School of Graduate Studies

School of Graduate Studies
School of Graduate Studies

Breaking new ground in Indigenous-mining relations – Meet Martina Paloheimo

PhD Student in Geography and Planning

By Phil Gaudreau, December 2020

Martina PaloheimoWhen you think of Ecuador, you might think of the rocky Galapagos Islands, the lush Amazon rainforest, or the staggering La Sierra mountain ranges.

But beneath all those gorgeous scenes lie valuable minerals – and companies from all over the world, Canada included, are eager to mine them.

Traditionally, mining creates rifts between local communities, destroys Indigenous livelihoods, and causes serious environmental problems. Martina Paloheimo is working with the Shuar tribe of Ecuador to help understand their place-based knowledge and investigate possibilities for more sustainable ways to conduct mining in the area. Her hope is that this new approach would create economic development opportunities while also preserving the tribe’s cultural knowledge and lands.

Paloheimo’s interest in understanding and preserving Indigenous cultures started in her undergraduate years, where her studies focused on philosophy and the environment. Upon completion of her degree, she took a job tree planting throughout Northern Ontario and saw first-hand how clear cutting affected both the land and local Indigenous communities.

“I saw racism first-hand towards the Indigenous Peoples and how companies were exploiting their land and their resources,” explains Paloheimo.

This experience led Paloheimo to pursue her master’s degree, and additional post-graduate training, in peace studies and dispute resolution specifically focused on conflicts around unsustainable resource development in Canada and Brazil. She worked with several NGOs in Toronto, Latin America, Haiti, Ireland, and Brazil.

After living in Brazil for six months during the 2014 World Cup, while completing an internship in Brazil with the International Conservation Fund of Canada and the Indigenous Kayapo tribe in the Brazilian Amazon, Paloheimo was introduced to an organization called Global Indigenous Development Trust. This Toronto-based NGO focuses on bridging Indigenous knowledge and modern science and technology.

Working with this organization gave her the opportunity to collaborate with Indigenous leaders from all over Canada and Latin America. “Through this NGO I met Peruvian and Ecuadorian leaders and elders, and facilitated cultural exchanges in Canada,” says Paloheimo. “Trips to Canada provided an opportunity for Indigenous leaders to learn about Indigenous experiences in Canada related to mining, both the good and the bad.”

That encounter encouraged Paloheimo to further her studies and continue her research. A friend introduced her to Heather Castleden, the Canada Research Chair in Reconciling Relations for Health, Environments, and Communities at Queen’s. After meeting with Dr. Castleden, Paloheimo decided in 2019 to pursue her PhD at Queen’s with Dr. Castleden as her supervisor.

Since beginning, COVID-19 has caused some setbacks for Paloheimo’s research. She was supposed to travel to Ecuador to meet with the Shuar to begin qualitative research, but unfortunately had to postpone the trip and move her research online.

“It’s hard to predict the future because of COVID right now but I’ve always wanted to work to support this family, the preservation of their knowledge, culture and the Amazon region more generally!” says Paloheimo. “I love teaching, so I would love to be a professor that would travel to South America for work. Possibly work as an international consultant…something that would allow me to live part-time in Canada and fly south for the winters!”

To learn more about graduate studies in geography and planning at Queen’s, visit their website.