The Network in Defence of Indigenous Territories of Sierra Tarahumara (REDETI) and PBI-Mexico visit Ottawa
Photo: Manuel Jabonero (PBI-Mexico), Mariana Villarreal (REDETI) and Brent Patterson (PBI-Canada) remember Julián Carrillo on Parliament Hill, October 24.
This past week, Mariana Azucena Villarreal Frías, the Chihuahua-based coordinator of the Network in Defence of Indigenous Territories of Sierra Tarahumara (REDETI), was in Ottawa. She was accompanied by Manuel Jabonero Prieto, the Mexico City-based advocacy coordinator with the Peace Brigades International-Mexico Project.
At a series of meetings, Mariana spoke about the situation of Indigenous peoples in the mountainous Sierra Tarahumara region in the state of Chihuahua in northern Mexico. This includes the Mexican government granting gold and silver mining concessions to Canadian companies without consultation, the ongoing environmental implications of the TC Energy Encino-Topolobampo gas pipeline, and illegal logging, while experiencing forced displacement and the violence of organized crime.
Mariana highlighted the importance of laws that would uphold the Indigenous right to free, prior and informed consent, recognize title to ancestral territory, as well as address forced internal displacement and support those who have been displaced.
Here is an initial overview of their visit to Ottawa:
TUESDAY OCTOBER 24
Mariana and Manuel arrived in Ottawa that afternoon.
Early that evening we were joined by Amnesty International Canada on Parliament Hill to remember Rarámuri land defender Julián Carrillo Martínez.
On that same day, PBI-Mexico accompanied the Sierra Madre Alliance (ASMAC), a member group of REDETI, at the commemoration in Mexico of Julián Carrillo and his fight for land and territory. ASMAC says: “He who fights for life never dies”
Mariana, Manuel and Pat Davis of PBI also commemorated the memory of Julian earlier that day in Washington, DC.
Julian was killed on October 24, 2018. El Heraldo de Chihuahua reported on this anniversary: “In the Sierra Tarahumara, 22 people have been murdered as a result of the defense of the forest, water and natural resources, according to Alianza Sierra Madre, of which 15 are from [the community of] Coloradas de la Vírgen.”
The El Heraldo article also notes: “Despite the fact that on March 12, 2021, one of the perpetrators of the murders of Julián and his son Víctor was sentenced to 48 years in prison, the mastermind and the rest of the perpetrators have still not been captured.”
WENESDAY OCTOBER 25
On this morning we met with the Canadian Ombudsperson for Responsible Enterprise (CORE), an independent human rights agency formally established by the Government of Canada in May 2019 to examine complaints of alleged human rights abuses committed by Canadian companies operating outside Canada.
The Canadian enterprises that may contribute to exacerbating the human rights situation in the Sierra Tarahumara include the mining companies Vancouver-based Orogen Royalties and Prospero Silver Corp. and Toronto-based Mammoth Resources, as well as the Calgary-based pipeline company TC Energy.
While REDETI is interested in the opportunities presented by this mechanism, they are also aware of the cautions outlined by Canadian civil society.
That afternoon, we met with Kathy Price, the Latin America coordinator for Amnesty International Canada, who is based in Toronto.
Price has previously written: “The assassination [of Julián Carrillo] came just a week after he spoke out against the environmental impacts of a mining concession awarded by authorities to a Canadian mining company without the free, prior and informed consent of the Indigenous people whose lands would be impacted.”
This was a concern also raised by REDETI and other organizations in this statement: “Four mining concessions were granted without guaranteeing the people’s right to their ancestral lands and to consultation: three to individuals and the fourth to the mining company Evrim S.A. de C.V., which belongs to the Canadian group Evrim Resources Corp.”
Evrim merged with Renaissance Gold, Inc. in June 2020 to form Orogen.
THURSDAY OCTOBER 26
On this morning we met with officials from the federal government minister Crown-Indigenous Relations and Northern Affairs Canada.
We met with them because of the Memorandum of Understanding (MOU) they signed earlier this year with the National Institute of Indigenous Peoples (INPI) in Mexico.
INPI, established in December 2018, is recognized as “the authority of the Federal Executive in matters related to indigenous and Afro-Mexican peoples”, creating, defining, executing and coordinating policies and programs to guarantee their rights.
The MOU highlights as an objective: “enabling information-sharing between the Participants and Indigenous Peoples in their respective countries that will facilitate the development of policies, programs, projects and strategies which seek to ensure the exercise and implementation of the rights of Indigenous peoples in their respective countries.”
That afternoon, we met with Leah Gazan, the New Democratic Party (NDP) Member of Parliament (MP) for the riding of Winnipeg Centre. Gazan is a recognized and vocal defender of Indigenous rights, particularly the right to free, prior and informed consent.
There was also the opportunity that evening to have dinner and meet with Peace Brigades International-Canada Board members Ed Bianchi and Meera Karunananthan to update them on the meetings that had taken place.
FRIDAY OCTOBER 27
Then we met with officials from Global Affairs Canada (GAC) at their office in the Lester B. Pearson Building at 125 Sussex Avenue.
REDETI asked Global Affairs Canada if it could raise with the Mexican Ministry of Foreign Affairs the importance of the Mexican government passing a law to prevent, attend to, and provide comprehensive reparations for internally displaced persons. Mexico’s Congress passed this law in September 2020, but it is currently stalled in the Senate. In 2022, UN Special Rapporteur Cecilia Jimenez-Damary urged “the Mexican government to legislate human rights guarantees for internally displaced persons and to allocate adequate funding for their protection and durable solutions.”
Then in the afternoon, we met with NDP Member of Parliament Lori Idlout. We met with her via Zoom because she was in her home riding of Iqaluit, Nunavut. Idlout is the NDP Critic for Indigenous Services; Northern Affairs; Crown-Indigenous Relations.
We also took a moment to stop outside Export Development Canada (EDC),
EDC is a Crown corporation wholly owned by the Government of Canada. It provides financing to Canadian companies operating abroad (and uniquely within Canada as well). EDC has extensive relationships with close to 20 of the largest Mexican corporations, including Pemex and the Comisión Federal de Electricidad (FCE). It is headquartered in Ottawa and has operated a regional office in Mexico since 2000.
We had asked for a meeting with them but were declined. REDETI still hopes to be able to meet with them to be able to share concerns about the financing they provide and the ramifications this may have on Indigenous rights in the Sierra Tarahumara.
Given Export Development Canada has identified Mexico as a “priority market” and given its stated commitment to “human rights risk management [includes gathering] feedback from stakeholders to continue to strengthen our practices”, we trust there will the space at some point for REDETI to share its input with them.
In the coming weeks, we hope to be able to meet with MiningWatch Canada, as well as Members of Parliament Heather McPherson (the NDP Critic for Foreign Affairs) and Laurel Collins (the NDP Critic for the Environment and Climate Change) to continue these conversations. We have also been invited to share information with Green Party Member of Parliament Mike Morrice.
PBI-Canada will continue to follow all these issues raised by REDETI and PBI-Mexico in Ottawa.