Wednesday, May 5, 2010

The Price of Gold

The following article has been written by Sarah Diefendorf, Executive Director of the Environmental Finance Center at Dominican University and member of the Women’s Earth Alliance delegation to threatened Native American sacred spaces in Nevada and Arizona.

What is gold worth? In the current economy when all investments are questionable, gold has proven its superior position once again, rising to the top of the charts at about $1,170/oz on the winds of depression popularity. Gold is the color of choice for musical artists making their statement, for brides proving their wealth on their fingers and for the low income rank and file who hopes, some day, that he can be anything but. For too many, gold is so much more than a piece of metal, it is who you are, who you hope to be and what you dream you could become.

So what is gold worth to you? Have you ever stopped to think about where that shining emblem of rank began its life? Have you ever wondered about the journey of your jewelry, where it began, what deadly chemicals it grasped in order to be leached from the earth, and who it harmed along the way? Somewhere out in the Nevada high desert in the United States of America, a leach heap of rock and gravel is being sprayed with water and cyanide so that microscopic bits of gold will adhere to this favored poison and bleed into a pond where it will be collected and sent to a roaster to be processed for the market. Somewhere, maybe right now, because mines are 24/7, a siren is sounding long, loud and hard to signal a blasting zone, deep within a sacred mountain that has been raked and ripped apart by our thirst for status.

So does this matter to you? This dry place tucked in amongst the sage, where almost no one lives and no one from the federal to the state to the local government seems to mind that mostly foreign companies are staking out virtually free claims for massive profit – should you care?

This is why you should. The American west is your heritage; it is saturated with our expansive history and is the very symbol of who we are to ourselves and the world. Nevada was the crossroads of this history of ranchers, cowboys, miners and Indians, and to this day it still is. Nevada remains the Wild West, and true that image, it is pressing its Indian population on to ever smaller lands, confiscating their horses and cattle, and desecrating their sacred sites, all in the name of gold. As a result, the Western Shoshone are still fighting the battles that most Americans associate with a distant past, highlighted on black and white film.

Thanks to an outdated mining law established in 1872, major international corporations can stake their claim, pay virtually nothing and take the land – Shoshone land – with almost no oversight and with the full sanction of the US government. So yesterday, May 3, 2010, we bore witness to one site at the base of Mt. Tenabo, praised as sacred by the Shoshone, but deemed a golden windfall by Barrick Inc. Now home to the world’s third largest gold mine, Mt Tenabo is being ripped apart and dug asunder while you read these words. Their holy, centuries-old gathering site, is gone, 1,000 trees cut down, tunnels blown out of the mountainside.

The mountain holds the spirit of the Western Shoshone people who have occupied this land for thousands of years. The microscopic gold will be extracted through a process using mercury and cyanide by a major international Canadian corporation, leaving a legacy of toxic waste in a mountain of rubble.

The Shoshone believe that gold is a conductor, not of electricity but of our earthly spirit to the spirits of our ancestors. When the gold is cut out of Mt Tenabo, the spirits will be killed, the mountain will be gone, and another bridge from their ancient past to their uncertain future will be forever burned. If you’re lucky enough to listen and learn from an elder, you might hear about the life of Mt Tenabo: how the mountain is the mother of the Shoshone, that all life began there and all those who pass will return to her womb. The mountain is equivalent to their Jerusalem, their Temple on the Mount, their Mecca. It is as real to them as our shrines and holy cities are to us. Yet the United States Government has seen fit, in 2010, to allow the desecration and destruction of this holy site.

So what is gold worth to you? Think about it. Is gold worth the destruction of your church, temple or mosque? Would you allow the site of the birth of your holy truth to be turned over to be mined for profit? What is gold worth to you? The next time you visit your jeweler ask him where the gold came from, how it was mined and what damage it caused along its path, and decide for yourself if the journey was worth your purchase. And in the end, if he can’t answer your questions, if the path has been hidden from your view, leave the gold on the table and maybe more will be left in the earth.

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