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Canadian Company Mines for Gold and Silver on Tribe's Ancestral Land in Philippines


In recent years, increasing demand for mineral resources has pushed mining companies to go farther and deeper in search of new deposits. Among these new frontiers is the homeland of the Subanens - a semi-nomadic tribe in the southern Philippines - where a foreign company is mining what the tribe considers a sacred mountain. Heda Bayron visited the tribe's home in the village of Canatuan and reports on a community trying to safeguard its traditions as the global commodities trade encroaches.

The people of Canatuan are isolated. To go to town, the Subanen people walk a perilous dirt road. On one side the mountain slope; on the other, a ravine. The Subanens live in the mountains of Zamboanga del Norte, one of the Philippines' poorest provinces. They survive by hunting and subsistence farming.

Fifty-four-year old Zenaida Dandanan is a member of the Subanens' Council of Elders.

These mountains, she says, have provided her people food and in turn, they offer food and wine to their ancestors on top of Mount Canatuan.

But life changed when gold and silver were discovered in these mountains. In 2004, a Canadian company, TVI Resources, started mining in Canatuan as commodity prices were skyrocketing, in part because of increasing Chinese demand.

Most of the gold and silver mined by TVI are sold to Chinese clients.

"In the beginning people were saying mining is not good,” Dandanan said. ”Mount Canatuan is sacred to us. All of us married Subanens hold rituals here as a sign that we live here and we belong to the tribe of Apo Manglang." The top of the mountain now bears mining scars.

"We can't do anything about the mine. It's legal. Times have changed. There's a government now that makes these decisions," Dandanan adds.

TVI says it paid the Subanens nearly $1 million in royalties for the use of ancestral land. The company also built them a clinic and a school, and employed several in the mine.

But other tribe elders continue to protest TVI's presence, accusing it of discrimination and destroying what they consider their altar.

They say while TVI earns millions of dollars from Canatuan, the Subanens scrape by.

And their mountain home will never be the same again - especially since some areas have become a dump site for toxic waste from the mine.

Environmentalists say it could damage the environment for years to come.

Jay Nelson is in charge of TVI's environmental impact in Canatuan. He says the company tries to minimize the damage and once mining is finished, it will cover the dumpsite and rehabilitate the area for the tribe to reuse.

"We can't put the environment back exactly as it was before,” Nelson said. “No one can do that except Mother Nature. We're just giving Mother Nature a head start"

Some people here think TVI is the first of a flood of miners to come.

The Philippines has some of the world's biggest deposits of gold and copper. The government has decided to use mining as part of its strategy to expand the economy and ease the country's poverty. But for the Subanens, economic growth has a high price.

Dandanan says, "We have nowhere else to go…. We are watching our riches disappear, but we have not been part of it. It's for our children too."

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