When I was young my class went on a field trip to Britannia Mine near Squamish. We got to pan for gold and take home the flakes that we found. As someone with limited long-term memory this stands as one of the finest memories of my pre-tween years.
I’d like to believe that we all think that gold mining is essentially grizzled old men kneeling by the river panning for gold. Because if that’s the case then there’s really no reason to consult with First Nations people when new mines are started. The old men don’t take up that much space and they’ll only get rowdy once a month in town.
Instead these mines are environmental disasters no matter how you cut it and inevitably land straight where First Nations people have lived for centuries or longer. They also result in the systematic killing of fish and other animals but this is rebuked by the “net benefit” of creating a handful of jobs and a bit of money being spread around the local towns.
There are of course social benefits from gold and diamonds in terms of medial equipment and computers but when the vast majority of gold and diamonds are going towards symbols of “love” we have a pretty delusional sense of what love is.
On a basic level the diamond and gold ring is supposed to represent the fact that your love for the other person is worth a significant portion of your income and is worth that much despite the intrinsic value of the ring being zero. This system could be completely innocuous if we could all agree that leaves from a tree that were controlled relative to current gold production were our new symbol of love and charge the same amount for those leaves. Instead what the ring and diamond represent is, at its best, environmental destruction of lakes and mountains and at its worst the source of income to prop up brutal dictatorships with untold killings of people (almost always indigenous peoples) and animals.
Without cigarette-package type warning labels most people can continue to believe that their gold came from a river and that Canadian First Nations people are being consulted before mines are given approval. Instead you have the Nak’Azdli people who will now have to find new traditional territory to call their own when the Mount Milligan mine is opened in 2013. But it will all be worth it when you see the look on his or her face when s/he opens up that little box and knows how much you care.