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By Paola Rodelas, JMA Communications Director

Mankayan, Philippines. Indigenous resistance against harmful development has benefited the local community, but continues to be a constant threat. Credit: Paola Rodelas

I come from a family of miners–indigenous peoples who have lived near a gold mine in the Philippines for hundreds, possibly thousands of years. The first mining corporation was established by U.S. investors–a few years after the U.S. colonization of the Philippines–and many more international mining companies have come for our gold, copper, and other precious resources. My grandpa and grandma worked at one of the mines and met there, later eloping in the mine’s church.

Perhaps mining is what brought me to this world. But it’s also what helped politicize me. I learned about the decades of indigenous resistance against mining companies due to pollution. These protests continue today, despite the Philippines being the most murderous country of environmental defenders in 2019. Mining is the sector linked to the most killings of environmentalists, many of whom are indigenous peoples like me. Their continued, and often successful, resistance inspired me to become a community organizer 14 years ago and fuels my work to this day. 

The Chemetall Foote Lithium Operation near Silver Peak, Nevada. Credit: Wikimedia Commons

So the news around mining the materials needed for electric vehicles has piqued my interest, not just because of my work at Jobs to Move America but as an indigenous person. Native American reservations are located within 35 miles of 97% of nickel reserves, 89% of copper reserves, 79% of lithium reserves, and 68% of cobalt reserves in the U.S.–four minerals used in the lithium-ion batteries of electric vehicles. Native Americans are already protesting mining in Nevada and elsewhere.

Indigenous peoples must have a seat at the table in these negotiations around mining. We believe companies and jurisdictions should respect the Free, Prior and Informed Consent (FPIC) of indigenous communities. Indigenous leaders are already calling for recycling as one crucial step needed to avoid repeating the injustices of the fossil fuel industry.

The electric vehicle transition can be an opportunity for indigenous communities and other communities where mining reserves are located to make sure they truly benefit. Community benefits agreements (CBAs) are legally-binding agreements that these communities can negotiate with private companies. Organized communities in cities across the nation have led the way in winning CBAs with real-estate developers that create affordable housing, community services, and good jobs. At JMA, we’ve negotiated CBAs that create family-sustaining, local careers and equitable hiring at bus factories and suppliers. Mining companies often come into indigenous communities with the promise of jobs, but with no accountability, such promises are meaningless. Through better mining and land use policies, solidarity, and strong organizing, Indigenous communities can win CBAs with mining companies that address their concerns around jobs, land use, the environment, and more.

My ancestral history and my work at JMA have shown me that grassroots organizing is the key to holding corporations accountable so that they respect communities and workers. Communities must have a say over–and truly benefit from–projects that are taking place on their land, and CBAs can be a critical tool to realize this goal. A just transition demands nothing less.  

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