On Tuesday, with much fanfare, federal Natural Resources Minister Gary Lunn released the Mining Information Kit For Aboriginal Communities.
Now, it’s important to remember Lunn is a member of the Conservative government that nixed the Kelowna Accord, which promised $5 billion for housing, health care and education for aboriginal people.
At the time, the Conservative government said it supported the principles — it just wanted it to be better targeted.
Now we’re seeing how.
The Conservative government wants to help educate First Nations about specific things, like mining.
A key tool in this effort is the kit, which explains mineral exploration, mine development, mine operation and mine closure.
It is exactly 100 pages long, and was drafted by the Mining Association of Canada, Canadian Aboriginal Minerals Association, Prospectors and Developers Association of Canada, Indian and Northern Affairs Canada and Natural Resources Canada.
It has a single-minded point of view.
“Mining has been part of the North American economy for centuries,” it reads. “Mining continues to be an important part of aboriginal culture.
“This information kit was developed to help aboriginal communities better understand the mining cycle.”
And that’s partially true — anyone reading the document will finish with a good understanding of the industry’s ability to generate piles of wealth.
But it’s legacy of toxic valleys filled with river-poisoning sludge? Not so much.
That is, the document plays up the benefits of mining through use of detailed profiles of community success stories.
But it downplays the negative.
It devotes five pages to the social and economic benefits of mining exploration.
The spiral-bound book devotes five paragraphs and two point-form text boxes to note the social and environmental effects.
Under mining development, it has seven pages outlining benefits.
The problems? Two pages, including two point-form text boxes outlining positive and negative social and environmental effects.
For example, under cultural social impacts, the kit lists “strangers in the community.” The effect: “worsens existing social problems.” The fix: “Offer cultural awareness training, delivered by members of the community, to make sure new people in the community understand its values and traditions.”
It’s the same for mine closure.
That section lists two environmental impacts, “land” and “water,” and suggests “periodic monitoring” and “treatment” as fixes.
You would expect little else from a document prepared with so much industry input.
But that alone raises some troubling issues.
The document, which cost $50,000 to produce, represents a federal subsidy to one of Canada’s wealthiest industrial sectors to indoctrinate its poorest people.
Why is such federal support needed?
Aboriginal people have the power to block mining development, so their support is needed to help smooth the permitting process.
They must be convinced to lend support to the projects, and this sunny document might help that happen.
But it raises other troubling questions.
Who is providing accurate information about the dangers the industry poses?
We know government supports industry, but who is protecting the wider public interests?
Can you imagine Ottawa financing a document that tackles the darker side of mining in partnership with the Canadian Wildlife Federation, Mining Watch and Canadian Parks and Wilderness Society?
It’s not going to happen.
Which is why the Mining Information Kit for Aboriginal Communities is so important.
It reveals how government shamelessly promotes business growth while glossing over its impact on communities.
And it raises questions about who is keeping tabs on the wider public interest. (RM)