The women who defend the community and land

8 March 2015

International Women’s Day is an opportunity to celebrate the amazing women in our lives and as KAIROS’ Gender Justice program coordinator I have the privilege of working with extraordinary women every day, including Indigenous women in Canada and around the world who are defending the rights of their communities and the environment and helping us to understand the gendered impacts of mining.

Naty Atz Sunuc is one of these remarkable women. She embodies KAIROS’ work on Indigenous rights, resource extraction and gender justice. A Maya Kaqchikel from the village of San Martin Jilotepeque, she is the General Director of CEIBA, the Association for Community Development and Promotion in Guatemala, a KAIROS partner, and a highly respected defender of human rights and Indigenous peoples in Guatemala.

In the last six years, CEIBA has helped organize over 70 community consultations in Guatemala involving almost two million people in an impressive and inspiring example of self-determination and democratic participation. The report on this unique process — KAIROS Participatory Research with Partners on Free, Prior, and Informed Consent: CEIBA’s Experience in Guatemala is available online (

In September 2013, Naty was inducted as an honorary witness at the BC National Truth and Reconciliation Commission (TRC) event in Vancouver. Her role as an honorary witness is a concrete gesture of solidarity with Indigenous brothers and sisters in Canada. As a victim and survivor of the brutal civil war and genocide in Guatemala, she knows first-hand the importance of truth telling, justice and reconciliation not only as a healing process for survivors and all of society, but as a way of ensuring this terrible history is never repeated (nunca mas). As an honorary witness, Naty pledged to accompany the TRC process and carry forward its recommendations.

KAIROS produced two videos on Naty Atz’s participation in the TRC. In Reflections on the TRC, Naty reflects on her conversations with survivors and the testimonies she heard, and shares her hope that the truth and reconciliation process in Canada will lead to transformative change. Message to Indigenous Peoples in Canada is Naty’s message of solidarity and hope with First Nations people in Canada.

In November 2014 Naty joined all 57 honorary witnesses in Toronto to discuss their role in reconciliation efforts beyond the TRC and to reflect on the question: What is the future of reconciliation? Naty believes reconciliation means addressing the ongoing violation of Indigenous rights in resource extraction, including the failure to respect the rights to free, prior and informed consent (FPIC) and self-determination.

Naty’s experience with how resource extraction impacts Indigenous women informed KAIROS’ Gendered Impacts: Indigenous Women and Resource Extraction symposium, which involved Indigenous women and Indigenous women’s organizations from Canada.

Naty is returning to Canada for the TRC’s Closing Ceremonies in Ottawa, May 31-June 4. She will be here as a KAIROS partner and as an honorary witness. KAIROS is calling this a Time for Reconciliation and mobilizing our networks to raise awareness and understanding of the Commission’s final report and recommendations.

Naty’s presence and work embody KAIROS’ commitment to resource extraction, Indigenous rights and gender justice, as well as its efforts to integrate this work and to better understand the meaning of reconciliation. In Naty, we are reminded that these issues are not abstract or isolated. They are inextricably linked and reflected in her lived experience and that of other Indigenous women.

KAIROS’ work includes amplifying the voices of women like Naty, and ensuring their lived experience is visible. International Women’s Day provides an opportunity to do this.

Rachel Warden, Latin American and Gender Justice Coordinator, KAIROS Canada