UA alumnus and anthropologist Salvador Aquino urged mining supporters Friday to reconsider their positions, saying that years of mining have devastated the homelands of indigenous peoples around the world.
Aquino, the keynote speaker at a day-long conference — called Human Rights, Indigenous Peoples and Extractive Industries Across the Americas — met with critics and supporters of mining at the Arizona History Museum.
“The central idea behind this conference was to bring to the fore a range of issues and concerns mostly silenced in the public discourse,” said Linda Green, director for the Center for Latin American Studies, associate professor of anthropology and the conference moderator.
The event was a collaboration between the UA Center for Latin American Studies Human Rights Initiative and the Indigenous Peoples Law and Policy Program at the UA James E. Rogers College of Law.
From the historical record, it is known that indigenous peoples have been exploited for centuries, through processes of dispossession, dislocation, and partial assimilation, according to Green.
“For many, this needs to be brought into public consciousness and conversation, and so we’re delighted to be part of that conversation today on campus,” Green added.
Aquino gave the first lecture of the day, “Si a la vida, no a la mineria: Large scale mining exploitation and the challenges confronting indigenous peoples in Mexico.”
He described problems facing his homeland of Oaxaca, Mexico. Most of the regions where mining projects are currently underway have been mining communities in the past, Aquino said.
“We know what mining is about, we know what means to be mine workers, we know what to die in mining means,” Aquino said.
Aquino lost his father at the age of 4, due to lung sickness from the mines.
“These memories have been very useful for us to say ‘no’ to mining,” Aquino said.
One severe impact of mining in Oaxaca is on water, according to Aquino. Thirteen aquifers have dried up due to gold and silver extraction. Additionally, in 2010, several toxic mine dumps, containing hundreds of tons of waste, collapsed and contaminated the community river, Aquino said.
Aquino described his homeland as a sacred place.
“We see this … [Oaxaca] as a source of survival for the future. We don’t see this … as a commodity,” he added.
Along with those opposed to mining, there were those who were equally supportive of it. “I disagree highly with what the community is saying,” said Roger Page, a geology and geological exploration sophomore. “I understand the sacrilegious part, but I don’t really understand how they’re making it the mining company’s fault.”
The mining company follows the laws the government helps out and helps more than they hinder, according to Page.
“The raw materials that come out of mines go into your everyday life … everything and anything you can think of. A lot of that comes out of most mining resources,” Page said.
The problem is that those resources are not going back to the communities because there is no regulation or law that gives them part of it back, which is why they [indigenous peoples] are losing so much, Page added.
“The government needs to take a stand for their own community,” Page said.
Several indigenous students from Bolivia, Paraguay and Peru, also attended the conference. The students are taking part in a six-week program through the Study of the U.S. Institute for Student Leaders.
Pedro Choque, a student from Bolivia, said he did not like that Aquino only spoke about Mexico because Bolivia is also affected by mining.
Choque said people in his homeland feel threatened by the mining companies. He said that students like him don’t see the Earth as an object to be extracted from, but as a subject that has a heart that pumps and is alive.
There needs to be equilibrium between men, women and nature, he added.