Resource development puts Treaties to the test – by Harvey Yesno (Wawatay News – October 19, 2012)

Northern Ontario’s First Nations Voice:

Harvey Yesno is the Grand Chief of Nishnawbe Aski Nation (NAN), an Aboriginal political organization representing 49 First Nation communities within James Bay Treaty 9 territory and the Ontario portions of Treaty No. 5.

In July of 1905 when the Treaty Commissioners began the process of securing signatures to the James Bay Treaty # 9, Chief Missabay and his men at Mishkeegogamang signed the treaty only after giving the request to enter into treaty with His Majesty due consideration, and he had determined that nothing but good was intended.

Resource development across the NAN territory (encompassing James Bay Treaty # 9 and Treaty # 5) will put the treaties to the test; as the future ahead for the families, people and communities of Nishnawbe Aski Nation is to participate in the economy and wealth that is contained within the lands and resources that surrounds us.

First Nations have been discussing the need for resource and economic development within our treaty territory for years. It has always been known by the people of NAN that one day Ontario will be on our doorstep; because the place we call home holds tremendous value and potential.

Today, however, the Province of Ontario is making significant changes in terms of legislation and policy with the passing of The Far North Act, Amendments to the Mining Act and now engaging First Nations on the Renewable Energy on Crown Land Policies. These mechanisms deal with the land, minerals and energy; all key factors in ensuring that Ontario is being positioned for the growth, and perhaps what experts believe is the economic boom that will come out of the NAN territory.

It is the duty of the Crown – the governments of Canada and Ontario – to ensure that First Nations treaty and Aboriginal rights, as well as the duty to consult – are addressed and included in planning for the North. The current approach encouraged by both governments – for industry to be responsible for undertaking the requirement to address treaty and
Aboriginal rights and the duty to consult with First Nations – is not acceptable.

This approach places potential partners – the partners being the First Nations and industry – in an adversarial position to grapple and attempt to negotiate the very same legal requirements the government has until this day failed to implement.

Security in an investment or exploration is best undertaken by working with First Nations; and ensuring that all partners who are coming to the table are being treated as partners. The partnerships and agreements developed today will have to stand for the next 20-50 years at a minimum.

What do First Nations want from resource development within our treaty territories?

First Nations want what is fair and equitable. No more, no less.

A fair opportunity to invest, develop partnerships and ownership of business or economic development opportunities to provide employment and returns on investment to our own struggling economies.

In order to ensure the fair and equitable participation of First Nations in resource development, First Nations, industry and government will have to work together.

The Government of Canada must invest in First Nations – as potential partners – to the same level of investments being made into the region’s municipalities and cities. Investments in planning, advice, job skills training, recruitment, and business infrastructure.

Our treaty partners, Canada and Ontario, also have it within their power to level the playing field and ensure that economic growth includes First Nations. A meaningful way for the governments of Canada and Ontario to recognize their treaty obligations is resource revenue sharing. Resource revenue sharing would mean more to First Nations and the dignity of our people than any Impact Benefit Agreement. First Nations would much rather receive a fair and equitable share of the royalties paid to the Crown so we can build homes, schools, and community infrastructure than continue to live in poverty.

The 49 chiefs of Nishnawbe Aski Nation each have a vision of the future for their communities. First Nations are invested in northern Ontario permanently. The desire for our communities to succeed in business and provide a better future for our people is one of the most urgent pressures facing most chiefs today.

The result of true partnership and the test of our treaties – Canada, Ontario, First Nations and industry working together – will be what we call ‘Implementation of the Treaty’; living together here on this land as what was intended for all of us – to share in the benefits, and prosper together.