Rodrigo Tot led his community to a high court victory for indigenous land rights after an open-pit nickel mining operation turned Guatemala’s largest lake into its most polluted. Photo: Goldman Environmental Prize
How to turn cleanest lake into most polluted
Indigenous leader wins high court victory
By Talli Nauman
Native Sun News Today
Health & Environment Editor
nativesunnews.today SAN FRANCISCO –– An open-pit nickel mining operation that turned Guatemala’s largest lake into its most polluted met its match when Q’eqchi indigenous leader Rodrigo Tot led his community to a high court victory for traditional land rights and went on to accept the Goldman Environmental Prize in a ceremony here April 24. As unstable global demand for nickel caused the mine to close and reopen over the years, Tot not only garnered legal support for defense of the land but also headed on-the-ground efforts that kept miners from carrying out further environmental destruction in his community. “In order to defend the land, the water, the mountains, the animals and the environment, we don’t allow any company to come into the community because we don’t want contamination,” Tot said in Spanish during the annual Goldman ceremony that recognizes grassroots organizers from around the worldwide. One of the limited number of people in his indigenous community to speak his country’s official language of Spanish in addition to their own, Tot proved his ability to communicate between cultures and won election to the highest office in the town of Agua Caliente. Joining him in receiving the 2017 Goldman trophies were:
• Social justice movement leader Prafulla Samantara, who waged a successful 12-year legal battle in India that affirmed the indigenous Dongria Kondh’s land rights and protected the Niyamgiri Hills from a massive, open-pit aluminum ore mine.The Goldman Environmental Prize, known as the “Nobel Prize for environmental activism” was established in 1989 by late San Francisco civic leaders and philanthropists Richard and Rhoda Goldman. Prize winners are selected by an international jury from confidential nominations submitted by a worldwide network of environmental organizations and individuals. “Goldman Environmental Prize recipients focus on protecting endangered ecosystems and species, combating destructive development projects, promoting sustainability, influencing environmental policies and striving for environmental justice. Prize recipients are ordinary citizens who choose to take great personal risks to safeguard the environment and their communities,” the Goldman Environmental Foundation says in its literature.
• Rodrigue Mugaruka Katembo, who put his life on the line, going undercover to document and release information about bribery and corruption in the quest to drill for oil in Virunga National Park in the Democratic Republic of Congo, resulting in public outrage that forced the company to withdraw from the project.
• Australian Wendy Bowman, an octogenarian who, during an onslaught of coal development, stopped a mining company from taking her family farm and protected her community in Hunter Valley from further pollution and environmental destruction.
• California community activist mark! Lopez (and yes, that’s how he spells it), who persuaded state officials to provide comprehensive lead testing and cleanup of homes contaminated by a battery smelter that had pumped toxic waste into East Los Angeles for more than three decades.
• Uroš Macerl, an organic farmer from Slovenia, who stopped a cement kiln from co-incinerating petcoke with hazardous industrial waste by rallying legal support from fellow activists and leveraging his status as the only citizen allowed to challenge the plant’s permits.
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