of MMSD. While the roles of women, mineworkers, and small-scale miners are given at least some insightful attention, that of Indigenous Peoples is not. The report uses a definition of "Indigenous" which isn't written by a First Nation or aboriginal group [Chapter 7 page 14]. It doesn't even mention the crucial correlation between the location of Indigenous territories or claimed land, and the minerals rushes of recent years. Some disturbing assertions are allowed to pass completely unsupported. For example, "Land and compensation issues are powerful campaign material and lend themselves well to manipulation designed to achieve political actions that ignore the realities of a local situation". Or again: "Mineral development can create new communities and bring wealth to those already in existence" [Chapter 9, page 3].

At a few junctures the MMSD purports to recognise Indigenous Peoples as the absolute determinants of access to their resources [Chapter 7, page 12]. But at other points, their struggles are wilfully distorted. Says MMSD: "[C]oncerns about 'loss of land' are often more correctly expressed as concerns about the convenience of access, proximity (sic) or loss of investment in the improvement of a particular piece of land, such as tilling (sic) or fertilizing" [Chapter 7, Page 18]. "In much of India", we are told, "…it is hard to see how a significant minerals industry could be built without some resettlement…There are, as so often is the case, trade-offs, " [Chapter 7, page 37]. The statement is all the more reprehensible, given the degree to which forced removals of tribal and dalit communities - either towards landlessness or onto barren lands - has been the common currency of almost all mining in India.

Similarly, while the "right" to give free, prior fully-informed consent to a mining project is thrown into the general pot, few examples are provided of what this should mean in practice. Nor is there any acknowledgment that these principles are currently blatantly ignored at almost every mining project on the planet.

Although the report reflects the proposal (coming out of its two workshops on indigenous peoples) for an international indigenous organization to "monitor the elaboration of international standards as developed during the MMSD process and ensure the effective participation of indigenous peoples in standard setting" [Chapter 9, page 41], there is no insight into how this body will function, who will organise it, who will actually fund it ("Government donors and the international community should support the establishment of this organization" [Chapter 16, page 25] is hardly a prescription), to whom it will be responsible and, above all, what powers it will possess to stop damage being done.

It is as if the past two decades of the UN's International Working Group on Indigenous Peoples /Populations (or the willful attempt by certain mining companies to infiltrate and distort the process) had never transpired.

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