Cliffs criticized for[native] hiring practices – CBC Radio Thunder Bay (October 26, 2012)

Mining company responds to First Nations man’s concern about criminal record checks 

A First Nations man in Thunder Bay says he is concerned that Cliffs Natural Resources is shutting out a large number of Aborginal workers from getting mining jobs in the Ring of Fire in Ontario because of criminal records.

Chris Towegishig is originally from Ginoogaming First Nation. Earlier this month Towegishig was told he wouldn’t have a job at Cliffs, despite receiving a written offer of employment from the company just days earlier. The offer had been for a field assistant position at the site.

“And she told me ‘no’ we’re not going to have you out there due to your criminal record,” Towegishig said, describing his interaction with a Cliffs human resources representative. Towegishig said he was told the other workers would be “scared for their safety.”

According to Towegishig, he had been honest about his criminal record from the start, and had been told by the company his history shouldn’t be a problem.

Towegishig spent time in prison, after a history of alcohol and drug-fuelled crimes that started when he was a teenager, but said he has since vowed to turn his life around.

He said he’s been steadily employed and sober for eight years, and is disappointed his past is still causing him trouble.

In an attempt to prevent future surprises like his, Towegishig is calling on First Nations chiefs to look into the criminal record issue, and advocate with the companies operating in the Ring of Fire.

“They got to give us a chance,” Towegishig said. “Criminals are not always criminals … People change, and they change for the better.”

Case-by-case basis
For its part, Cliffs Natural Resources said it evaluates each job applicant individually.

“Cliffs does not have a rule in its hiring policy that excludes all individuals with any sort of criminal conviction,” said Patricia Persico, senior manager of media relations for the company.

“We will make a determination based on their particular facts.”

Cliffs Natural Resources is the biggest mining company in the area, and in the past has promoted its commitment to hiring First Nations employees to work at its chromite deposit, which is located on First Nations traditional land.

Cliffs said it could not comment on any one individual’s case.

For the original version of this article, please go to CBC Radio Thunder Bay: