THUNDER BAY – My people have come a long way in obtaining a life with more opportunity and hope. Through education First Nation people all over Canada are moving into leadership roles in government and private enterprise in Native initiatives and non Native as well. We have very intelligent, well educated, strong and capable leaders in politics, law, education, business and every sector of Canadian society.
I have seen much progress in First Nations first hand with the communities that make up Wabun Tribal Council up here in Northeastern Ontario. Over the past 20 years I have watched these First Nations led by their Chiefs and supported by an administration headed by Shawn Batise as they began to lobby government and the private sector resource industries. Over the years Wabun has become internationally known for negotiating all kinds of agreements with government and the private sector that provide benefits to Wabun First Nations.
Wabun is well recognized across Canada for its expertise in this area and Shawn and the Chiefs have shared their knowledge with other Native organizations. For so many years Native people were very much left out of the loop when it came to participating in any development on traditional lands. That has changed with legal decisions, an evolution in the will of government and industry to negotiate with First Nations when it comes to development of Native traditional lands and the support of public opinion.
I am not saying that every agreement made with developers and government is perfect. This new arrangement is taking time to evolve as everyone learns how to better negotiate and produce fair deals that at the same time consider environmental and conservation issues. It makes me feel good to know that so many people are going to work and are having a better quality of life because of negotiated deals on development. I know that the Wabun First Nations are much better off these days with better housing, improved infrastructure and generally safer, healthier and more well run communities.
Back home in Attawapiskat, my family, friends and a new generation have good jobs with the development of the De Beers Canada Victor Mine. Through negotiations with the company and First Nation leadership much has been accomplished in terms of finances provided to the community and so much training and good jobs have developed. Are things perfect? No of course they are not, but at the very least instead of being left out of the loop as things were done in the bad old days, we as First Nation people are being listened to and respected when it comes to development on our lands.
Further mineral exploration by De Beers with what is known as the Tango Extension is hoped by the company. If this happens and the results are good the current mine will not close in 2018 and instead continue to produce. If good negotiation can take place between De Beers and Attawapiskat then this exploration makes sense as there is a skilled workforce already in place, a mine with infrastructure and capability plus a template to follow for further development. Rather than create a lot of conflict and mistrust we should be making sure we have a place at the table when anything is happening in terms of development on our lands. Sure, we as First Nation people are close to the land and hold our cultural and traditional lives as sacred however, we should still be able to benefit from anything happening on our lands and require that the private sector and government is making sure that the land, environment, the creatures, the water and the air are protected.
We can build all these requirements into any development agreements we enter into and we can demand that we have our own people and experts on hand to make sure all the steps necessary are taken to protect mother earth. Many of the top executives with government and resource development these days are open, well educated, sensitive and well meaning. Gone are the days where racism, intolerance and a colonial attitude is put up with. As a matter of fact more and more governments and the private sector is figuring out that if they are fair up front, honest about their developments in terms of benefits to First Nations and willing to make sure the environment is protected then good things happen for everybody.
Sure there will still be highs and lows in this development process but there should always be a way to negotiate and solve problems. Yes, we can always revert to protest and blockades and at times these tactics are still needed. However, there are better and more productive ways to solve problems and allow caring and responsible resource development to take place. I want my people, my family, my friends and our future generations to have good jobs, a great quality of life and still know that mother earth is being protected and respected. We can do it together. The future is as bright and as beautiful as we want to make it.