Assembly of First Nations Chief Phil Fontaine – Speech to the Prospectors and Developers Association of Canada

I would like to thank the Prospectors and Developers Association of Canada for your kind invitation to speak here today. In particular, I want to thank Don Bubar, the Chair of the Aboriginal Affairs Committee for his vision and efforts in bringing our communities together.

Before I start though, I want to congratulate PDAC on your 75th anniversary…….your diamond anniversary.

Speaking of diamonds, the newest diamond mine in Canada – which just happens to be located on Attawapiskat First Nation territory – has inspired this speech to you today. This is because the development model being used there is exactly the model we would like to see all mining companies in Canada embrace. 

DeBeers Canada is investing more than $980 Million to develop the mine. This could eventually pump more than $6 Billion dollars into Ontario’s economy … $6 Billion dollars!

The project will earn money for DeBeers and generate royalties for Canada. However, the most important aspect of the development from our standpoint, will be the hundreds of jobs it will create for residents in local First Nations communities as well as sustainable education, training, and business opportunities for our people for decades to come.

This deal came about because both sides at the negotiating table understood that community sustainability can go hand in hand with mining development. Good mining practices have a dual function – they convert one local asset….. non-renewable natural resource capital…….into another local asset……sustainable human and social capital.

But before I talk any further about how we can best work together, the fact that PDAC is celebrating 75 years as an organization, invites reflection on the history of prospecting and developing……about gains and losses…..about blessings and curses.

I want to go back 111 years ago to August 16th,1896. It was on that day that a First Nations prospector, Skookum Jim Mason – from the Tagish First Nation – discovered gold in Rabbit Creek in the Yukon. A white man from Seattle, George Carmack, actually staked the claim because Indians weren’t allowed to register claims. However, Skookum Jim and his cousin, Tagish Charlie, are credited with the actual discovery.

Their discovery resulted in the Klondike Gold Rush – one of the single greatest social and economic turning points of the late 19th century. Over the next several years, at least 100,000 people from around the world made the trek to Canada to search for gold.

Dawson City temporarily became the largest city north of San Francisco. Edmonton’s population tripled overnight. Vancouver’s population doubled. And the Yukon Territory was created on June 13, 1898.

One hundred years later, the Klondike Weekly in Dawson City reflected on the Gold Rush, writing the following:

“With few exceptions, native people do not figure prominently in written accounts of the Klondike Gold Rush. As a race of self-sufficient people, however, it was their undoing as tens of thousands of ‘civilized’ people suddenly invaded their traditional homeland. Because of their greed for gold, the whites imposed their laws and languages, their religions and social customs.”

“They brought new diseases against which the Indians had no immunities. They brought alcohol which helped them exploit native men and women. And they brought segregation and racial discrimination.”

Unfortunately, what happened to our people in the Yukon was not a blessing, it was a curse. It was part of a pattern of disastrous policies imposed on Indians all across the country. The Indian Act – Canada’s apartheid legislation – was implemented two years before Yukon gold was discovered and we are still trying to get rid of it.

An even more disastrous policy was the residential school policy. While non-First Nation people were rushing to the goldfields of their dreams, Indian children were being ripped away from their families and communities and herded into residential schools by the thousands – in a vain attempt to make us into something we were not. The famous words of the Minister of Indian Affairs, Duncan Campbell Scott, were seared into our collective minds – “If we can’t kill the Indian, we can kill the Indian in the child.”

It will take at least another generation or two before the repercussions of that policy are finally laid to rest, even though we finally achieved a comprehensive settlement agreement with Canada and the churches last month.

It is the largest settlement in Canadian history…..for the largest human rights violation in Canadian history.

I consider the Agreement, which will total approximately $5.6 billion, the greatest accomplishment of my life.

However, as any survivor will tell you, no amount of money can ever replace a lost childhood, a devastated family, or a broken culture. The next best thing that can be done is to ensure that assimilationist and exploititive policies will never be imposed on us again.

As National Chief, I have an obligation – indeed a mission – to ensure that travesties like Indian Residential Schools or the Yukon Gold Rush can never happen to our people again.

This requires empowering First Nations to break the chains of dependency and despair; empowering them to revitalize our languages and cultures; empowering them to participate and prosper in the Canadian economy; and empowering them to be proud once again of what it means to be an Indian.

It will not be an easy task, but it is not impossible either. Part of the secret to success will be collaboration and co-operation with like-minded partners… in industry, government and civil society…. to ensure that development opportunities on our traditional lands will result in healthier, more sustainable First Nations communities.

