My name is Mark Ekepa. I have come fromÂ Papua New Guinea to speak to the Canadian people and the Canadian government about the problems the indigenous people in my community are facing because of the reckless mining operations of Barrick Goldâ€™s Porgera Joint Venture mine.
I am the Chairman of the Porgera Landowners Association. I represent the traditional landowners in Porgera where the Porgera Joint Venture mine has operated since 1990.
I am here to tell you why we cannot be safe and healthy in our ancestral land anymore.
Barrickâ€™s Porgera mine is disposing of millions of tons of toxic tailings (mine waste) and mountains of waste rock directly into our nearby 800 km-long river system. Barrick calls this â€œriverine tailings disposal.â€ We call it the permanent contamination of our river system. We know that this practice is illegal in Canada so we want to know why Barrick is allowed to do this to our river and nearby communities in Papua New Guinea. We used to use the river for drinking water, for food, for transportation. Now it is very dangerous. There have been consultantsâ€™ reports since 1996 that have warned of heavy metal contamination, in particular arsenic, lead, silver, and cadmium. Our river has become a health hazard.
Also, the mine is expanding in the middle of our community and in a mountainous area. It is continuously encroaching on our homes. There is little to keep people out of the mine, or away from the dangers of its mountainous rock waste dumps, and rivers of mine tailings. We have documented many cases of people, including children, falling into the open pit, being buried by rock slides on the waste dumps and drowning during flooding in rivers of tailings. Although Barrick has recently installed a fence around the open pit itself, the pit, the waste dumps and the rivers of tailings remain accessible to the people.
Also, as the open pit has expanded and its massive waste rock dumps have grown, we have lost most of our spaces for â€œgardens.â€ This is where we grow our subsistence foods. But we have had to relocate to steeper areas where we cannot farm for our daily food.
Given all of these issues â€“ as well as other human rights concerns that Jethro Tulin will tell you about -Â is no longer safe for us to remain on our ancestral land.
Many of the 10,000 indigenous peoples living within the mine lease area now want to be relocated. But Barrick seems to be reluctant to undertake this task. We know that Barrick has hired consultants to review the relocation possibilities but little information about the findings of these consultants is being shared by Barrick. At Barrickâ€™s Annual Genial Meeting on May 6th in Toronto we were told by Patrick Garver that only a few families would be moved.
This is unacceptable. Barrick has destroyed our land, our water, our safety and our ability to feed ourselves. We know that we can no longer live on our ancestral land. We know that we must leave our place so that our children can have a future. We call on Barrick and on the Canadian government to please help make the relocation of our people possible.