Dusty Shoes or Golden Slippers: Mining and its impact on the people of Guatemala and Canada

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By Ellen Wood

As we travel on the Guatemala exposure tour, I find there is so much to see and to experience; it is a very different life from the one I live in Canada. We have met with many people who have shared their life stories related to resource development in their communities. We have spoken with women from different Indigenous territories throughout Guatemala. It is the women who hold the family together and keep the social fabric of the community intact. Women lovingly care for their children, their partners, their elders. Each day they gather wood for their stoves. They grow and harvest fruit and vegetables for their families and for their vending stalls in the market place or outside their front door. There is no escaping the daily tasks of survival. In community, they care for one another, discuss the issues of the day including how their territory is being treated by others who have a much different view of Mother Earth.

Umberto Velasquez of the Committee in Defense of Mother Earth explains the circle of life. Photo by Kairos/UCC Guatemala Study Tour

Umberto Velasquez of the Committee in Defense of Mother Earth explains the circle of life to the visiting delegation. Photo by Kairos/UCC Guatemala Study Tour

Mining for gold has moved into the territory of their elders. There are big secrets not shared with the community. Little is known about why the mining company was given a license to mine for gold without asking the people of the land their opinion or their permission. The women and their communities have been made invisible even though all can see them and their dusty shoes. They walk along the side of cement highways which are covered with gold. They walk in the rain gutter beside the highway for there is no sidewalk. All golden highways lead to mining sites. As they walk day in and day out their dusty shoes show the conditions of their life and the often deadly struggles with Canadian mining operations. The golden highway is upon their door step where their children play. The various levels of government in Guatemala pay for the golden highways, as economic development is a priority for the government’s elite. All must bow down to the gold empire.

Gold is extracted by open pit mining or by tunneling under the earth. Both methods suck the gold out of Mother Earth. Gold mining uses huge amounts of water, and displaces tons and tons of earth to produce one gram of gold. Soon the water is unsafe to drink; people’s livelihoods are threatened. The greed for gold and the return for shareholders are at the expense of the people whose territory has been destroyed. And still the women walk with their dusty shoes to bring about hope and right relationships with those who destroy life. The women are focused on respect, dignity and equality.

 

Ellen Wood (UCC, right) with women from the Committee in Defense of Mother Earth and Life in San Miguel Ixtahuacan, San Marcos. Photo by Kairos/UCC Guatemala Study Tour

Ellen Wood (UCC, right) with women from the Committee in Defense of Mother Earth and Life in San Miguel Ixtahuacan, San Marcos. Photo by Kairos/UCC Guatemala Study Tour

I am a member of the United Church of Canada faith community. I am also a contributor to and eventual beneficiary of the United Church pension fund. I know that our pension board invests in one of the companies that is active here in Guatemala. I am deeply troubled, for I seek to walk in harmony with the women who walk with dusty shoes.  I can see that my dusty shoes of solidarity with the women of Guatemala are now sprinkled with gold dust.

God has put the dusty shoes of Guatemalan women in our hearts and our future actions. I, as one among many, will work to divest from gold-mining companies – to rid ourselves of the golden slippers  – and to continue to walk in the dusty shoes of the women of Guatemala.


 

Ellen Wood is a grain, cattle and apple orchard farmer as well as an ordained United Church (UCC) minister from Richard, Saskatchewan.  Following Ellen’s visit to a Gold Corp Mining site in Guatemala with the United Church of Canada, she wishes to broaden our understanding of the impact of mining on Mayan peoples and call us as Canadians to action.


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