The federal government has a very important responsibility to First Nations which we are calling upon it to fulfill.

This coming Tuesday, October 16th, Parliament will reconvene with the reading of the Speech from the Throne.

In our budget submission we have asked the Government of Canada to invest in human and resource development and support sustainable First Nations economies.

We need these investments to address the one in four First Nations children living in poverty and the 27,000 First Nations children living in state care. The vast majority of these children are in state care simply because their parents are too poor to look after them.

We also need significant investments in basic education, health care, clean water, and housing to bring us up to standard with the rest of the population.

There is no good reason – no good reason –for us to be going hat in hand to the government to plead for the basic necessities of life everyone else takes for granted. This is a country blessed with multi billion dollar surpluses year after year after year. ……… there is no good reason the federal government cannot pledge to close the shameful poverty gap in its Speech from the Throne on Tuesday.

Ignoring our basic needs is like ignoring the needs of the population of several Atlantic Provinces. What government would ever let that happen? Why should any government allow it to happen to us?

We called for a National Day of Action last June 29th when First Nations from coast to coast to coast stood together with thousands of Canadians as one….. About 100 marches and peaceful pickets from Halifax to Vancouver to Whitehorse took place to protest First Nations’ poverty.

As a follow-up, we commissioned a poll of over 1,000 Canadians (considered accurate within 3 percentage points) to see what they thought about the poverty gap.

90% of Canadians agreed with the statement, “when the federal government makes an agreement or signs a contract with Native people, it should be fulfilled.”

So what about the Kelowna Accord? Why has it not been implemented? It was unanimously agreed to, in total good faith, by the Prime Minister, every Premier, myself, and the other leaders in attendance. What stronger evidence of an agreement could there be? Yet the Accord languishes, gathering dust on some shelf.

When asked whether “native people should have the same access to health care as other Canadians”, 94% of Canadians agreed. Yet health care for us today consists of nursing stations that serve communities of several thousand people that are literally falling apart, and have little or no staff.

When asked about solving hundreds of outstanding land claims, 94% of Canadians said the federal government should make it a priority.

Back in 1996, the Royal Commission on Aboriginal Peoples stated, “transforming Aboriginal economies from dependence to self-reliance will not be easy. The greatest boost for most Nations will come from access to a fair share of lands and resources.”

Lack of access to land and resources is still the single greatest, impediment to achieving self-sufficiency.

Over the last few months, the AFN has been co-drafting legislation with the federal government that is designed to speed up the resolution of specific land claims. Although more needs to be done, this is a step in the right direction.

As is too often the case, however, just as we take one step forward, we take another step back.

Just a few weeks ago, the Canadian Government was one of only 4 countries in the world to vote against the UN Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples.

This Declaration provides a very helpful framework to enable the political, social, economic and cultural development to exist and prosper consistent with Treaties and Inherent Rights.

It is curious that Canada voted against this Declaration given that the Constitution of Canada already recognizes and affirms the rights of Aboriginal peoples.

It leaves us more than a little perplexed about Canada’s commitment to our human rights and equal citizenship.

But I will leave it at that, as I would now like to talk about how you, and the rest of corporate Canada, can work together with us to alleviate First Nations poverty.

You can help to alleviate First Nations’ poverty by providing employment opportunities; holding governments accountable; demanding that First Nations be given a fair share of the resource revenues and creating with us, the kind of development that is economically beneficial, yet environmentally sustainable.

In playing this role, you stand to gain as much or more than we do. Collaborating with us is good for business. But it is a special kind of collaboration that must take our identity and status into account.

The first principle of collaboration with First Nations is respect for, and protection of, our cultures and values. Development which substitutes economic impoverishment for cultural impoverishment is a non-starter. It will never work because we love our cultures. They represent who we are and where we have come from. It is as simple as that.

The second principle is respect for our rights to our lands and resources. Our inherent, Aboriginal and Treaty rights are recognized and affirmed in Canada’s Constitution and they have been repeatedly affirmed by the Supreme Court of this land. As such, the law requires that they be respected by all governments and all companies that do business in Canada.

The third principle of collaboration is meaningful consultation with the local First Nations from the very beginning of a development project. We think it is presumptuous for companies to start work on development projects which may affect our very way of life, yet come to consult with us only after the project is underway.

These three principles are basic and fundamental. We learned very important lessons from the Yukon Gold Rush and the Indian Residential School experiment.

