McGill Research Group Investigating
Canadian Mining in Latin America


Key Data

Company:Sundance Minerals, previously Continuum Resources Operational status:production Materials extracted:silver, gold Type of mine:underground Main issues:water, indigenous rights, land rights


The Natividad mine in Oaxaca, Mexico has been the most important gold and silver mine in Oaxaca’s history [1]. Exploration under Continuum Resources began in 2004 [3]. The mine affects three communities in the immediate area, Natividad, Xiacui, and Capulalpan. Continuum Resources reached land use agreements with the two former communities, but has failed to reach an agreement with Capulalpan [4].

The residents of Capulalpan are part of the indigenous Zapateca group. The group states that Continuum Resources illegally gained over 50,000 hectares of land between 2004 and 2006. The Zapateca community states that that land belongs to their indigenous tribe and is therefore protected and cannot be taken without their consent [5]. Other main conflicts that have arisen between the mining company and the residents of Capulalpan are due to potential water contamination, environmental degradation, and destruction of sacred Zapateca sites. These concerns have led to the Zapateca community denouncing the Natividad mine and demanding is permanent closure [6].

One of the reasons that Capulalpan was concerned with shutting down Natividad mine was that in 2005 Continuum Resources had discovered new veins of gold and silver to the north of the original Natividad site. These minerals were very close to the surface of the land, which meant that the company would need to use open pit mining to get to the minerals. The indigenous Zapateca community opposed this type of mining because it would destroy their sacred mountains and cause serious environmental damage to their spiritual sites [7].

Mines use mass amounts of water, and Natividad is no exception; since production began, at least 13 springs have dried up in the area [8]. Additionally, community members fear that the remaining water sources are affected by heavy metals and other toxic contamination. Independent studies done by the community Capulalpan showed dangerously high levels of arsenic and lead in the river that runs through the community, where Natividad disposes of its water. Levels of arsenic and lead were higher than the national standards [9]. Also, out of service electric transformers that were part of the mine allegedly release toxic chemicals, called Polychlorinated biphenyls (PCBs) [10]. The fact that many water sources have dried up and alleged contamination of local watershed has caused community members to fear the detrimental impacts the mine has on the area.

Mining activities have adversely affected the biodiversity of the area. Hundreds of meters of tunnels extend into protected areas of forest and aquifers owned by Capulalpan [11]. Actions such as this that negatively affect the environment forced the Federal Environmental Protection Agency (Profepa) to conduct an environmental survey of the area in 2007, and in October of that year, the Agency ordered Continuum Resources to suspend the Natividad mine due to environmental concerns [12]. Zapateca members showed their support for this decision of Profepa by blocking the road leading to the mine for five hours on October 16th [13]. The next day, Continuum Resources announced that it suspended mining production due to delays in negotiations with a Mexican mining company, Cia Minera de Natividad y Anexas [14].

Timeline of Key Events