To the Editor:
I am a Métis underground miner from Manitoba, born in Winnipeg and raised in Northern Manitoba, as my mother is a Cross Lake Band member and so is my grandmother, who also a residential school survivor that taught me the ways of native culture in Manitoba before she passed. I myself have trained men to be bolters; all except one are exceptional miners and men in their own right (the one having passed away, after being ridiculed by outsiders because he was aboriginal). Throughout my years as a miner I have learned a few things about discrimination in the workplace, mainly, towards aboriginals across Canada and most specifically Manitoba.
I feel that the actions taken by mining companies about their hiring practices and policies in Manitoba are detrimental to the overall health and the well-being of aboriginal communities and our province as a whole.
One incident that comes to mind is the recent tragic shooting death of Steve Campbell by the Thompson RCMP. Steve was a friend of mine that I met while working for Alex MacIntyre at Birchtree Mine. I am not sure you are aware, but Steve was laid off, I believe last spring, and was told he would be called when more work came available in a couple months, As a local guy (also aboriginal) he as much as I thought he would be called back to work as work became available, like he was told by his supervisor when he became unemployed. I remember talking to him a while after at his front desk job at the Burntwood Hotel, a job he took to support his family while waiting to get called back by MacIntyre. As the months went on, Steve waited to get a call back from MacIntyre but it never happened, so he called both Birchtree bosses and T3 MacIntyre bosses to see if he can get back on and make good money to support his family again (a family he was very proud of). Each time he phoned both these bosses, they gave him the runaround and told him to keep phoning back. The problem with this was: they were hiring guys from out of province with as much or less experience than Steve, paying for their plane tickets and putting them up in a hotel, Meanwhile a local aboriginal Thompsonite was being told there is no work for him right now, and to keep phoning back.
I too have also had my run ins with a certain boss at MacIntyre who twice shut down my growth prospects in mining to only have been replaced by someone else from out of province, and when I asked why local guys cannot get trained in the Alimak so we can have opportunities across Canada or abroad, all I was told is they don’t have the right guys to train us, yet MacIntyre in Thompson is full of Alimak miners long in the tooth and experience throughout their careers. And now I have a contact that would hire me to work in Guatemala but can’t go because someone from out of province was allowed to hire on and be employed at MacIntyre.
Something else I find wrong with this is these men tell me if I don’t like it I can go home; well, isn’t that the problem? Manitoba is my home, Swampy Cree in the north and plains Cree in the south, Louis Riel the founding father of Manitoba, my forefather, not a direct descendant, but my family was there when the Red River Rebellion was formed to make a better place for aboriginals and Métis specifically in Manitoba. My grandma used to tell me how they would hide in the bushes from white men at residential schools to avoid sexual and physical abuse, now some less than 100 years later, aboriginals still have to hide what they believe from these men in power for fear of persecution or job prospects in the future. Racism is not only prevalent on surface, but also underground. And now we have to hide on the streets, like Jarod Jensen, Steve and many other of my young native friends in Thompson and Northern Manitoba because these white privileged men still have the same attitudes as they did back then.
I feel through my experiences in mines throughout Manitoba and Canada that this attitude is unsafe for future sustainable development in mining and aboriginal communities, the actions these men in power in mining and other industries in Manitoba take, are a direct threat to aboriginal life in Manitoba and sweeping change is needed before we end up in legal battles that take numerous years and vast financial resources away from development and sustainable growth in our communities.
I must also add that by contracting out these local jobs, we are only creating more poverty and violence in Manitoba as these men feel there is no other way out.
These are a few questions I must ask you to answer as minister of mines in Manitoba.
• How can we allow the destruction of local First Nations to continue in mining?
• Why can’t we as people of Manitoba, find solutions to provide these men with real opportunities in our own cities and towns?
• Why can’t we have local aboriginal companies develop and bid on these mining and exploration contracts to keep the money in Manitoba?
• As the United Nations is set to do a report on resource towns and how they affect the economy, are we prepared for the truth to come out in Manitoba?
• Why hasn’t local government and its ministries done more to protect aboriginals in Manitoba?
• Why are not Manitoba resource companies not even allowed to bid on projects big or small, for even a small piece of the pie to develop and grow their businesses?
• How many more times do we have to be dead wrong?
In closing I can only be reminded that the actions these men take towards our people allow my friends and other aboriginals to think in ways they should not be thinking in the 21st century, negative thoughts and ideas about who they are and their existence on Earth, and as today is the day the final report of the truth and reconciliation commission comes out and Perry Bellegarde, national grand chief quotes, “If our lands and resources are to be developed, it will be done only with our fair share of the royalties, with our ownership of the resources and jobs for our people, it will be done on our terms and our timeline.” We must come to a sustainable solution as the world is changing and Manitoba needs to change with it.
I would love to meet with you at your earliest convenience to talk more in-depth about the whole situation and possible solutions to these problems that must be left behind so we can move forward into a sustainable future for Manitoba.
Editor’s note: this is an edited version of a letter Brad Leaman sent to provincial Minies Minister Dave Chomiak in December.