We have had enough assimilation and exploitation. Attempts to destroy our cultures, our identities never worked in the past and they will never work in the future.

Nothing will generate opposition faster in our communities than an attempt by outsiders – well-intentioned or not –to run roughshod over our values and identities as Indigenous peoples.

Indeed, the foundation of our plan, our Corporate Challenge, is for us to work together, as partners, as respected equals, fully participating in the economy while protecting and enhancing our culture and values.

We see these partnerships primarily rooted in ventures that will provide procurement, investment, and employment opportunities for First Nations people.

We think there are tremendous opportunities in the area of procurement, and in finding ways for large companies to get their mainstream suppliers to work with First Nations. Participation with us will go a long way in creating those much needed jobs.

In resource development, First Nations and the mining community are natural partners. There is no reason we shouldn’t be able to work together to create mutually beneficial projects. I am looking forward to addressing the British Columbia Association for Mineral Exploration at the end of the month, and will be the keynote speaker at the Mining Association of Canada’s lobbying day on Parliament Hill.

I am going to tell them that although the natural resources sector has made Canada one of the wealthiest countries in the world, it has perpetuated some of the worst poverty. If the distribution of that vast wealth was fair and equitable,

First Nations from whose lands and territories the wealth is generated, would not be so poor. We have not received our fair share, and that has to change.

There will always be tension in the distribution of resource revenues between local, regional and national levels, because their views on how the royalties should be spent often differ.

We just had an election here in Ontario. Some of the regional hot button issues involved tensions between First Nations, the province, the federal government and industry.

I’m talking about land and housing development disputes in Caledonia. I’m talking about disagreements between Frontenac Ventures and First Nations. I’m talking about an ongoing legal dispute between Platinex and Kitchenuhmaykoosib Inninuwug. And I’m talking about the ongoing logging dispute between Abitibi and Grassy Narrows First Nation.

These situations must be resolved through peaceful negotiation as soon as possible.

You can help by encouraging the government to invest revenues in the regions most affected by the development operations.

This is important but it is equally essential for you to work with our local governments on local development programs. The most effective use of corporate investments in local community development is in support of existing programs that provide additional skills and resources.

By helping to redress the fiscal imbalance between First Nations and the rest of Canada, you will enhance your access to the resources you want to develop.

Better relations with our communities can help ease approvals processes for project development, expansion, and closure and help resolve disputes and avoid situations in which local groups might hinder or even prevent mining from taking place.

A recent example of where things haven’t gone well is in northern BC. You may be aware that last month Northgate Minerals had to abandon its proposed 3 Billion dollar Kemess mine operation in Northern BC because it had failed to consult with affected First Nations about plans to pollute a lake with cast off tailings.

I have heard that Northgate investors have since posted racist comments on the internet about dealing with First Nations. This is unacceptable. We stand with Chief David Luggi of the Carrier Sekani Tribal Council in the call for a full apology.

If proper consultation had taken place, local First Nations could have benefitted from this venture. Instead, we have another classic case of what can go terribly wrong.

A recent discussion paper put out by PDAC addressed the benefits of resource sharing with First Nations. Your paper said: “sharing of the public revenues would increase the political stability and economic predictability that support long-term investment.”

That sounds like a win-win situation to me….and it comes from people right here in this room — the corporate community.

First Nations and the mining community have forged some relationships already. I started off by mentioning Ontario’s only diamond mine. Back in 1999, Diavik Diamond Mines signed socio-economic agreements with five First Nations communities in the Northwest Territories.

Virginia Gold Mines and Cree Gold Exploration are jointly exploring for gold and base-metal deposits in northern Quebec. In northern Ontario, the Kasabonika Lake First Nation has created its own Prospectors Alliance. And in northern BC, Nova Gold Canada and the Tahltan First Nation are exploring and developing mineral resources. There are many more examples.

Another mutually beneficial way for us to work together is to close the knowledge gap.

 We estimate that $1.3 billion is required to address the current shortfalls in education and skills development. We would like you to join with us in insisting that government invest this money in First Nations education and training in the upcoming budget.

You need well trained local people. We need the jobs. Improved education and skill levels of the local work force will enable the corporate community to reduce your dependence on foreign workers and increase local knowledge in operations…… knowledge that can save you time, effort, frustration and money.

The First Nations population is a huge untapped resource right now. In the years to come, as our population continues to grow faster than any other group in the country, it will be a major part of Canada’s work force.

