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Moms Lead the Charge Against Dirty Gold Mining

Buying jewelry for our moms may be hurting mothers and children who live in places where the gold is mined

It’s almost Mother’s Day! Whatever your feelings about manufactured holidays, it’s always a good idea to give thanks to mom. So call her, take her out to lunch, send her (fair trade) flowers, or have your kids make her a handmade card.

mom with her kids Photo courtesy EarthworksYolanda Oquelí with her children. She has been leading the local resistance to a Canadian-run
open-pit gold mine in the Tambor mountains of southern Guatemala.

But think twice before buying her a shiny piece of gold bling. Mother’s Day is the second largest gold-jewelry buying day of the year in the United States. But many of us buying jewelry for our moms may unknowingly be hurting mothers and children who live in places where the gold is mined. Producing enough gold for a 0.3 ounce gold band generates 20 tons of mine waste — much of which is contaminated with chemicals such as cyanide or mercury. Massive pollution, huge open pits, devastating community health effects, worker dangers and, in many cases, human rights abuses have become hallmarks of gold and metals mining in countries such as Peru, Indonesia, Ghana, Guatemala and parts of the United States.

"Many of our mothers have been impoverished and can no longer feed their children because mining operations have taken over their farmland and contaminated their drinking water supplies," says mother and community activist Hannah Owusu-Koranteng of the Wassa region in Ghana. "The human cost of gold mining is simply too high."

Says Carrie Dann, a Western Shoshone grandmother from Nevada: "To the Shoshone, the Earth is our mother, that which gives us all life. And, in the name of the almighty dollar, open-pit gold mining is destroying our Earth."

Women are not only disproportionately harmed by large-scale mining, they’re also, in many cases, leading efforts to keep their communities safe from it. Yolanda Oquelí has been leading the local resistance to a Canadian-run open-pit gold mine in the Tambor mountains of southern Guatemala. “We are doing this for our children and for future generations,” she says. “Perhaps we won't see the results right away but I have the hope and this is what motivates me, that my children and grandchildren will be able to say: that's what my mother or father contributed to.”

In Bristol Bay, Alaska, the world’s largest wild sockeye salmon fishery, that sustains Alaska Native communities, is threatened by the huge proposed gold-copper Pebble mine. Kimberley Williams an Alaska Native leader, fisherwoman and mother says:

“As we approach Mother's Day, we are reminded that the most wholesome thing we can feed our children is something that comes from our land. Any large-scale extractive industry like mining can really degrade and damage the habitat and we don't want to lose the salmon.” 

She  adds: “We teach our children to have those same values and ethics of taking care of these natural resources so they can feed future generations.”

As a mother and mining activist myself, I couldn’t agree more.

This Mother’s Day, please join us to honor the many mothers around the world trying to protect their children, families and resources from being harmed by dirty gold. Sign on to the No Dirty Gold pledge at:

Payal Sampat
Payal Sampat is the No Dirty Gold campaign director at Earthworks, a nonprofit environmental organization.

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