Iron Range history comment riles Native American

A St. Louis County commissioner, a supporter of a controversial copper mine, is at the center of a controversy for a history lesson he gave during a public hearing in Ely, the Duluth News Tribune reports today.

“I’ve said many times that perhaps we need another wave of immigrants from eastern Europe to come here,” St. Louis County Commissioner Steve Raukar said. Let’s give them some land and some opportunity — they’re an educated workforce — and let’s rebuild. Let’s get more Finlanders here. Let’s get more Italians, Yugoslavians, Croatians, Germans. It’s worked well once already. Why wouldn’t it work again?”

It didn’t work so well for Native Americans, one attendee said. The land that was given away belonged to them.

“What upset me the most is that, with all the people in the room (in Ely) only one other person reacted to his comment,” Kassie Helgerson told the paper. “One of the reasons I want to talk to the County Board Tuesday is to explain how that statement was such a problem for native people. It’s something that we would catch, but not something people who are not part of the culture will necessarily catch, and they should.”

Raukar apologized. Sort of.

“I really don’t understand where all this is coming from,” he said.

County Commissioner Frank Jewell of Duluth said he, too, “completely missed’’ the potential of Raukar’s comments at the time to be offensive to Native Americans.

“I heard him praising diversity among people in the area and how diversity is a good thing,’’ Jewell said. “I didn’t catch that as bad for Indians … But I also understand that I’m not Native American, and that makes a big difference in how we see things.”

Helgerson and Crow say Raukar’s response exposes the problem.

“His response was that he didn’t mean to be offensive. But that’s not the point. He didn’t ask how he offended me or why it offended me,’’ Helgerson said. “The only way we are going to help stop racism is to be aware of how comments and remarks and labels and stereotypes are offensive to different people.