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Aboriginal Canada wants in. For generations, natural-resource wealth and opportunity almost entirely bypassed Aboriginal communities. But now, empowered by court decisions, land-claims settlements, and rising Indigenous political power, Aboriginal people are determined to get a fair share from the development of natural resources on their territories.
For governments, developers and the country at large, significant adjustments are required if new partnerships and collaboration are going to become the hallmark of resource activity in Canada. The good news on this front is two-fold. First, First Nations, Métis and Inuit communities are ready to participate in collaborative activities. Second, Canada already has a significant number of examples of practical and effective partnerships with Aboriginal communities.
Aboriginal communities that are approached by resource companies typically are called upon to perform an exercise in socio-economic calculus. Negotiations focus on skills and job training for local residents, local hire provisions, opportunities for Aboriginally-controlled businesses, a defined role in environmental oversight and remediation, direct financial returns from resource sales, contributions to community projects and programs, and, increasingly, the possibility for equity ownership. The returns can be considerable, and can provide just compensation for developing resources on Aboriginal lands.
Aboriginal governments also have to determine if the proposed developers are trustworthy, and if regional and national governments will support the collaborations.
Thanks to this unsung quiet revolution, Aboriginal people have begun to seize the opportunities created by resource development. Many communities have established development corporations, some of which have holdings in the hundreds of millions of dollars. Within a few short years, several of these Aboriginally owned companies, such as the Inuvialuit Regional Corporation, have become major forces in regional development.
Mining companies have established training and upgrading programs for local residents. Resource developers have supported projects from infrastructure to traditional harvesting activities. Aboriginal groups have established dozens of companies to support and serve resource developers. In the future, equity investments by Aboriginal groups will feature prominently in community development schemes.
Canadians should know that the new development realities are feasible, and that commercialization already is showing real dividends. In Northern Quebec, Indigenous peoples are actively engaged with hydroelectric and mining activity. The Voisey Bay mine in Labrador has, likewise, developed constructive relationships with local Aboriginal people.
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