First Nations Chief’s charting economic success in Northern Manitoba – by Frank Busch (Troy Media – June 2, 2013)

Frank Busch is Director of Information and Marketing with the First Nations Finance Authority. The views expressed, however, are his own.

WESTBANK FIRST NATION, BC, Jun 2, 2013/ Troy Media/ – The Chiefs of Northern Manitoba gathered in Winnipeg for the 2013 Manitoba KeewatinowiOkimakanak (MKO) Economic Summit, Trade Show and Jobs Fair recently. MKO has their work cut out for them as they attempt to chart a course from poverty to prosperity. While approximately $3 billion in revenue from hydro, mining, forestry, fisheries and tourism is generated in Northern Manitoba every year, the First Nations in that region remain some of the poorest in the country. The MKO Chiefs understand that First Nations have been left out in the past and cannot afford to be left out in the future.

“If you fail to plan, you plan to fail” says Chief Garrison Settee of the Pimicikamak Cree Nation “it’s not enough to just talk about economic development, we have to make it happen.”

Manitoba Hydro alone will invest more than $34 billion in Northern Manitoba over the next 20 years. The main projects to be undertaken are Bipole III Transmission Project, the Keeyask and Conawapa generating stations, their associated domestic AC transmission facilities and a new Canada-U.S. transmission interconnection. The issue put to the MKO Chiefs is on how to best navigate these uncharted waters.

“Building wealth through partnerships will improve the living conditions, economies and well-being of northern First Nations” says MKO Grand Chief David Harper.

Towards that end, MKO invited and received addresses from players from government, industry and educational institutions including: NikiAshton, Member of Parliament for the Churchill Riding; Brian Pallister, Leader of the Progressive Conservative Party and the Official Opposition in Manitoba; Stephanie Forsyth, President and CEO of Red River College; Dr. David T. Barnard, President and Vice Chancellor of the University of Manitoba; Mayor Tim Johnston, City of Thompson and many other presenters from the national and international business community.

Historically, these types of conferences saw most of these presentations fall on deaf ears due to past conflicts and injuries. The mood this time around was different, as both sides could now recognize the need to work together. With First Nations rights under section 35 of the Constitution Act, 1982 being increasingly recognized and upheld by the Supreme Court of Canada, all players see that they must find common ground to fully realize the benefits of resource development. The negotiations often centre on what the comparatively poorer First Nations in Northern Manitoba bring to the table.

“Our greatest resource in the north is our people” says Chief Michael Constant of Opaskwayak Cree Nation, “if we invest in our youth through education their success will be our success.”

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