Slain Honduran Indigenous activist brings strength to N.B. environmentalists

·4 min read
Hayes Farm owner Mark Trealot, bench artist Bruce Gray and organizer Tracy Glynn at the Berta Cáceres memorial.  (María José Burgos - image credit)
Hayes Farm owner Mark Trealot, bench artist Bruce Gray and organizer Tracy Glynn at the Berta Cáceres memorial. (María José Burgos - image credit)

Indigenous activist Berta Cáceres tried for years to thwart the construction of a dam across a sacred river near her community in Honduras, and she was killed in her home by hitmen as a result.

But five years later, the bravery and devotion of the Lenca environmental activist are still inspiring people in New Brunswick, and the pain of her loss seemed just as piercing Wednesday as the night she was slain.

In honour of her memory and her fight to defend Indigenous people and their territory from certain developments in the Central American country, a bench with a plaque was installed at Hayes Farm in Fredericton. Two apple trees were planted beside it.

María José Burgos
María José Burgos

Ron Tremblay, Wolastoq Grand Council chief, says the stories of Indigenous peoples striving to survive are often similar, which is why many New Brunswickers find strength in Cáceres's story.

"They're stories of mining companies exploiting Indigenous land, and women in these stories are often at the forefront," he said.

"Women who are raped and murdered from the companies that are promoting resource developments."

Cáceres, 44 years old and a mother of four, lived in La Esperanza, in southwestern Honduras, where she was fighting construction of a dam on the Gualcarque River.

Through tears, Tremblay said Wolastoqey grandmothers are just some of the people who have been inspired by Cáceres.

María José Burgos
María José Burgos

For example, last week, he said, they were out trying to prevent Miramichi Lake from being poisoned under a plan to get rid of an invasive species and protect Atlantic salmon. The chemical spraying of the lake has now been put on hold for wider consultation with First Nations.

"It's important to recognize that some of the struggles that are in Honduras, are here in our own backyard as well," Tremblay said.

Cáceres in Canada

Tracy Glynn of Fredericton organized the Cáceres memorial and works with communities affected by resource extraction in Canada and in Guatemala.

She said Cáceres was well known among activists around the world long before she was shot and killed in 2016.

In 2000, Cáceres marched in the streets of Quebec against the Free Trade Agreement for the Americas with Glynn and other New Brunswickers.

Submitted by Jackie McVicar
Submitted by Jackie McVicar

"Berta reminded the world that the hurt that pours out in Honduras today is a result of brutal imperialism and has everything to do with not just the U.S. but also Canada," Glynn said at the memorial.

Indigenous people in Honduras say they and the environment are threatened by the building of several dams, including projects involving two Canadian companies, Hydrosys and Blue Energy.

Caceres was reported saying she had received death threats from people close to Blue Energy, which was working on a development at another site near La Esperanza.

María José Burgos
María José Burgos

"What can I do to honour Berta's life?"

David Castillo, a former manager of the Honduran company Desarrollos Energéticos, whose hydroelectric dam project Cáceres was protesting when she died, was found guilty in July of being a collaborator in the murder.

Seven others were also convicted in Cáceres's death and sentenced to prison terms of up to 50 years.

Jackie McVicar, a human rights consultant from Nova Scotia who was based in Guatemala City for years, worked with Cáceres's family during the trial to fact check the information presented.

María José Burgos
María José Burgos

McVicar said she always remembers the speech Cáceres gave when she won the Goldman Environmental Prize in 2015.

"In her speech, she said, 'Wake up humanity. There is no time left,'" McVicar said through tears. "I think that urgent call for action is what makes people respond to Berta.

"Her courage just calls on other people to be their best and say, 'What can I do to honour Berta's life?"

'Berta didn't die, she multiplied'

The Cáceres family called for people to plant trees across the world to mark the fifth anniversary of the activist's murder and what would have been her 50th birthday.

"The wonderful people of Fredericton, of Wolastoqey territory and beyond, have come together to make that wish happen," said Glynn.

On the bench that was installed in between the two apple trees, a plaque reads: "Berta didn't die, she multiplied."

This was the same phrase printed on the solidarity banners that Hondurans plastered on the walls of their cities as they protested her murder.

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