TORONTO – BUSINESS – FN colleagues, Chiefs (bosses), federal and provincial officials and friends – good morning.
I bring greetings from my bosses, the Chiefs across Ontario as well as my friends and colleagues, the AFN National Executive and NC Perry Bellgarde who could not be here.
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 and cause worry!
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 and trading partners.
So how can First Nations become involved in kick-starting the Canadian economy? For one thing, there is now the opportunity to hit the reset button on our relationship with Canada.
After a decade of darkness under the previous federal government, and several decades of severe underfunding, Canada has committed 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 an historic Political Accord.
This 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.” End quote.
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.
These commitments include major investments in health, housing, and child care; ending boil water advisories within five years; and, most importantly, ending two decades of a 2 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.” End quote
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.
Canada embarks upon a very ambitious national infrastructure program – which will formally begin with announcements in the March 22nd federal budget; FNs 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. This has already resulted in greater feelings of mass isolation and communal helplessness.
Over 30 Northern First Nation communities in the Ontario region depend upon thousands of kilometers of winter roads as a lifeline for transportation and shipment of goods – from bulk food shipments to building materials. Mining and energy projects also depend upon winter roads. Everyone is affected!
Shorter seasons have resulted in drastic downturns in local economies. For example, the Victor Diamond Mine near Attawapiskat First Nation depends upon the 312 kilometer James Bay Winter Road, which is owned and maintained by First Nations.
Any potential future mining development in the Ring of Fire is dependent upon the construction of a multi-billion dollar transportation corridor. With the full consent of First Nations, we need to conclude studies, and simultaneously out shovels in the ground.
Imagine the spin-off economic benefits of all-season roads, from responsible resource development, to tourism, fishing and hunting? All-season roads would also greatly contribute to finally securing healthy, happy sustainable communities.
Most importantly, all-season roads would allow our communities to more fully participate in Ontario’s economy. Not many people – including Ontarians – realize that Toronto, and Bay Street, was largely built upon the riches reaped from resources in our traditional lands. Fur, forestry, and minerals – all from the North.
About 93 per cent of Ontario’s population lives on just 13 per cent of the land mass. The other 87 per cent of the land – classified as Northern Ontario – has only 730,000 people—which includes an increasingly larger number of First Nations the further north you travel.
I have proposed to both the provincial and the federal governments that now is the time to re-open and re-invigorate our northern economy through a program I call “Invest North.”
Both First Nations and northern Ontarians need major investments in order to stimulate and sustain our economies. The Chiefs of Ontario, along with both the province and federal government, are currently planning economic roundtables later this spring to chart the best path forward.
In fact, we held our first planning session last Monday, which included both First Nation and mainstream economic development experts. I hope the people in this room join us for a major Economic Development and Infrastructure Summit to be held this fall.
Folks, it’s time to stop imagining what can be done to involve First Nations. It’s time to include First Nations as equal partners.
Lastly, the recent Truth and Reconciliation Commission report in Canada – that invokes massive change in Canada’s approach toward justice and wellbeing in the lives of First Nations; provides a very good opportunity for moving a country away from a dark legacy of residential school. Which in itself is a totally different discussion we could have through PDAC; but let me give you a list of questions that will tie industry to a best TRC-foot forward:
Q1. How do you get First Nations to be your partners?
Q2. What do FNs want – do they even want mining?
Q3. What is the FNs strategy – views/jurisdiction?
Q4. What is the process to work with FNs to move things forward in a clear and straightforward way?
Land; People; Economy – is sustainable development possible? First Nations know the answers to this and are prepared to have that discussion. Inevitably, it is now a requirement; legally and its more commonly the political direction of our treaty partners, the Crown.
To that end, we need to work together to generate prosperity for all. We need to once and for all eliminate the horrible social conditions that result in missing and murdered women, and children who take their own lives.
By investing in our Peoples, from socio-economic programs to major infrastructure projects, not only will we finally secure our rightful place, we will become major contributors to a revived Ontario, and a Canadian economy.
I look forward to spending the next few days here with all of you. Again, PDAC, congratulations and welcome!
Chief Isadore Day