The Earth as Mother

Two major headaches for Indigenous Peoples

By Engr. Catalino L. Corpuz Jr.

There are currently 1,600 dams under construction in 42 countries worldwide. According to the World Bank, the construction of 300 large dams each year will mean the displacement of more than four million Indigenous People from their territories. The fifth year of the Decade of the World’s Indigenous People

On August 9 - 10, 1999, some 300 Indigenous people from different parts of the world gathered at the UN headquarters in New York to commemorate the International Day of the World’s Indigenous Peoples. This is the fifth year that the NGO Committee on the Decade of the World’s Indigenous Peoples, in cooperation with the UNCHR, ILO and UNDP, have held this activity with the increasing participation of Indigenous Peoples themselves.

This year’s theme, Indigenous Peoples and their Relationship to Land" is very timely. For the Indigenous Peoples’ movement the basic issue is the gross violation of their right to own and control their territories and resources. Transnational corporations involved in the mining and dam industries are among those guilty of such violations, in most cases in collusion with national governments. The Indigenous Peoples’ movement is growing stronger; the event provided a welcome opportunity for them to air their issues and problems.

Mining in Peru
© Salgado Jr.

Norman Benally & Roberto,
Dineh Nation.

The Global Threat of Mining

Advances in technology in recent years have benefited the mining industry. It has lessened the cost of mining from the exploration to the production phase. Sophisticated equipment has made it possible to pinpoint accurately the location of mineral deposits, efficiently analyze the quality of these minerals and determine the quantity of extractable ore reserves within a site. Mining companies are now able to pinpoint, not only the areas that are rich in lode deposits of gold, but also the areas in which there is a substantial occurrence of epithermal gold. They are able to mine and process these mineral ores more economically to gain superprofits.

Tele-mining is one such advance in technology. This allows the entire cycle of mining to be performed by remote operation. It was developed by INCO, the biggest nickel mining company in the world, who claimed it would make mining "safer", more productive and more economical. Based on INCO’s model, using tele-mining technology, a conventional mine with a 20-year life and producing US$ 1.2 billion in value would, with a life of 13 years, now produce a total value of US$ 2.4 billion, even with low-grade ore.

The application of bio-leaching in gold, copper and uranium mining is another technological advance. Newmont Mining Corporation, the second leading gold producer in the United States, developed this technology and was able to pull down the production cost of gold into the range of $ 130 - 190/oz. Even if the worldwide gold price goes down to $ 210/oz, Newmont has maintained its profitability and its leading role in the gold mining industry.

Technical advances in the past few years have also made it possible for transnational mining corporations to open new frontiers in mining by moving into areas too difficult to explore before. As a consequence a significant number of new mines have opened on Indigenous territories since 1980 - within established developed mining nations (USA, Australia and Canada) in former or current colonies (Philippines, Indonesia, Brazil, Burma) and in states newly recruited to the mining fraternity (Papua New Guinea, Guyana, West Papua).

Southeast Asia and countries in the Pacific Rim of Fire became the new gold rush areas because new exploration techniques made it possible to search for minerals in areas hardly accessible before but nevertheless highly viable economically.

While transnational mining companies such as Freeport Mc Moran and Rio Tinto Zinc wreak havoc on Indigenous Peoples’ lands, even junior Canadian mining companies have been aggressively exploring new mining areas. Between 100,000 to 500,000 Indigenous People have been directly and adversely affected or had their territorial/land claims compromised by Canadian juniors alone in the past decade.

When new mining areas are discovered political barriers must be removed so that transnational mining corporations can gain easy access to large areas of mineral lands and be assured of continuity in their operations.

In the past, the nationalization of the mining industry in Third-World countries proved to be a big barrier to imperialist exploitation. In the 1960's, the success of national liberation movements in these countries limited the mineral areas which imperialist countries could access and exploit. Sovereign states nationalized their mining industries as part of controlling their strategic industries.

To remove political barriers, that is, state control of the mining industry and Indigenous Peoples’ ancestral land rights, mining regulations needed to allow easier access by transnational mining corporations to mineral lands and facilitate the take-over of state-owned mining companies. Hence the need to enact new mining codes.

As a result of active promotion of deregulation policies, privatization and liberalization by major mining companies through the ‘chambers of mines’ of their respective countries, mining codes in about 70 Southern countries have changed. For instance, a strong mining industry lobby in the Philippines leading up to the enactment of the 1995 Mining Act guaranteed legislation ensuring the profitability of its operations. The industry obtained numerous tax benefits, such as tax exemptions, tax holidays and free importation of capital goods. Under the new law, it is also allowed liberal accounting procedures.

