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Delivering Community Power CUPW 2022-2023

Complaint by Ecuadorian Indigenous nation asks BC Securities Commission to investigate Solaris Resources

Indigenous organizations are uniting against controversial Amazon copper mining project

EnvironmentIndigenous PoliticsCanadian BusinessLatin America and the Caribbean

Josefina Tunki, first woman president of the Shuar Arutam People (PSHA), whose territory is located in Ecuador’s Cordillera del Cóndor mountain range. The biodiversity, towns and culture of the region are currently threatened by several large-scale metal mining projects. Photo courtesy Amazon Watch.

On February 29, the Shuar Arutam People (PSHA) of Ecuador filed a complaint against Solaris Resources Inc. before the British Columbia Securities Commission over its repeated failure to disclose material information to shareholders regarding its Warintza mining project, which overlaps with PSHA’s titled territory.

Despite PSHA’s explicit and continuous rejection of the Warintza project, Vancouver-based Solaris has plowed ahead with its mining plans in the Amazon, one of the most biodiverse regions on Earth. The complaint comes just days before the biggest mining conference in the world, the annual trade show of the Prospectors and Developers Association of Canada (PDAC), kicks off in downtown Toronto. Solaris has previously used PDAC to showcase its “Warintza model” of community engagement as industry best practice.

The global rush for critical minerals to meet the rising demands of the energy transition away from fossil fuels has seen the mining sector rebrand itself as a sustainable ‘green’ industry and a key ally in mitigating climate change. Yet, much like the legacy of oil extraction, mining projects continue to violate human rights, disrespect the rule of law, contribute to global warming, and threaten important ecosystems and biodiversity, particularly in places like the Amazon basin, which is at a dangerous tipping point of collapse.

According to the complaint, despite saying that it has the support of Indigenous communities, Solaris has failed to “continuously disclose that it only has support of two out of 47 centres that comprise PSHA… Under Ecuadorian law (in which international human rights treaties and standards are binding), all communities, peoples, or entire Indigenous nationalities potentially affected—environmentally or culturally—must be consulted with regards to extractive projects, not those just directly affected.”

For over two decades, the PSHA—whose territory is located in southwest Ecuador in the Amazonian province of Morona Santiago, which is nestled in the Cordillera del Cóndor mountain range—have firmly expressed their opposition to extractive megaprojects, including mining on their territory.

In 2019, Solaris acquired Lowell Mineral Exploration and the controversial Warintza project, which has remained dormant since 2006 after PSHA evicted the former owners.

That same year, the PSHA declared their lands “a territory of life” and launched an international campaign, “The Shuar Have Already Decided: No Mining!” In January 2021, PSHA’s governing council, together with Public Services International (PSI), filed a complaint with the International Labour Organization (ILO) against the Ecuadorian government for its violation of ILO Convention 169 and for violating their collective rights and not consulting them on projects being carried out on their territory.

As recognized by the Ecuadorian government, PSHA is the legal representative body of 47 communities with collective land title and ancestral possession of 232,500 hectares of territory in the Cordillera del Cóndor region of Ecuador’s Amazon. PSHA has repeatedly expressed its opposition to the project. The government has failed to consult them as required by the Ecuadorian constitution as well as international Indigenous rights obligations, thereby failing to obtain consent before engaging in extractive activities.

Solaris Resources’ Warintza copper-gold project is located in the Cordillera del Cóndor mountain range in the in the eastern Andes of Ecuador. Photo courtesy Solaris Resources.

Instead of addressing the full scope of its legal free, prior, and informed consent (FPIC) obligations, Solaris has chosen to emphasize a “strategic alliance” with just two communities in the area, Yawi and Warintz, causing division and internal conflicts. However, it is important to note that neither of these communities can enter into a process of consultation or provide consent for land that is part of the collective PSHA territory. This has led to misleading implications for investors, suggesting that the company has secured the necessary “social license” to operate. This lack of FPIC puts the viability of the project at risk and opens the door to future litigation, similar to legal injunctions that have paralyzed neighbouring mining projects.

