Oct 08 2007

Behind the Shining: Aluminum’s Dark Side

While Utkal is the most prominent bauxite/alumina development, it is not

the only one in Orissa. NALCO plans to operate the world’s third largest

alumina refinery in Damanjodi. In the Gadhamardan hills near the Hirakud

reservoir, Bharat Aluminium Cmpany (BALCO) tried to start mining bauxite in

the late 1980s. After blasting at BALCO’s mines badly damaged the famous

Nrusinghanath Temple, people in the region had seen enough, and forced a

halt to the project.

Forced relocations and indigenous rights in other countries

The struggle in Orissa echoes similar contests between aluminum

transnationals and indigenous peoples around the world.

Australia

Bauxite mining in the Australian province of Queensland occurs on native

land. In Dec. 1996, the Australian high court ruled that Wik and Thayorre

aborigines hold legal Native Title claims on land that Comalco mines in the

town of Weipa. Billiton’s bauxite mines in Gove are also on Aboriginal

land. (Suganthi Singarayar, “For Aborigines, Racial Discrimination Act is

Sacred,” Inter Press Service, Jan. 27, 1997; Dr. Richard Howitt,

“Exploration, Mining and Indigenous Futures: What does it mean? Why does it

matter?,” Macquarie University School of Earth Sciences, 1990)

Next to the Weipa mine, Alcan hopes to develop the Ely bauxite deposit. The

company holds a mining lease dating from 1965. In 1997, it was negotiating

with the local Aboriginal community to obtain access to land where it wants

to build a port. Australian Institute of Aboriginal and Torres Strait

Islander Studies, Native Title Research Unit archives)

Roger Moody called Weipa a “region flagrantly robbed by Comalco from its

Aboriginal inhabitants in the ’60s, and which continues to be one of the

major disgraces of northern Queensland…No less controversial is

Pechiney’s acquisition in 1981 – along with Billiton Aluminium – of a 40%

interest in the Arukun bauxite prospect in the same area, an aboriginal

reserve whose occupants are firmly against bauxite mining .” (Roger Moody,

“Gulliver PUK (Pechiney-Ugine-Kuhlmann) Dossier” in The Gulliver File –

Mines, people and land: a global battleground, Minewatch, 1992.)

In the 1980s, Alcoa’s planned to build a $1.5 billion smelter in Portland,

Victoria, Austria. According to Moody, “the site is part of the

traditional land of the Aboriginal Gunditj-Mara people, who strenuously

fought – using court claims, direct action, occupations and sabotage of

Alcoa’s machinery – to stop the smelter being built. Under such pressure

and because of the high electricity price charged by the Victorian state

government, the project was mothballed in 1982. The Labour government in

the state – despite token gestures towards Aboriginal land rights – revived

the project soon after coming to power in 1983, and will in fact take a 25%

stake in it.” (ibid).

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