Lee Maracle: “We are all related. What happens to us in one tip of Turtle Island affects us all the way to the other end.”
Clan Mothers Chickadee Richard and Judy Da Silva from Grassy Narrows offer their support to Indigenous Maya Q’eqchi’ women in Toronto denouncing gang rape at Canadian-owned mine in Guatemala.
October 7, 2017
On Monday night, more than 200 people gathered to hear an update from Indigenous women involved in struggles for justice and to keep their territory and water safe and healthy. After an opening by Elder Pauline Shirt, Plains Cree, Red-Tail Hawk Clan, and the the Eagle Heart Singers, Elena Choc Quib, Amalia Cac Tiul and Carmelina Caal Ical were called upon to address the the packed OISE auditorium, just hours after stepping off a plane from Guatemala.
The three Indigenous Maya Q’eqchi women are part of a larger group of 11 who were raped in their homes in January 2007 as part of forced evictions that also lead to the illegal burning of homes and destruction of their community near Lake Izabel, in eastern Guatemala, where Canadian mining interests have lead to murder and violence for close to 40 years. The women are in Canada, along with Angelica Choc, whose husband, Indigenous Maya Q’eqchi’ community leader and teacher Adolfo Ich Chaman, was murdered in 2009 for his resistance to the same nickel project, to be cross examined by lawyers of Toronto-based Hudbay Minerals, who have been accused of the violent attacks.
Through translation, Choc acknowledged her ancestors, in Guatemala and Canada and all the human rights defenders who are defending the earth and water. She expressed the pain and grief of the women who are in Toronto but assured the audience that they are 100% ready to face Hudbay and their lawyers. “They are prepared for their questions. They are here with their heads held high and without shame. They are not afraid because they are here to tell the truth.”
Choc spoke personally about what it means to be an Indigenous woman fighting against impunity and for corporate justice in her territory. “We will never be paid back for what has happened to us. But we are here for justice, so that they understand who the rightful owners of the land are, so that they respect us.” She also noted violence continues to be perpetuated in her community at the hands of the current owners of the nickel mine, Russian company Solway, and that the destructive legacy of mining continues. Choc asked for the crowd to keep them in their thoughts and prayers in the days and weeks to come.
Vanessa Gray, an Anishinaabe’kwe from the Aamjiwnaang First Nation spoke about the impacts of living in Canada’s, “Chemical Valley.” She spoke about the February 2017 fire at Imperial Oil, which has been operating in her territory for more than 100 years, that lead to a petition being filed to the Ontario Environmental Commissioner to investigate. The company was flaring volatile organic compounds which can include the carcinogen benzene, and sulphur compounds. This fire is just one of many that the local community has endured without being warned. Gray also talked about shutting down Enbridge’s Line 9, a pipeline that was carrying Alberta bitumen through her territory. Gray told Enbridge what she was planning on doing but still faced charges and up to 25 years in prison before the charges were finally dropped. “I hate going to court,” said Gray. “It makes me sick to have to face them in their colonial institutions to defend our territory.”
Lee Maracle from Sto:lo First Nation spoke briefly about the interconnectedness of the land and the people and that water is what links us all together. Maracle, a well know writer and activist honoured the women present and thanked them for sharing their stories and commitment to defending life.
Judy Da Silva from Grassy Narrows walked tepidly to the front of the room where she gave an update on the situation in her community, and the English-Wabigoon river system, which is reported to be contaminated by 9 tonnes of mercury by a paper mill in the 1960s that was operating upstream near Drydon, Ontario. Today, generations of people have been poisoned and Da Silva herself is suffering from mercury poisoning. “Grassy may not be cleaned up in my lifetime but I am doing this for my grandchildren.” In 1984, the ministry of the environment recommended that the provincial government spend $2-$3 million to clean up the toxic spill near Grassy Narrows, which was never done. In 2017, the Ontario government finally agreed to put $85 million toward the clean up, though work has yet to get started.
After the presentations ended, Judy Da Silva and Chickadee Richard, both Clan Mothers, gifted a song of healing to the 4 Indigenous Maya Q’eqchi’ women and offered their support as they face Hudbay Minerals head on this week.
Find out more at www.chocversushudbay.com and www.freegrassy.net