First Nations becoming major economic players – by Ron Grech (Timmins Daily Press – February 24, 2012)

The Daily Press is the city of Timmins broadsheet newspaper.

GDP from Aboriginal communities larger than some provinces

These are “exciting times” for business opportunities in First Nation communities, a gathering of chiefs, business leaders and economic development officials in Timmins were told Thursday.

Clint Davis, president and chief executive of the Canadian Council for Aboriginal Business, cited several factors that have aligned enabling First Nation communities to become major economic players, if they play their cards right.

It seemed fitting that Davis would be speaking about growing economic development opportunities for First Nations as the keynote speaker at an event hosted by the CreeWest Limited Partnership. CreeWest is a Moose Factory-based charter airline service that arose from the economic opportunities created by the start-up of De Beers Canada’s Victor Mine in Attawapiskat six years ago.

It is widely known First Nation communities are the fastest growing demographic in the country.

What is less known about is the “explosion of economic growth happening in Aboriginal regions” to coincide with this increase in population, said Davis.

A supporting factor has been the success First Nations have had with courts recognizing treaty rights and making it a requirement that companies consult and accommodate Aboriginal communities.

“This has spurred forward economic opportunities,” said Davis.

He provided statistics to show the net gains that have been achieved by First Nations.

In 2011, Aboriginal communities and businesses accounted for a combined total of $24 billion in gross domestic product, said Davis. That’s larger than the economic output of some provinces, and the figure as it applies to First Nations is expected to increase to $32 billion by 2016.

“The fact that we’re $24 billion this year, with only a small portion of that being government spending, that’s critical,” said Davis, who is an Inuk originally from Labrador.

“The fact is, we’re net contributors to the economy right now. We don’t have to think pie in the sky and say, ‘Well, if all Aboriginal people were gainfully employed that would mean what to the GDP?’ It’s already happening and if we can actually reinforce that stuff, and support that growth it’s only going to continue.

“Yes, we are an untapped labour force but in fact we’re also very successful entrepreneurs.”

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