Prepared Speech for AFN National Chief Phil Fontaine – At the MOU with PDAC – Toronto

Assembly of First Nations National Chief Phil Fontaine

I would like to thank everyone for taking the time away from this very busy convention to come here to witness this Memorandum of Understanding in our Corporate Challenge between the Prospectors and Developers Association of Canada and the Assembly of First Nations.

I also want to sincerely thank PDAC President Patricia Dillon; Don Bubar, who is chair of the Aboriginal Affairs Committee, and Chief Glenn Nolan, who is a PDAC Vice President, for all of the hard work it took to get us to this important occasion.

I also want to thank all of the PDAC staff – particularly Philip Bousquet and Kim MacDonald – who have been in contact with the AFN since last May.

Some of you may be wondering why we want to work with the mining industry. It’s pretty simple. First Nations want to work with all industries and corporations in order to achieve economic self- sufficiency.

By doing so, this will empower First Nations to break the chains of dependency and despair; empower us to revitalize our languages and cultures; and empower us to participate and prosper in the Canadian economy.

Two months ago, I had the opportunity to travel to the Attawapiskat First Nation to visit the community and the new Victor Diamond Mine, which is operated by De Beers. As you may know, this is Ontario’s only diamond mine.

I was very impressed with De Beers’ commitment to working closely with Attawapiskat and the surrounding First Nations communities. This kind of economic development is bringing hope to so many people who are desperate to provide for their families.

It will still take a number of years for the local people to learn the necessary skills to work in the mine, as well as in the spin-off jobs associated with such a major operation. 

And the children in Attawapiskat are eager to learn. Unfortunately, for the past decade or so, they have been forced to attend school in cold, crowded, mouldy portable classrooms. Why? Because the federal government has failed to provide the necessary funding to build a new school.

There are other First Nations communities here in Ontario where the school conditions are even worse than Attawapiskat. These shameful situations should never have been allowed to happen. So many of us feel hopeless and helpless. For too long, we have been trapped in a cycle of despair created by Ottawa’s bureaucratic mindset that seems to breed far too much incompetence and indifference.

First Nations have begun to realize that we need outside help in order to break free from this dependence on subsistent federal funding. That is why we are turning to the PDAC and Corporate Canada.

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.

I have told the PDAC, as well as the Mining Association of Canada, that collaborating with First Nations will be very 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.

The foundation of our plan, our Corporate Challenge, is 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.

The natural resources sector has made Canada one of the wealthiest countries in the world, but 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.

Better relations between First Nations communities and mining companies 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.

In fact, the PDAC stated in a recent discussion paper about the benefits of resource sharing with First Nations, and I quote: “sharing of the public revenues would increase the political stability and economic predictability that support long-term investment.”

We also know that 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.

In signing this Memorandum of Understanding today, we will be moving forward, together, towards a brighter and better future for ourselves and our children.

I sincerely thank you for accepting our challenge and joining our call to action. Together, we will end the cycle of First Nations poverty and profit equally in this country’s prosperity.



Metro Toronto Convention Centre
Toronto, Ontario

March 4, 2008