October 31, 2010

Mines minister blames the victim

First Nations chiefs want B.C. mines minister to quit over 'offensive' comments

By Terri TheodoreThe Union of B.C. Indian Chiefs is calling for the resignation of B.C.'s minister of state for mining over what the group says were "shockingly offensive" comments.

"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."
Here's a general response to Hawes's generalization:

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:"There's something wrong here, and I believe it's a product of poverty on many First Nations territories. Now we need to work together to find a way out of, I guess I'll call it the cycle of poverty."

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.
Really? Destroying a lake is what you consider a viable economic solution? The tribe may consider the lake an important ecological, economic, cultural, or spiritual resource. Any time you're talking about destruction on that scale, it should raise a red flag. We've learned that large-scale environmental harm in the name of progress is often a big mistake.

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."

1 comment:

Rob said...

More details on the environmentally destructive plan Hawes is pushing:


If the US is the world’s policeman, Canada is the world’s miner

Earlier this week, now-resigned Federal Environmental Minister Jim Prentice announced the rejection of Taseko's proposed $1 billion open-pit gold and copper Prosperity mine in the interior of BC. The project called for the use of Teztan Biny (Fish Lake) as a tailings pond to dump over 700 hundred million tons of waste. This would have required the removal of 90,000 rainbow trout, as well as destruction of the surrounding pristine wetlands and aquatic life in the connecting Taseko River and Little Fish Lake.

Despite the B.C. government (led by another now-resigned politician Premier Gordon Campbell) issuing a 25-year mining lease to Taseko, Prentice said the federal government felt bound to accept a scathing federal environmental assessment. An Environmental Assessment Agency review panel in July concluded that the project “would result in significant adverse environmental effects on: fish and fish habitat; navigation; current use of lands and resources for traditional purposes by first nations and on cultural heritage; and certain potential or established [Tsilhqot'in First Nations] aboriginal rights or title.” According to Marvin Shaffer, SFU professor and resource economist, the project would have also generated net economic costs of $20 million per year, not including environmental, cultural and social costs.