However these new frontiers for mining are usually in remote areas inhabited by Indigenous communities. While mining codes are changed, access by transnational mining corporations to those territories remains difficult. This becomes more so as Indigenous Peoples assert their ancestral land rights and practice small-scale mining. So mining companies had to pressure national governments for further concessions in the form of related laws governing the ancestral lands of Indigenous Peoples.

Thus the recolonization of sovereign Indigenous states is taking place, with the transnational corporations playing the lead roles. This is facilitated by the process of globalization under the direction of the World Bank (WB), the International Monetary Fund (IMF) and now the World Trade Organization (WTO). The main thrust of these institutions is to remove all barriers to the free entry of corporations to exploit primary resources, to free trade and entry of investments.

Transnational mining companies have consolidated, such as re-concentrating mine capital in the hands of a few giant mining corporations in order to allow access to and acquisition of large tracts of mineral lands. Rio Tinto and Anglo-American, for instance, now control up to 25% of the world’s most important hard-rock mineral resources.

In the past, a political risk insurance system was needed to secure investments, especially in mining. If the moves to liberalize investments further succeed, such as the attempts to ram through an investment treaty in WTO, this will no longer be necessary.

"New resource wars" are being waged on Indigenous frontiers. It has been calculated, based on the industry’s own projected capital expenditure until AD 2010, that 90% of all the world’s "new gold", around 80% of its nickel, more than 60% of its copper and around half of its coal, will all be derived from Indigenous Peoples’ lands.

Beverly Longid, Kankanaey-Igorot (Philippines).

Eugenio Poma, Aymara.

Helena Begay, Dineh Nation.

Mining and Dams

There are currently 1,600 dams under construction in 42 countries worldwide. According to the World Bank, the construction of 300 large dams each year will mean the displacement of more than four million Indigenous People from their territories. The World Commission on Dams is leading international activities to highlight the issue of dams and its impact on Indigenous Peoples.

In India, where more than 600 out of a planned 1,600 dams are currently under construction, 40% of the people displaced are Adivasis, or Indigenous People. Almost all the larger dam schemes built and proposed in the Philippines are on the land of the country’s 6.5 million Indigenous People. The majority of the 58,000 people evicted to make way for Vietnam’s dam, Hoa Binh, come from ethnic minority groups, as are most of the 112,000 who will be displaced by the even bigger Ta Bu dam planned further downstream.

These dams are important to the mining industry, which consumes a lot of power. Aluminum production is particularly energy-intensive. The world aluminum industry uses an estimated 290 billion kilowatt-hours of electricity each year. This is more than enough to provide power for the entire African continent. Worldwide, the mining industry is estimated to consume 5 to 10 percent of the world’s energy.

Therefore, to attract investment from the mining industry, national governments include the construction of dams providing cheap energy for mining companies in their infra-structure development plans.

In Irian Jaya, for example, the Indonesian government created nine "Growth Centers" one of which is the Mamberano Integrated Area Development (MIAD). In which the steel, gold, copper, coal, uranium, nickel and petroleum industries will be active. MIAD is to be preceded by dam development to supply its energy needs. Around 420,035 of Irian Jaya’s total population of 1,892,200 will be affected, mostly people from the Kawera, Baudy and Dany, Pihar, Monau, Harau, Siwaya and other tribes who live around the area.

In the Philippines, the 435 MW San Roque MultiPurpose Dam is a flagship project under the government’s medium-term development programme. It is being constructed to provide the anticipated additional needs for power of transnational mining companies such as Newmont Gold Mining Co. in the Cordillera region. This will inundate a large area of Indigenous Peoples’ lands and destroy the seat of the Ibaloi culture.

While hydropower energy supplies 20% of global power needs, a substantial proportion is being used by the mines, specially in countries that are highly dependent on such energy. In Namibia, which depends solely on hydropower, the1994 - 1995 total country demand was for 1,639 kWh of energy. A substantial share, 38.5% was used by the mines.

Brazil, which gets 90% of its energy needs from hydropower, is taming the Tucurui river with the construction of a dam to provide fuel for the Grande Carajas mining programme and other industrial projects. The dam has an installed capacity of 4,200 MW, enough to fuel energy-hungry aluminum plants which add value to domestically mined bauxite.