The interest expressed so far in our Corporate Challenge is impressive.

Corporations such as – Siemens Canada, Bell Canada, Adobe and SixTech, Encana, Enbridge, the Royal Bank of Canada are stepping up to the plate.

Organizations such as PDAC, the Mining Association of Canada, and the Forest Producers Association of Canada have also expressed an interest in our Corporate Challenge. The Ottawa Citizen and the Toronto Star have been supportive in their editorials.

At our July Annual General Assembly in Halifax, I signed two Memorandums of Understanding. The first was with the Four Host First Nations of the Vancouver 2010 Olympics, to ensure that a certain percentage of contractors, suppliers, employees, and volunteers will be First Nations citizens. This will be the first

Olympic Games ever, where Aboriginal peoples are full partners.

The second was a Memorandum of Understanding with the Laborer’s International Union of North America (LIUNA).

The AFN and LIUNA have pledged to work together to recruit and train skilled First Nations workers. And three days ago, I had further discussions with LIUNA’s U.S. chapter in Washington, D.C. You may not know, but the Jay Treaty between Canada and the United States allows First Nations citizens to freely cross the border. This means our workers don’t have to worry about immigration or green cards.

We hope to sign many more MoUs in the months to come – perhaps among members of the audience here today.

I can assure you that First Nations people are not anti-development. Our people want exactly what you want: healthy children and grandchildren with a good future, who will have a chance to share in the benefits and prosperity of this abundant land.

Which leads me to the final area of potential partnership I want to mention, which is the environment. This is the number one issue of concern for Canadians today.

Everybody is finally accepting that global warming and serious environmental degradation must be addressed.

First Nations people, especially those who live in the North, are the veritable canaries in the coalmine for global warming. They are among the first to feel its effects and have been sounding warning bells for years about depleting fish stocks and caribou herds, but they have been ignored.

First Nations stand for responsible development. Anti-pollution measures, tax incentives, and cultural impacts, – all must be taken into account, and require the co-operation of all the stakeholders involved.

We have expertise. We have managed to survive in the Canadian environment, under all sorts of difficult conditions, for thousands of years.

We have a deep respect for nature, the land and water, and an unbroken traditional, intimate relationship with the environment.
Moreover, we have a huge vested interest in protecting the environment. It is our people who occupy the Boreal Forest. It is our people who have survived in the far north and who protect Canadian sovereignty on the northern borders.

The bottom line is that good economic development must support human development – it has to work for people – it has to respect human rights – it has to be responsible about the environment, about nature itself.

The costs of doing nothing are far too great.

But breaking with the past takes a leap of faith. It takes courage, and it takes imagination.

Imagine with me, the Attawapiskat example, replicated hundreds of times over, in partnership with corporate Canada;

Imagine with me, the enhanced reputation mining companies and other corporate ventures will enjoy in the financial community, in government and with First Nations when they commit to sustainable community development;

Imagine with me, fair and equitable investment by the federal government for schools, health care, education and housing to support a viable First Nations economy;

Imagine with me, our First Nations youth fully employed in local resource and information industries with improved education and skill levels.

Imagine with me, vibrant small and medium sized First Nations businesses, providing goods and services to their corporate clients.

Imagine with me, mining operations and their community development programs as mutually beneficial partnership processes that will sustain infrastructure in remote communities for the long term;

Imagine with me, the survival of our children and our children’s children in a healthy environment living with dignity and grace.

This is the Corporate Challenge. Now, let’s turn the image into reality

This is how it works: if you accept the challenge, your company will sign a memorandum of understanding with the AFN; and then draft a plan for addressing the four key challenge areas; procurements, investments, partnerships, and employment.

Accepting the challenge gets you a seat at the National Chief’s Corporate Table for Peer Review and Dialogue. Here, we will discuss business relationships and ventures to reduce the poverty gap between First Nations and other Canadians.

Amongst other activities, The Corporate Table will publish an annual report on the state of the First Nations Economy;

The AFN and the Corporate Table will organize an Economic Summit;

And, it will provide a forum for international dialogue and action on sustainable economic development with Indigenous populations.

Working together, we can be world leaders.

Our plan is bold. It is ambitious. It is solution orientated and forward-looking.

Our plan is supported by the facts; our plan is all about making First Nations’ poverty history!

I look forward to working with you.



Speaking Notes for Assembly of First Nations
National Chief Phil Fontaine

at the Prospectors and Developers
Association of Canada

Toronto, Ontario
October 12, 2007