In Search of Recognition: indigenous and tribal peoples and a nascent aluminium industry

Type Working Paper - Mining, the Aluminium Industry, and Indigenous Peoples: Enhancing Corporate Respect for Indigenous Peoples’ Rights
Title In Search of Recognition: indigenous and tribal peoples and a nascent aluminium industry
Page numbers 71-100
URL, the Aluminium Industry and​Indigenous Peoples.pdf#page=77
On 6 January 2003, the Government of Suriname signed a Memorandum of
Understanding (MoU) with two mining companies, BHP Billiton and Suralco (a
subsidiary of Alcoa), for the exploration for bauxite in the Bakhuys Mountains. The
Government then signed a second MoU with Suralco for exploring the possibilities
for large-scale hydroelectric power plants in the Kabalebo area, setting up an alumina
refinery and aluminium smelter and a possible deep-water port, all directly related
to the original bauxite exploration lease. The planned location of these large-scale
projects was in an area traditionally inhabited by indigenous people in West Suriname.
The directly affected Washabo, Apoera and Section communities, were not fully
aware, and were not directly approached or consulted about the exploration activities
on their lands by the companies involved prior to the signing of the MoUs. Instead,
the village chiefs heard about the signing of the MoUs through the media. Knowing
that indigenous peoples in Suriname have no official recognition of their land rights,
community members were alarmed about the plans and the village leaders turned
to Bureau VIDS (Dutch acronym of Vereniging van Inheemse Dorpshoofden, the
Association of Indigenous Village Leaders in Suriname) for help and advice. The
Bakhuys Mountain range, about 80 km from the communities, is in the territory of
the indigenous peoples of West Suriname, and forms part of the area they use to hunt,
fish and to gather non-timber forest products. It is also where their fresh water sources
come from and an area of high biological diversity. The proposed mining activities would have significant impacts particularly the
transport of bauxite using barges down the Corantijn River. The river is used by
the Trio and Lokono peoples, on both the Suriname and Guyana side of the river.
Aside from the direct impacts of mining and transport of the minerals, there are also
impacts from the broader proposed integrated aluminium industry in West Suriname
(including smelting and refining the bauxite), and the building of a hydro dam in the
Kabalebo area, with associated flooding of a forested area of 2500 km2 in the territory
of indigenous communities.
It is crucial for the indigenous peoples in West Suriname to study and understand the
social and environmental impacts of the proposed projects and to ensure that they can
have a voice to make government and companies aware of their concerns and have
a say in the decision-making processes. Since the rights of indigenous peoples are
not legally recognized in Suriname, the communities in West Suriname face major
obstacles in realizing this objective.
With the support of VIDS, the North South Institute (NSI), the Forest Peoples
Programme (FPP), and other individual experts, the communities embarked on their
pursuit of a path towards rights recognition. In their efforts to find a harmonious
way forward with the project proponents, they experienced both ups and downs, but
ultimately had to conclude that a path which is not build on a solid foundation of rights
recognition and which does not guarantee a balance of power, cannot be walked in
harmony. This study focuses on the process, not on the outcome of the social and environment
assessments, and other activities and studies related to the proposed integrated bauxite
mining industry. Many studies have been conducted in relation to this proposal and
data presented here are collected from these reports and other writings.

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