More Indigenous Peoples are expected to be displaced as dams on major river basins throughout the world are being planned: the Mekong Delta in Indo-China, the Narmada project in India, the Three Gorges Dam in the Peoples Republic of China and the Tucurui Dam Project on the Amazon river.

The Challenge to Indigenous Peoples

Indigenous Peoples throughout the world are becoming apprehensive what it might take for the United Nations to finally adopt the Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous People. Their apprehension is based on the fact that, within the process of globalization, transnational corporations have become more aggressive in entering Indigenous Peoples’ lands. Laws and policies on the national and international level are already biased in their favour. These are not just. The development agenda of most governments is actually "development aggression" as far as Indigenous Peoples are concerned.

Indigenous Peoples are fiercely defending their territories. At the same time, they are bringing their urgent concerns and issues to international bodies. During the fifth year of the commemoration of the International Day of Indigenous Peoples, their representatives adopted three important resolutions:

  • that land rights be made a regular agenda of the UN Working Group on Indigenous Populations,

  • that the Draft Declaration of the Rights of Indigenous Peoples be adopted even before the Indigenous Decade ends in 2004,

  • and that sessions of the UN Working Group be increased to last two weeks to give more time for all Indigenous Peoples to bring out their issues and concerns.
The worldwide trend to promote Codes of Conduct is also being regarded more critically by Indigenous Peoples. There are now 270 proposed voluntary codes of conduct for transnational corporations. For Indigenous Peoples, such codes should not be used as substitutes for national legislation to protect their rights. The Draft Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples should be the main framework underpinning codes of conduct guiding all governments and transnational corporations in dealing with Indigenous Peoples. For some Indigenous Peoples, the exercise of creating codes of conduct is diversionary and a waste of time.

The focus of Indigenous People’s energies at the international level, should be in pushing for the adoption of the Draft Declaration of the Rights of Indigenous Peoples. On the national level, it should be on getting governments genuinely to promote and protect the rights of Indigenous Peoples rather than giving transnational corporations, such as mining companies, more rights over the stewards and custodians of the land and its resources.

Catalino L. Corpuz Jr. is Executive Director of the Mining Communities Development Center Inc. in Baguio City, Philippines

  1. Engineering and Mining Journal, January 1999
  2. Engineering and Mining Journal, April 1999
  3. Engineering and Mining Journal, May 1999
  4. The Globalization of the Mining Industry, Engr. Catalino L. Corpuz Jr., International Conference on Women and Mining, February 1997, Baguio City, Philippines.
  5. Policy on Mining that Supports Genuine Industrialization and Genuine Agrarian Reform - An Alternative to the Present Policy on Mining of the Philippine Government, Engr. Catalino Corpuz, CBCP Sponsored Mindanao-wide Conference on Mining March 9 - 12, 1998.
  6. The Mine Set, An Investigation into the nature of today’s global mining industry and the strategies it employs, Roger Moody, November 1998.
  7. Press Release - World Commission on Dams, March 18, 1998. World Commission to Study brazil’s Tucurui Dam and Amazon/Tocantins River Basin.
  8. Infrastructure Development Policy on Mamberamo Case Study, Robert Mandosir, Presented in "Dam and Minority Group Workshop", Geneva, July 31 - August 1, l999.
  9. A Summary of some of the key issues around the proposed hydropower scheme on the lower Cunene River, Legal Assistance Center, Namibia, 1998.
  10. Silenced Rivers: The Ecology and Politics of Large Dams, Patrick Mc Cully, ZED Books, 1996.
  11. Large Dams: Learning from the Past, Looking at the Future, Workshop Proceedings, Gland, Switzerland, IUCN and the World Bank Group, April 11 - 12, 1997.
  12. Mining the Earth, Worldwatch Paper 109, July 1992.

Table of Contents // Editorial // Education in the International decade of Indigenous People // Two major headaches for Indigenous People // Harare and Indigenous Peoples // Land and spirituality in Africa // Land: Breaking bonds and cementing ties // Spirituality, land and land reform in South Africa // The case of the Maasai in Tanzania // Women and Land // Those who do not know the village they come from ... // What does being Indigenous mean? // Is five hundred and seven years too long for justice? // Indigenous Spirituality // Letter to the WCC member churches on the WTO // Concrete Proposals regarding the third Ministerial Round of the WTO

© 1999 world council of churches | remarks to webeditor