By Terri Theodore
"We are absolutely appalled that junior minister (Randy) Hawes has also gone on the record saying 'some First Nations reject mining for a more traditional lifestyle—those linked to lower birth weights, higher birth-rate deaths and lower life spans,'" the union said in a statement.
But Mr. Hawes said Saturday he has no intention of quitting, and he plans to continue speaking his mind about the large social gaps between First Nations and non-First Nations.
"We should, all of us, be ashamed of those and we should be working together with First Nations to close those gaps."
1) Indian tribes might reject mining as an economic solution for several reasons. Mines are environmentally destructive; they cause pollution. They're too far from home; the commute would destroy family life. Mines can change a community's way of life, and not in a good way. Look at mining towns in the Appalachians, which are often described as poor or depressed.
2) Indian tribes might have poor health for several reasons. Lack of access to health care and education, for starters. Lack of access to consumer goods: everything from healthy foods to condoms. Poverty and crime that create feelings of hopelessless and despair.
Obviously a source of jobs would inject money into a tribal community and start turning things around. Increased buying power might make things like grocery stores and health clinics feasible. The question is whether the drawbacks are worth the benefits. In many cases a tribe might say no. "We want high-quality jobs that add value to our community, not low-quality jobs that would tear the community apart."
Having that attitude isn't remotely the same as "choosing" to be poor and sick. It's telling the government to give the tribes more choices than mining or poverty. "Give us five or ten choices for economic development and we'll pick the most suitable one. Don't give us one bad choice and then blame us when we're wise enough to reject it."
In short, Hawes's comments were a gross oversimplification of a real problem. He apparently meant well, but his basic premise is wrong. People don't "choose" to be poor. They're poor because they don't have enough options and don't know how to take advantage of them.
So Hawes ended up being the latest in a long line of people to blame the victim. He implied Indians are lazy, degenerate, good-for-nothing bums who prefer welfare, drugs, crime, and booze to a healthy lifestyle. That's stereotypical.
What Hawes is talking about
Here's the particular situation Hawes was referring to:
Mr. Hawes said some of that help can come through natural resource development, which creates jobs, brings in training and gives people a reason to stay in school.
The minister has supported the Taseko Mine's Prosperity Gold and Copper Mine proposal in an area outside of Williams Lake, B.C., and the native group said he has strongly criticized the local Tsilhquot'in First Nation for "putting a lake before their kids."
If the federal government gives approval for Prosperity Mine, a lake the Tsilhquot'in First Nation call Teztan Biny would be destroyed in the mining process.
So yeah, Hawes is blaming the victim. No white person would give up a Beverly Hills neighborhood, a Civil War battlefield, or Walden's Pond for a mine. Why should the tribe have to give up their lake?
Your "solution" probably isn't a sound one environmentally or economically, Hawes. Quit blaming the Indians for smartly rejecting your feeble attempt at "helping" them. If at first you don't succeed, try, try again.
For more on blaming the victim, see Ron Hart Is a Racist and Cameron: Lakota = "Dead-End Society."