The recent calls for boycotts of Indian-owned businesses in our region are as foolish as they are disrespectful. The politicians, like Sen. Tom Bakk, Ely Mayor Chuck Novak, and groups like the …
The recent calls for boycotts of Indian-owned businesses in our region are as foolish as they are disrespectful. The politicians, like Ely Mayor Chuck Novak, and groups like the Laurentian Chamber of Commerce, can’t have it both ways. When they tell members of the Bois Forte Band that their views shouldn’t count, or that the values they hold dear don’t matter, they are revealing much about their lack of respect toward native people.
We have heard much in recent months about the Iron Range “way of life” which, to some, rests solely on resource extraction. Yet native peoples who lived here for centuries before the white man showed up to level the forests and gouge the Earth have a “way of life,” too. It just isn’t one that very many Americans of European descent have ever understood or respected. And with their recent calls for boycotts of native-owned businesses, they’re putting an exclamation point on that lack of respect.
The Bois Forte Band, in particular, have been remarkably patient in the face of such attitudes. Through Fortune Bay, in particular, they have been accommodating and generous in their contributions to the wider community. The list of area groups, causes, and events to which they have offered critical logistical support or made generous donations is longer than any other business in the region.
Unfortunately, the irony of this situation is likely lost on those advocating for boycotts. Fortune Bay, in particular, is one of the largest employers north of the Laurentian Divide and provides both good wages and benefits to its employees. And yet, people and organizations who say they’re fighting for jobs are actively seeking to harm a business that supports hundreds of families in the region.
The decision of the Laurentian Chamber of Commerce is particularly disturbing, because that’s an organization that should certainly know better. A chamber of commerce, of all organizations, should understand the danger of using boycotts over political disagreements. Boycotts can cut multiple ways, don’t forget. The region’s economy doesn’t need such a blood-letting.
It should surprise no one that the Minnesota Chippewa Tribe voiced support for protecting the Rainy River watershed from the threat posed by sulfide mining. While some in our region prefer to ignore those risks, they are real and pose multiple dangers to resources like fish and wild rice that native peoples across northern Minnesota depend on. Those who support the call for boycotts say they’re just standing up for their way of life. But don’t native people have the same right to stand up for theirs, without facing economic threats from those who disagree?
What’s perhaps most frustrating about this entire episode is how preposterous this fight really is. The federal legislation that sparked this fracas would impact no iron mining and only a single copper-nickel mine proposal, by Twin Metals, which has a virtually zero percent chance of proceeding any time in the next two decades. While Twin Metals has released a new mine proposal, the company has yet to publicly release any financial projections for that project— and there’s a reason for that. The mine is not financially feasible at anything close to current metal prices. This is little more than Kabuki theater on the part of a foreign mining company that is hoping to lock up Minnesota’s resources for its own benefit. And that benefit could just as easily include keeping the region’s metals off the market to support higher prices. Mining companies often do better by constricting supply than they do by creating new production.
Sadly, we have people who should know better in our region who are willing to put existing jobs at risk in a misguided and disrespectful effort to “support” new jobs that are wildly speculative at best. It’s destructive and belies their claims that they’re actually interested in jobs. They’re interested only in a certain type of job and care little or nothing about the harm they’re doing in the process. We should expect better from politicians and organizations who claim to represent us.