BELOIT—“Why is it so easy to sacrifice indigenous people’s land in the name of development when it destroys the environment we depend on?”
That’s what Filipino human rights activist and environmentalist Joan Carling asks as she defends native and marginalized peoples’ rights. Carling will serve as the resident chair for Weissberg Week at Beloit College as the 22nd Annual Weissberg Program is underway. It aims to empower people to take informed action to address complex global problems. Public events kicked off March 25 and will continue through April 23 with various speakers.
In her public lecture on April 14, Carling will talk on the topic of “Climate Change and Global Solidarity.”
“These resources need to be taken care of for future generations. You use what you need, but you make sure you leave what future generations will lean on,” Carling said.
In addition to public events, the college has created a fellowship program in connection with the Weissberg Program, including a Human Rights and Social Justice, Creative Writing, Upton and CELEB Fellows Program.
Carling has been defending land rights from grassroots to international levels for more than 20 years. In a Zoom interview Monday, Carling shared a bit about her work.
Carling, who is in Denmark now, is from the Kankanaey tribe in the Cordilleras, the mountainous region of the northern Philippines. Her people have been known for their sustainable way of managing the forest and mountains.
Indigenous people in the Philippines have faced a loss of livelihood and other hardships due to open-pit gold mining and the erection of dams.
After years of underground gold mining in the mountains, a practice known as open-pit gold mining began in the 1990s where the mountains are scraped.
“It creates tons of toxic waste. You take all the soil, sand and gravel and use chemicals to separate the gold out,” Carling said.
To produce one gold ring, she said, would require roughly two trucks of toxic waste as part of the mining process.
Carling said the numbers of jobs created do not outweigh the environmental devastation. For example, she said 5,000 might be working in an underground mine. Although less dangerous to workers, an open-pit mine requires only around 300 to 400 workers to operate the big machines.
Another issue in the area is water pollution. Dams which are erected cause further problems, she said.
“The silt is covering productive rice fields. During the rainy season the polluted rivers pollute rice fields downstream and the fish farms,” she said.
Those who become vocal on the mining and dam issues in the Philippines, Carling said, risk facing trumped up criminal charges, being labeled as a terrorist or even being killed.
Carling has known several activists who have lost their lives and she has resorted to using a bodyguard.
As Carling continued her activities outside the region and country she met she discovered many other indigenous people with similar problems such as those people opposing the Dakota Access pipeline in the United States and those in Latin America.
Carling said she continues to speak out internationally and has been in contact with Amnesty International.
“The government doesn’t care what happens inside the country. It is more affected by pressure from outside of the country, if the world knows what’s happening,” Carling said.
“It’s also important people let activists know there are people who believe they are doing the right thing as they can sometimes feel helpless and powerless,” Carling said. “It gives them strength to continue knowing there is support and solidarity. There is still goodness in humanity.”
The upcoming Weissberg discussion will include:
April 12: Alumni Panel on Careers in Sustainability, 6 p.m.
April 14: Feature Lecture on “Climate Change and Global Solidarity,” with Joan Carling, 6 p.m.
April 18: Film screening, “A is for Agustin,” by Grace Simbulan, 1:30 p.m.
April 19: Workshop, “Are You a Social Justice Advocate or Activist?” with trainer George Martin, 7:30 p.m.
April 23: Fiction Reading: Milltown: Reckoning with What Remains, with author and alum Kerri Arsenault ’90, 11:30 a.m.
The public can access them through the Beloit website here: