Nishnawbe Aski Nation – The Road to Economic Independence

NAN Grand Chief Harvey Yesno
NAN Grand Chief Harvey Yesno

THUNDER BAY – In 1979, the General Assembly adopted a Programme of activities to be undertaken during the second half of the Decade for Action to Combat Racism and Racial Discrimination (A/RES/34/24). 

On this occasion, the General Assembly decided that a week of solidarity with the peoples struggling against racism and racial discrimination, beginning on 21 March, would be organized annually in all States.

Nishnawbe Aski Nation – The Road to Economic Independence

Grand Chief Yesno Thursday March 21, 2013 – Diversity Thunder Bay

I want to thank each of you for being here this morning, as Diversity Thunder Bay marks the United Nations International Day for the Elimination of Racial Discrimination. Thank you to the planning committee for inviting me to speak on a very important issue.

Since its inception in 1979, this United Nations has worked to raise awareness of the issues, challenges and solutions on how we all live and work together as people around the world, from different ethnic, cultural and racial origins by instituting the United Nations International Day for the Elimination of Racial Discrimination.

Racial discrimination is hurtful to all parties; the victim and the perpetrator both suffer ‐ whether it be person to person ‐ or perhaps the racist labels and ideas that are placed upon a specific group of people. History testifies to the danger of singling out one group of people based on their ethnicity, culture or race.

As the Grand Chief of Nishnawbe Aski Nation, I believe that one of the most important aspects of Canadian society ‐ is our shared history of acknowledging the differences between peoples ‐ and pursuing the objective and priority of peace amongst all of us as Canadians.

Racial discrimination in all of its forms, including ‘reverse racism’ from one minority group upon another must not be tolerated.

Across Nishnawbe Aski Nation – one of the most significant themes identified by our elders – is that the treaties are peace treaties that have been signed, recognized and to this day respected as a promise to share in the wealth of the land and live in peace with one another.

As Canadians we all share in the rights and benefits outlined in the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms (Constitution Act, 1982 Section 15.1) which states:

Every individual is equal before and under the law and has the right to the equal protection and equal benefit of the law without discrimination and, in particular, without discrimination based on race, national or ethnic origin, colour, religion, sex, age or mental or physical disability.

Our EQUALITY rights as Canadians are fundamental rights and EQUALITY is directly related in the bigger picture around the world –as to whether or not we live in a fair and just society.

I am no greater than you, and you are no greater than me ‐ is a fundamental principle of the nation of Canada ‐ to respect one another as individuals and human beings ‐ and this right is enjoyed by all Canadians.

This right must be guarded and protected by all Canadians.

The theme of my speech is “The Road to Economic Independence” for Nishnawbe Aski Nation.

I want to challenge each of you to this morning ‐ to broaden your understanding of treaty and aboriginal rights ‐ a topic much discussed and debated across Canada.

The position I want to put forward for your consideration is that First Nations issues, treaty and aboriginal rights are human rights based issues.

The United Nations weighs and considers the standards of countries around the globe in terms of the overall welfare of its citizens; however the social, justice, economic, and health indicators in First Nations across Canada are all demonstrating the struggle today faced by most Chiefs and Councils from coast to coast.

The 49 First Nations of Nishnawbe Aski Nation are working to address the needs of our community members; like mainstream Canada – First Nations want to work and provide opportunities for our families.

Our people need jobs and business opportunities; and to participate in the new economies that will emerge from the remote north of Ontario.

Our children need proper educations, schools, safe water to drink, a reasonable home to live in and health care.

First Nation issues today stem from the lack of opportunity and economy, and the need to address the basic and fundamental rights of our people to remain in our families, communities and traditional lands.

First Nations are not striving to be better than anyone else, but we are struggling to meet the same standards of living as our fellow Canadians.

The struggle to meet basic standards is also more profound in the remote northern communities of Nishnawbe Aski Nation – where the high cost of living is tremendous. 

With 32 remote First Nations that are accessible only by air, and a diminishing and fluctuating winter road season to transport goods, materials and supplies into our communities – infrastructure investments must also be a priority to reduce the high cost of living in NAN First Nations.

Infrastructure such as economic electricity and all‐weather roads will be critical developments in the NAN territory that will directly benefit families. The cost for residential electricity in the remote north is approximately 3x the cost here in Thunder Bay. Families are paying $600 to $800 per month for diesel generated electricity.

All‐weather roads will reduce the cost of food, goods, fuel and supplies that are currently at a premium rate as everything has to be flown in and the cost of air cargo added to every pound or litre delivered for sale in the community. All‐weather roads will stimulate resource development – and the business economy – to meet the existing demand and the potential demands of major industry getting underway in the remote north.

In terms of the direct on‐reserve economy – government life support programs that are currently the main source of limited employment on reserve – must be replaced with a viable and self‐sufficient business, service and industry based economy.

How do the issues of racial discrimination, treaty and aboriginal rights, and economic independence link together?

“The Road to Economic Independence” for Nishnawbe Aski Nation will require a change of thinking by our treaty partners – Canada and Ontario – and the Canadian public.

The ideas and limitations put on First Nations must be set aside, and there has to be a common ground in understanding that First Nations treaty and aboriginal rights issues are in fact ‐ Chiefs and Councils advocating to meet the basic needs, hopes and dreams in our communities.

While Canada moves strategically to increase its GDP and remerge as a prestigious resource based powerhouse; First Nations families are struggling on a daily basis to make ends meet.

The challenge for all Canadians is to see beyond the racial and limiting rhetoric surrounding First Nations issues, and to work with First Nations to ensure that the governments of Canada and Ontario be fair.

This issue transcends political parties, as there is much to be gained by all Canadians in a strong, healthy and growing economy.

Today, all of the people of Nishnawbe Aski Nation are looking towards the future. A future full of hope, opportunities, health, prosperity and wealth in our communities; and we continue to believe and expect that the treaties will be upheld for the purpose intended: To share in the benefits of the land and live in peace.

The future ahead for the families, people and communities of Nishnawbe Aski Nation is to participate in the economy and wealth that is contained within the lands and resources that surround us.

It has always been known by the people of NAN that one day Ontario, Canada and now potentially global markets will be on our doorstep; because the place we call home holds tremendous value and potential.

Very rapid changes have taken place in terms of how government and industry are positioning themselves to benefit from development in our treaty territory.

These changes will impact and benefit Canada for the best outcome; while the real impact and benefit for the People and First Nations across Nishnawbe Aski remains yet to be seen.

Development within our treaty territory cannot occur at all costs or at the cost of the environment. First Nations, industry and government must work together to ensure that our land, air and water remain intact to the best of our abilities and based on a sound approach to address environmental concerns and technology available.

I do believe that First Nations and industry can see to eye to eye and negotiate fair agreements to address the impacts on a community from the loss of their traditional territory, secure business opportunities, revenue and dividends, and provide jobs and training for our members. These are all good things.

The 49 Chiefs of Nishnawbe Aski Nation, each have a vision of the future for their communities. First Nations are invested in Canada permanently, this is our home – and the desire for our communities to succeed in business and provide a better future for our people ‐ is one of the most urgent pressures facing Chiefs today.

First Nations want what is fair and equitable. No more, no less.

A fair opportunity to invest, develop partnerships and ownership of business or economic development opportunities to provide employment and returns on investment to our own struggling economies.

Nishnawbe Aski Nation’s road to economic independence will require cooperation and partnerships.

Our treaty partners, Canada and Ontario – and you as individuals in Canadian society ‐ have it within your power to level the playing field and ensure that economic growth includes First Nations.

The public message from my office – to the governments of Ontario and Canada – and to all of you here today as our treaty partners – is that the People of Nishnawbe Aski Nation cannot be left behind in terms of economic growth and opportunities.

The future of Nishnawbe Aski Nation is one of prosperity and the ability to provide for and take care of our own. Some minds, thoughts and ideas must be challenged to change.

The People of Nishnawbe Aski Nation face many unique issues, and it is through Unity, Strength and Success that we secure the futures of our children, and our future generations.

In closing – the message that I ask you to consider and remember – is the potential of true equality. Canadians and First Nations can live together on this land as it was intended – to live in peace, share in the benefits of the land, and prosper together.

Grand Chief Yesno

ᑭᒋ ᐅᑭᒪᑲᓐ ᔦᔅᓄ 

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