ISSUE 15.3

Resisting Extractivism, Performing Opposition

Photos from Resisting Extractivism, Performing Opposition. Photos by Katherine Cheng

written by Zoë Heyn-Jones

Today is, as I write this, an international day of action in support of the ongoing barricade against OceanaGold’s mining operations at its Didipio copper-gold mine in Nueva Vizcaya, Philippines. The company’s twenty-five-year permit lapsed in June 2019, although they did not cease operations until faced with a blockade by local communities. The peoples’ blockade began on July 1, 2019, and continues, with allies around the world standing in solidarity.1

On July 30, 2019, Tahoe Resources took formal responsibility for 2013 human rights violations at their Escobal silver mine in southeastern Guatemala in a precedent-setting case heard by the Supreme Court of British Columbia. The plaintiffs—members of the peaceful resistance—are celebrating the fact that a Canadian parent company has been held responsible in the Canadian courts. But they remain vigilant, as the conflict on the ground is far from over.2

These are only a couple of instances of the violence that extractivism inflicts on lands and bodies—and the resistance, embodied and otherwise, that counters this violence. Macarena Gómez-Barris defines extractivism as “an economic system that engages in thefts, borrowings, and forced removals, violently reorganizing social life as well as the land by thieving resources from Indigenous and Afro-descendent territories.”3 While these are often material—minerals, petroleum, gas—they can also be knowledge-based resources similarly extracted from communities for researchers’ or artists’ cultural capital. The ideologies and policies that enable the extraction of these material and knowledge-based resources—and the multifaceted resistance to this extraction—are what we aimed to explore in the Resisting Extractivism, Performing Opposition project.4

This project emerged from my postdoctoral research with the Canadian Consortium on Performance and Politics in the Americas and York University’s Graduate Program in Theatre and Performance Studies.5 It has four components:

– a collaborative art-making workshop in Mataquescuintla, Guatemala, with JODVID (Jóvenes Organizados en Defensa de la Vida/Youth Organized in Defense of Life), a youth group that uses performance and art tactics to resist the Canadian-owned Escobal silver mine on their territory;
– a day-long symposium at OCAD University on the convergence of art and anti-extractivism;
– a gallery exhibition retrospective of the Toronto-based Mining Injustice Solidarity Network (MISN)’s actions; and
a film screening that highlighted Indigenous and Mestizx perspectives on extraction.

In November 2018 I travelled to Mataquescuintla, Guatemala, with collaborator Lilian Galante Ríos to work with JODVID (Jóvenes Organizados en Defensa de la Vida/Youth Organized in Defense of Life) in a collaborative art-making workshop. We arrived without predetermined notions of what we would create together. As facilitators, we simply wanted to enable a small space for collaboration, provide the group with some additional resources, and celebrate what JODVID has accomplished.6 When we arrived, the group shared with us a script for a performance they had previously co-written to honour the life of Topacio Reynoso Pacheco, JODVID’s co-founder. Reynoso Pacheco was murdered in 2014 at the age of sixteen for her activism in resistance to the Escobal mine.7 We spent our time together brainstorming, storyboarding, filming, and editing a video based on this script with the intention of sharing it in Toronto—the city of the headquarters of many Canadian-owned mining companies and where the Prospectors and Developers’ Association of Canada (PDAC) holds their annual meeting, the world’s largest and longest-running mining convention.

On March 1, 2019, mining executives, prospectors, engineers, and organizations from around the world descended upon Toronto to take part in PDAC’s 86th annual convention. We tactically held the Resisting Extractivism, Performing Opposition symposium concurrently in order to speak back to the mining industry—and its stronghold in Toronto—through creative and performative actions. That night we hosted a film screening program entitled Beyond the Extractive Zone of short films that consider (anti)extractivism from Indigenous and Mestizx perspectives. The screening was co-curated by Scott Miller Berry of the re:assemblage collective and presented with the support of OCAD’s Culture Shifts collective.8 We also opened the exhibition Educate, Advocate, Agitate: The Mining Injustice Solidarity Network’s Creative Interventions, co-curated by Valérie Frappier.9 We presented video and photo documentation of MISN’s actions, banners proclaiming support for victims of extractive violence, and props and costumes from MISN’s “Spoil Sports and Smear Leaders” street theatre resistance to the Pan Am games (and Barrick Gold’s involvement). In this way, we celebrated how these local activists use creative interventions to confront extractive power and to stand with impacted communities.

The following day we welcomed members of the Indigenous Environmental Justice project to open the Resisting Extractivism, Performing Opposition symposium. This was to ground what would follow in a “framework that is informed by Indigenous knowledge systems, laws, concepts of justice and the lived experiences of Indigenous peoples.”10 The IEJ’s presentation of their work was followed by a keynote address by Gómez-Barris, in which she spoke to the performative repertoire of decolonial gestures in the work of visual artists Cecilia Vicuña and Francisco Huichaqueo Perez.

