The Sudbury Star is the City of Greater Sudbury’s daily newspaper.
Negotiating with First Nations in the Ring of Fire may be tricky, and take time, but the country can no longer justify ignoring or exploiting its aboriginal communities, a former supreme court judge said Tuesday.
“The project does illustrate how government and industry can, and should, take First Nations seriously in economic development,” Frank Iacobucci told a Greater Sudbury Chamber of Commerce luncheon series audience.
The veteran lawyer, who brokered an agreement in 2013 with the Matawa Tribal Council chiefs on behalf of the Ontario government, said he has been impressed with the leadership of aboriginal communities and the efforts they have made to engage their members.
“With that leadership and that engagement, there is more opportunity for agreements,” he said, while cautioning patience is often required. “It’s not a matter of being quick,” said Iacobucci. “It’s a matter of being right.”
As deputy minister of justice in the Mulroney government of the 1980s, Iacobucci worked on a constitutional amendment that would have afforded more political autonomy to First Nations.
“That attempt narrowly failed,” he said. “But what is really fascinating to see is that self-government has been developing on a de-facto basis. There is a growing recognition that we deal with these communities on a government-to-government basis, not with a constitutional amendment but as a matter of practical reality.”
Iacobucci admitted there is still much work to do to repair injustices of the past and build trust with First Nations people, calling it a “Herculean task,” but said it is essential that Canadians rise to the challenge.
“I regard it as the most important societal issue facing Canada,” he said, noting the socioeconomic situation on many reserves is comparable to developing nations.
“The list of serious ailments is huge, but I don’t think we can hold our heads high internationally while these conditions exist,” he said.
Iacobucci said moving forward requires an honest reckoning with the past, which since contact has not been kind to the country’s original inhabitants.
He pointed to sparsely worded treaties that divied up land and resources, mostly to the benefit of the European newcomers; the patronizing installment of Indian agents, whose permission was required if a band member wanted to leave a reserve; and a policy of forced assimilation that was reflected in the residential school system.
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