Selkirk College nursing students listening to Diodora Hernandez tell her story through a translator.

Film shows impact of gold mining in Guatemala

Gold Fever is set in a village Selkirk nursing students visit on practicums

Selkirk College nursing students who did their final practicum in Guatemala this spring will recognize many familiar faces in the Gold Fever documentary screening at the Civic Theatre next Wednesday.

The film takes place in a small, remote Guatemalan village called San Miguel Itahuacán — the same place local nursing classes have visited each year since 2007. Though the latest batch of students arrived after the film crews, they met many of the same villagers whose stories are told in the documentary.

Both the students and the film crew talked to women like Diadora Hernandez whose land and personal health have been impacted by Canadian mining corporations operating in the area.

“The students sat with her on her land for two hours listening to her tell her story through translators,” their instructor Mary Ann Morris recalls.

The first year Selkirk students visited the village, the mine wasn’t yet in operation. But the next time Morris brought her class down, they immediately noticed the effect of mining activities.

“We were choking and coughing from all the air pollution that was created by all the dust,” she says.

She believes companies choose to mine in the developing world because of the lack of environmental protections. The mining process in San Miguel Itahuacán involves setting off explosives on the mountain to break off chunks of rock, then using a huge amount of water mixed with cyanide to separate out the gold.

“It’s a very, very inexpensive process, but very destructive to the environment. That was already obvious just a year after the project got started, and it’s only gotten worse.”

The villagers have staged protests against the mines in attempt to get the attention of their government, but such actions are increasingly criminalized. There’s still a hope that if people in Canada learn what’s being done by Canadian companies abroad, they will do something about it.

The Selkirk students have made numerous presentations about their findings in Guatemala and continue to push for an objective

investigation into the health and social concerns raised by the people they met.

Morris is careful to point out that they aren’t calling for an end to mining. Rather, they want mining to be done in a way that respects the environment and human health concerns.

She says the Gold Fever documentary offers an excellent primer on the issues at play.

Gold Fever is showing at the Nelson Civic Theatre on Wednesday, October 16 at 7:30 p.m. Tickets are $9. A discussion, led by the Sustainable Mining Alliance of the Kootenays, will follow the film.

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