Joe Oliver says 'dysfunctional' aboriginals could benefit from development (external - login to view)
By Fiona Anderson, Postmedia News March 22, 2012
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Many aboriginal communities are "socially dysfunctional" and could benefit from developments that bring jobs and revenue to them, Canada's Minister of Natural Resources Joe Oliver told at a Vancouver Board of Trade breakfast this week.
Photograph by: Mark Blinch, Reuters Files , Vancouver Sun
VANCOUVER — Many aboriginal communities are "socially dysfunctional" and could benefit from developments that bring jobs and revenue to them, Canada's Minister of Natural Resources Joe Oliver told at a Vancouver Board of Trade breakfast this week.
Oliver was talking Wednesday about the need to amend Canada's regulatory process to ensure mining and other resource-development projects can proceed in a timely fashion.
But amendments to the current environmental assessment process — which Oliver said would be introduced within the next few months — would still ensure the projects were "safe for Canadians and safe for the environment," he said.
That includes protecting the interests of aboriginal people, Oliver said in response to a question from the audience.
The government has "a moral and constitutional obligation to consult with aboriginal communities and to accommodate if necessary and we intend to meet our obligations in that regard," he said.
"The developments we are looking at have the capacity to be truly transformative to a lot of aboriginal communities. This is really a tremendous opportunity to transform communities that have been socially dysfunctional, that haven't had economic opportunities, haven't had employment opportunities."
When asked to elaborate to reporters after his talk, Oliver said: "What we want to do is provide the economic opportunity to give them hope, to move them from despair to hope, where their youth can be employed, where people of all ages have an opportunity to have jobs that will provide them the chance to have a good, even a great, standard of living.
"We're very respectful of the traditional way of life of aboriginal communities. It's up to them of course to preserve what they believe is worthy of preserving. We're not taking a paternalistic approach in that regard. That's their decision.
"But what these projects bring is an enhanced economic opportunity which doesn't have to be inconsistent with some of their core values."
Arnold Clifton, chief councillor of the Gitga'at First Nation, called Oliver's choice of language "insulting."
The Gitga'at oppose Enbridge Inc.'s $5.5-billion pipeline that would bring bitumen from the Alberta oilsands to port in Kitimat, B.C., where it would be loaded aboard tankers for export to Asia. The tankers would go through Douglas Channel, where the Gitga'at are located.
"This language is insulting to First Nations and the minister should apologize," Clifton said in a news release. "This slip-of-the tongue shows stereotypes about First Nations people are alive and well in the federal government and it helps explain why this government has such a mistrustful and dysfunctional relationship with aboriginal communities."
Marilyn Baptiste, chief of the Xeni Gwet'in First Nation, which opposes Taseko's $1-billion New Prosperity mine near Williams Lake, also found the wording upsetting.
Canada has endorsed the United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples, which promises to respect indigenous rights and eliminate racial discrimination, Baptiste said.
"Yet B.C. and Canada are continuing to move forward (with) business as usual," she said. "Furthermore they are changing processes, acts and legislation for the sake of industry and removing protections to the environment, fish and their habitat. That's not acceptable."
Pierre Gratton, president and CEO of the Mining Association of Canada, called the minister's choice of words "unfortunate."
"The minister used an unfortunate choice of words to express a positive sentiment: Mining can offer first nations significant opportunities for economic and community progress," Gratton wrote in an email.
"Mining is the largest private sector employer of aboriginal Canadians and the depth and breadth of our partnerships continue to evolve and deepen. This can accelerate as the industry expands."