Isadore Day is the Wiindawtegowinini, Assembly of First Nations, Regional Chief Ontario
Since the last PDAC convention, the relationship between Ontario, Canada and First Nations has improved dramatically. At the same time, the Canadian economy has continued to worsen.
The resource sector is struggling – diamond, gold and potash mines have either reduced production or closed; the price of oil has dropped dramatically; and the Canadian dollar continues to lose its value against major currencies.
As we wait for commodity prices to increase, now is the time to work towards fully implementing the First Nation elements of the Ontario Mining Act. Specifically, “Encourage prospecting, staking and exploration for the development of mineral resources, in a manner consistent with the recognition and affirmation of existing Aboriginal and treaty rights in Section 35 of the Constitution, 1982, including the duty to consult, and to minimize the impact of these activities on public health and safety of the environment.”
So how can First Nations become involved in kick-starting the Canadian economy? For one thing, there is now the opportunity to hit the proverbial reset button on our relationship with Canada.
After a decade of darkness under the previous federal government, and several decades of severe underfunding, Canada is now ready to work with First Nations as equal partners in this country.
First of all, let me back up to this past August. Just seven months ago, the Chiefs of Ontario and the Province of Ontario signed a Political Accord, which has begun a new relationship based upon respecting our Treaty Rights and advancing First Nation determined governments. The Accord is the most important collective milestone between Ontario and First Nations in modern times.
To quote Ontario Premier Kathleen Wynne: “For too long, government ignored our broken partnership with First Nations people and turned a blind eye to our many misdeeds, from first colonial contact to residential schools, and cultural genocide. For too long, we used excuses to explain away the horrific realities of missing and murdered Indigenous women. And for too long, we did not accept that our oppression and abuse of First Nations people has persisted for generations and led to the inequities that we see today.”
Two months later, this past October 19th, a new federal Liberal government was elected, which included a record number of 10 Indigenous Members of Parliament. Prime Minister Justin Trudeau has made a number of serious commitments to our Peoples.
This includes major investments in health, housing, and child care; ending boil water advisories within five years; and, most importantly, ending two decades of a two per cent funding cap which has resulted in an estimated $25 billion in underfunding.
To quote Prime Minister Trudeau: “It’s time for a new fiscal relationship with First Nations that gives your communities sufficient, predictable and sustained funding. This is a promise we made, and a promise we will keep… There are many other actions we will undertake, from partnering with First Nations as we review and monitor major resource development projects, to providing significant new funding to help promote, preserve,
and protect Indigenous languages and culture.”
Again, what does all this mean in terms of kick-starting the Canadian economy? It boils down to three words: inclusion, investment, and infrastructure.
As both Ontario and Canada work to include us as equal partners and secure our rightful place in this country, we need the proper investments in child care, education, health, housing, and skills training. As Canada embarks upon a very ambitious national infrastructure program – which will formally begin with announcements in the March 2016 federal budget — First Nations must be fully included in those multi-billion dollar projects.
As we speak, the winter road season for our communities in northern Ontario grows shorter each year due to climate change. Not only do over 30 communities depend upon winter roads as a lifeline for transportation and shipment of goods – from food to building materials – but mining and energy projects also depend upon winter roads. Shorter seasons have also resulted in downturns in local economies.
For example, the Victor Diamond Mine near Attawapiskat First Nation depends upon the 312km James Bay Winter Road, which is owned and maintained by First Nations. Any future mining development in the Ring of Fire is dependent upon the construction of a multi-billion dollar transportation corridor.
Imagine the spin-off economic benefits of a major all-season road, from responsible resource development, to tourism, fishing and hunting? An all-season road would also greatly contribute to finally securing healthy, happy sustainable communities.
It’s time to stop imagining what can be done. It’s time to include First Nations as equal partners. By investing in our Peoples, from socio-economic programs to major infrastructure projects, not only will finally secure our rightful place, we will become major contributors to a revived Canadian economy.