Visual artists Dana Prieto, Warren Cariou, and Maggie Flynn then discussed their material and performative practices that resist extractivism in various guises:

Cariou’s Petrography (2014–ongoing) project, which uses tar sands bitumen as a photographic medium; Prieto’s 1:10,000 (2018), centred upon ceramic replicas of the Bajo de la Alumbrera mine in Argentina, handmade by the artist with soil contaminated by this Canadian-owned mine; and Flynn’s Paydirt (2017) project, predicated upon the artist’s research into Canadian extractive industries through Freedom of Information requests as performance.
Trevor Schwellnus, Marion de Vries, and Shandra Spears Bombay reflected on their work together in Aluna Theatre’s verbatim theatre piece, The Last Walk of Adolfo Ich. This work uses court transcripts to tell the story of Maya Q’eqchi’ community leader Adolfo Ich Chamán, who was assassinated for his resistance to the HudBay Minerals project in the El Estor region of Guatemala. Law student Isabel Dávila of the Justice and Corporate Accountability Project spoke to the convergence of law and performance. The symposium concluded with a keynote by Kirsty Robertson, who presented material from her recent book Tear Gas Epiphanies: Protest, Museums, Culture, in which she explored artistic activism at museums against oil investment and why this type of activism is missing in the Canadian context.

The Resisting Extractivism, Performing Opposition project is premised on the concept of extractivism as the logic of reducing nature to commodities and the resultant imperialist hyper-exploitation of the mining, oil, and gas industries. Canada/Toronto’s particular relationship to extractivism—and how Canadian domestic and foreign policy and legal systems bolster and perpetuate this particular form of imperialism (particularly in the context of Latin America)—are at the core of the project. How extractivism in all its guises is resisted and refused is a crucial question. Performance studies is a particularly generative lens through which to consider how both extractivism and its opposition are enacted in public spaces as embodied and reiterated behaviours—at once real and constructed—that transmit cultural memory through an intricate interplay of repertoires and archives. Performance is relational and therefore collaborative, and collaboration as a research-creation method is fundamental to this project, as we work together to devise creative, collective, and just ways to resist extractivism.

I write this from Mexico City, the other place in which I live and work. Reflecting on this project from this position—as a settler Canadian in Mexico—makes me uneasy. The privilege that allows me to live comfortably here is enmeshed with the Canadian state’s fundamentally extractive domestic and foreign policy.”11 There is no place of innocence from which I can approach extractivism.12 I was born implicated and can only work toward untangling the web of implications for any land on which I find myself standing—staying with the trouble13 and sitting with the discomfort. And hoping that it might somehow be productive.

Notes:

1 “OceanaGold Philippines Mine Shut Down: Villagers Blockade Site, Permit Renewal Withheld,” MiningWatch Canada, 9 August 2019, https://miningwatch.ca/news/2019/8/9/oceanagold-philippines-mine-shut-down-villagers-blockade-site-permit-renewal-withheld.

The Escobal mine has subsequently been purchased by Pan American Silver. See, “Plaintiffs Conclude Lawsuit with Pan American Silver over 2013 Shooting in Guatemala, Communities Reaffirm Opposition to Escobal Mine, Warn of Rising Tensions,” MiningWatch Canada, 31 July 2019, https://miningwatch.ca/news/2019/7/31/plaintiffs-conclude-lawsuit-pan-american-silver-over-2013-shooting-guatemala.

3 Macarena Gómez-Barris, The Extractive Zone: Social Ecologies and Decolonial Perspectives (Duke UP, 2017), xvii.

4 Using the word “explore” here itself has extractive valances. I am indebted to Merle Davis Matthews for conversations around how the language we use as scholars, organizers, artists, etc. is often laden with colonial and extractive violence.

5 In collaboration with OCAD University’s Faculty of Liberal Arts and Sciences and Graduate Studies program, and Art and Social Change minor.

“In Their Own Words: JODVID on the Importance of Youth Leadership in the Movement to Defend Life and Land,” NISGUA website, 29 September 2017, https://nisgua.org/in-their-own-words-jodvid-on-the-the-importance-of-youth-leadership-in-the-movement-to-defend-life-and-land/.

7 Kate Linthicum, “‘If We’re Attacked, We’ll Die Together,’ A Teenage Anti-Mining Activist Told Her Family. But When the Bullets Came, They Killed Only Her,” Los Angeles Times, 27 December 2017, https://www.latimes.com/world/la-fg-environmental-activists-guatemala-20171227-htmlstory.html.

8 Zoë Heyn-Jones, “Beyond the Extractive Zone” (Program notes), http://zoeheynjones.com/beyondtheextractivezone.

9 Zoë Heyn-Jones, “Educate, Advocate, Agitate: The Mining Injustice Solidarity Network’s Creative Interventions” (Exhibition text), http://zoeheynjones.com/educateadvocateagitate.

10 Indigenous Environmental Justice Project, York University, https://iejproject.info.yorku.ca/.

11 Todd Gordon and Jeffery R. Webber, Blood of Extraction: Canadian Imperialism in Latin America (Black Point, Nova Scotia: Fernwood Publishing), 2016.

12 See the discussion of “settler moves to innocence” in Eve Tuck and K. Wayne Yang,“Decolonization Is Not a Metaphor” Decolonization: Indigeneity, Education & Society 1:1 (September 2012).

13 Donna Haraway, Staying with the Trouble: Making Kin in the Chthulucene (Durham & London: Duke University Press, 2016).

Zoë Heyn-Jones is a researcher-artist and cultural worker who grew up on Saugeen Ojibway land in Ontario (Canada) and on Tz’utujil/Kaqchikel Maya land and Guatemala. Zoe holds a PhD in Visual Arts from York University and a graduate diploma in Latin American and Caribbean Studies from CERLAC (the Centre for Research on Latin America and the Caribbean, York University). She lives and works in Mexico City and Tkaranto/Toronto.

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