Xavier Kataquapit grew up in Attawapiskat First Nation on the James Bay Coast. Readers are invited to visit his website: www.underthenorthernsky.com.
As a First Nation person from the James Bay Coast, I was raised to respect the land and all the creatures that live on Mother Earth.
There are a lot of reasons that my people, the Cree of the James Bay Coast, believe in this philosophy but it mainly has to do with survival.
We knew and we still know that if we over hunt, over fish or abuse the land, it comes back to haunt us. When you live off the land very directly, it is natural and easy to feel the connection to everything. Our Elders tell us we must be conscious of how we affect the land.
There are many legends having to do with bad things happening to those who are not considerate of the land. For the past few years, I have witnessed a lot of resource development on Native lands in the Timmins area and up the James Bay Coast.
In the past hundred years, First Nation people have really been left out of the loop when it came to resource development.
Mines, forestry initiatives and hydro projects have brought many benefits to people in the North but we First Nation people were never invited into the process and we rarely benefited in a big way from all of the multi-million dollar projects.
As a matter of fact, we lived in poverty and Third World conditions while everybody else enjoyed rich and plentiful lives.
I am happy to report that these days we First Nation people are being invited to participate in resource development on our traditional lands.
This new trend is the result of a lot of hard work from First Nation leaders lobbying the provincial and federal government for many years.
Supreme Court rulings in recent years have acknowledged the rights of First Nations in resource development on traditional lands.
The federal and provincial government and smart companies have realized that First Nation people must be consulted before any work in terms of resource development is started on lands that are historically connected to our people or are our traditional hunting and gathering areas.
The result has been positive for the most part.
I am not saying that everything is perfect because it is early on in this game.
However, I see Native communities in northern Ontario and up the James Bay Coast really benefiting by the mining, forestry and hydro electric developments happening these days.
People are getting good jobs with decent pay and they are being trained for careers in these areas.
There have been problems but in most cases, they are working out.
For the first time, I attended the Prospectors Development Association Convention on March 7-10 in Toronto.
I am amazed at how big the mining industry is and the incredible number of companies and initiatives that are active.
This industry represents billions of dollars.
I have seen first hand the benefits to First Nations that are involved in these mining projects.
I have interviewed many Native people who are being trained for work in mining and who are employed in this industry.
They are excited and very happy to be able to make a good living and afford some prosperity for their families.
For the first time in history, I see Native people really being offered the opportunity to participate in these huge developments.
The Wabun Tribal Council First Nations in northern Ontario and my home community of Attawapiskat on the James Bay Coast have worked closely with international mining companies like De Beers, Northgate, Liberty Mines, Augen Gold, Lake Shore Gold and Trelawney to reap the benefits of mining developments happening on our lands.
There is a division among my people when it comes to mining and resource development.
Some people believe that no development should be taking place on the land.
However, most people realize that these projects more or less will proceed no matter what anybody says based on history.
I think it is better for First Nations to require mining developers consult with them before proceeding with any initiatives.
I also believe that it is smart for a mining company to do the right thing and sit down with any First Nations that are on traditional lands where mining, exploration and development is being considered.
It is better for First Nation people to be at the table and involved in the process to make sure that we benefit from the development.
It is also really important that we are part of the process so that we can make sure that all of the environmental and conservation issues are considered in any development on our land.
When I see First Nations and mining companies working together for mutual benefit, it is obvious to me that everybody ends up winning.