Grad student’s Guatemalan travels inform Canadian mining research

When Brock University graduate student Morgan Crosby mentioned a book that inspired her research to her methodology class last fall, she could not have predicted the discussion would lead to attending a field school in Guatemala with the scholars behind it.

Crosby first read Testimonio: Canadian Mining in the Aftermath of Genocides in Guatemala before joining Brock’s Master of Arts in Social Justice and Equity Studies (SJES) program, and it shaped her interest in studying the impact of Canadian mining in Guatemala. The book was co-edited by Professor Catherine Nolin of the University of North British Columbia and Grahame Russell, Director of Rights Action.

Associate Professor Ebru Ustundag, a member of Brock’s Department of Geography and Tourism Studies as well as the interdisciplinary SJES faculty, taught Crosby methodology and, hearing of her interest in the book, shared that she knew Nolin, a fellow geographer. Ustundag was also aware of a long-running field school run by Nolin and Russell in Guatemala for Canadian students.

Students, researchers and local experts pose in a room decorated with portraits of missing and murdered individuals.

The field school participants gathered at FAMDEGUA, a group started by the families of the murdered and disappeared from the time of Guatemala’s Internal Armed Conflict. Brock Master of Arts in Social Justice and Equity Studies student Morgan Crosby is seated to the left of the person holding two photographs, on the sofa. Professor Catherine Nolin of the University of British Columbia is kneeling on the floor, wearing white. Grahame Russell is in the back row, far left. (Photo courtesy of M. Jonker-Argueta)

“When I saw that the field course was being offered, I recommended Morgan get in touch with Dr. Nolin,” says Ustundag. “I thought Morgan would definitely benefit from being on the ground and sharing knowledge with folks who have been collaborating with Indigenous communities in Guatemala for decades.”

For two weeks in May, Crosby travelled with the group around the country to different mining sites to hear land defenders and others describe the impact of the extractive industry on their lives, homes and families.

“What hit me the most was being able to see where everything happened and contextualize everything I’ve been researching,” says Crosby. “Community members affected by Canadian mines want their stories shared, especially here, because it is a Canadian problem and we have a responsibility for how detrimental mining is to these communities.”

Crosby’s supervisor, Assistant Professor Liam Midzain-Gobin in Brock’s Department of Political Science and a member of the SJES faculty, was all for the idea and excited to see its impact on Crosby’s project.

“During her trip, Morgan got to hear testimonio from many of those affected by mining projects — she heard about the ways that companies collaborated with local and national governments to dispossess them of their land and perpetrate violence against community members standing up for their rights against this dispossession,” he says. “The trip and its visits to communities also helped Morgan be able to centre the voices of those offering testimonio as the experts in how this violence occurs and its meanings.”

Now working on the proposal for her Major Research Paper under Midzain-Gobin’s supervision, Crosby says that seeing the impacts of mining up close and not just in the pages of a book has made her very curious about the narratives promoted by Canadian companies and the contrast to the voices of those in Guatemala who have been impacted by them.

“I’m planning to focus on Canadian mining company websites, which can make it seem that what they’re doing is helpful or benefitting Guatemalan communities — and Indigenous communities, specifically — and then seeing how that compares to the actual impact,” she says.

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