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

The 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."

In a letter sent to Premier Gordon Campbell, the Union of B.C. Indian Chiefs said several recent statements by Mr. Hawes to the media have been unwarranted, insulting and inaccurate.

The letter, signed by Grand Chief Stewart Phillip, Chief William Charlie and Chief Bob Chamberlin, said Mr. Hawes' comments only promote racist stereotypes about First Nations culture.

Mr. Hawes said he doesn't consider what he's been saying racist, saying the high rates of suicide, addiction, school dropouts and incarceration are abysmal.

"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.

The minister said if the comments that he made were taken out of the context in which they were meant, then he's sorry for offending First Nations.

"And I do apologize if I've offended them, and maybe I was not as clear as I should have been."

But Mr. Hawes said the statistical facts still show First Nations are at a disadvantage.

"And by bringing those out and talking about them, if that's racist, I'm sorry, but it's fact," Mr. Hawes said. "Sometimes there's an elephant in the room and we don't want to talk about these things for fear of being labelled."

In 2005, the provincial government called for a new relationship with First Nations, and the Union of B.C. Indian Chiefs has requested a meeting with the premier to talk about Mr. Hawes and the need for mining reform in the province.

Mr. Hawes hasn't talked to Premier Campbell about his situation, but said he knows he has the premier's support because he was reappointed to his post in the Oct. 25 cabinet shuffle.

The minister said his door is open to members of First Nations who want to talk about the issue.

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