“The Shuar Arutam people have rejected the Warintza project for many years,” says Jaime Palomino, President of PSHA. “Despite this, the company insists on promoting the project by dividing the communities and trying to reach agreements with other Indigenous organizations. Both the company and the Ecuadorian government should respect our own government structure and our autonomy. Therefore, we are unaware of and reject any agreement that is or has been signed on our behalf.”

The complaint arises as Chinese mining company Zijin Mining Group Co Ltd., along with its wholly-owned indirect subsidiary, Jinlong (Singapore) Mining Pte. Ltd. awaits approval from the TSX and Canadian securities regulators over its private placement of approximately 15 percent of Solaris’ shares. According to financial analysts, this sale will trigger a review by the federal government under the Investment Canada Act, and could contradict Ottawa’s policy of preventing Chinese companies from investing in Canadian-owned critical minerals projects.

Solaris also intends to list on the New York Stock Exchange in 2024, where it could face a similar complaint as the one presented to the British Columbia Securities Commission.

“Solaris is misleading existing and future investors about the Warintza project,” says Mary Mijares, Fossil Finance Campaigner at Amazon Watch. “The reality on the ground is far different than the rosy outlook the company paints in its disclosures and CSR [corporate social responsibility] presentations. No legally binding consultation for the project has been conducted. Solaris has merely deployed a divide and conquer strategy in an attempt to manufacture consent. Solaris continues to keep its shareholders in the dark that there is steadfast opposition to this project that puts its viability at risk.”

Josefina Tunki walks alongside the Shuar Arutam people in a demonstration against mining, in the town of Limón, in 2020. Photo courtesy Lluvia Comunicación.

The complaint also shows that Solaris’s positive country outlook is unsupported. The company does not disclose growing anti-extraction sentiment throughout Ecuador, where 12 mining projects are paralyzed due to opposition and legal actions. Recent plebiscites have restricted mining in several provinces, including the Yasuni National Park which is home to one of Ecuador’s largest oil reserves. Indigenous and anti-mining civil society organizations have also threatened new protests.

“The Shuar have repeatedly asserted there exists no social license for Solaris Resources’ flagship Warintza project, even as the Canadian company downplays strong and consistent opposition,” says Viviana Herrera, the Latin America Program Coordinator for MiningWatch Canada. “Today’s complaint filed with the BC Securities Commission by the Shuar Arutam People and allied organizations is one more avenue to have their voices heard, as Ecuadorian communities increasingly succeed in stopping projects they see as socially and environmentally harmful.”

A growing coalition of Indigenous organizations and civil society groups including the Confederation of Indigenous Nationalities of the Ecuadorian Amazon (CONFENIAE), Amazon Watch, MiningWatch Canada, Witness, and Nia Tero are joining PSHA in their demand that Solaris Resources cancel the Warintza project and the Ecuadorian government revoke all mining concessions on its territory.

This story reflects a pervasive trend of conflict between Canadian mining companies and Indigenous communities, exacerbated by a history of environmental and social harm documented in the recent Amazon Watch report titled Unmasking Canada: Rights Violations Across Latin America.

The complaint against Solaris Resources by the PSHA exemplifies the ongoing struggle for Indigenous rights and environmental justice against a backdrop of increasing resistance to mining projects in Ecuador and beyond. The mobilization of Indigenous groups and civil society organizations against extractive industries underscores the urgent need to hold mining companies accountable for their actions and prioritize Indigenous rights and environmental protection over corporate interests.

Viviana Herrera is the Latin America Program Coordinator for MiningWatch Canada.

Ricardo Pérez Bailón is the Peru Communications Advisor for Amazon Watch.

Laura Salas is the Senior Program Manager for Latin America and the Caribbean at WITNESS.

Jaime Palomino is the President of the Government Council of the Shuar Arutam People.

Fanny Kaeka is a representative of the Government Council of the Shuar Arutam People.

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