First Nations are ready to secure our rightful place in Ontario – both socially and economically. The announcement of an Agreement-in-Principle to collectively purchase shares in Hydro One is a significant step towards the promise of future sustainable prosperity for our Peoples. It may take up two years for all of our First Nation communities to officially sign off on collectively owning up to 15 million shares. In some respects, we have been waiting over 250 years for this opportunity.
First Nations were never given the opportunity to own shares in the Hudson Bay Company when it was first established to trade with our Peoples over 300 years ago. And, despite Treaties intended to equally share the wealth and resources, First Nations have only received the dividends of despair and dysfunction.
We have been marginalized in terms of land, water and human rights. We continue to suffer under an institutionally racist Indian Act. This is not what our ancestors envisioned when we sat down with the Crown to make binding agreements on trade, commerce, peace, and prosperity.
In 1764, our ancestors gathered in Niagara to re-affirm the Royal Proclamation of 1763. The Treaty of Niagara was witnessed by several thousand First Nation leaders from the east coast to the mid-west. The ceremony was held near a place of great power – Niagara Falls. Niagara – or Niagagarega – has been occupied by our Peoples for thousands of years. In fact, remains of villages dating back 4,000 years have been discovered along the banks of the Niagara River.
Hydro One – what used to be Ontario Hydro – was established over a century ago, in 1906, to build transmission lines from Niagara Falls. Over the decades, our lands were expropriated and flooded to build these lines and expand hydro operations. Now, we are finally coming full circle, thanks to a provincial government that is taking seriously its inherited commitment to uphold the Honour of the Crown. In her Statement of Reconciliation on May 30, Premier Kathleen Wynne said, in part:
“Our shared history begins around 400 years ago. When Europeans first arrived, the generous partnership of Indigenous Peoples helped them establish profitable enterprises and settlements. In 1763, the Royal Proclamation confirmed the original occupancy of Indigenous Peoples and paved the way for nation-to-nation treaties between the British Crown and Indigenous Peoples. Treaties were negotiated and signed with the intent of delivering mutual benefits.
“In Ontario, most of this happened hundreds of years ago. To some, seven generations ago can seem disconnected. Yet we know that our history is always shaping our present. And for some of us, treaties are part of the history that shapes our prosperity. Treaties granted us land to live on and water to drink. They are the foundation on which the short history of our country has carried forward – a history in which every generation has built a better life by building on the achievements of the past.
“But it’s only one side of our story. For Indigenous people in Ontario, this same history created a very different reality. Despite the promise of early treaties and the respectful, nation-to-nation partnerships they established, Indigenous Peoples became the target of colonial policies designed to exploit, assimilate and eradicate them.”
In my response, I stated, in part:
“The Political Accord being implemented in Ontario; the commitments of both the Federal and Provincial governments that follow the Truth and Reconciliation Commission’s Calls to Action; and the full adoption of the United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples. These are all powerful signals of a new relationship based upon equality, restitution, and recognizing our sovereignty as Nations.
“Today, we will walk together on a path towards building happy, healthy First Nation communities. We will end the scourge of suicide. We will end the epidemic of missing and murder Indigenous women and girls. We will return Our Children to their Families.”
We will work together to build economies – in the Spirit and Intent of the Treaties. We will work together to combat climate change. We will work together to return Ontario to the beauty and bounty that first attracted the settlers to our lands. We will strengthen Indigenous Peoples’ connection to our Mother, Mother Earth.”
Today, through our modern Political Accord in partnership with Ontario, and Reconciliation with our Peoples, we can realize an economic opportunity stemming from that long ago binding covenant of friendship and sharing at Niagara. Having meaningful equity participation in Hydro One is a unique long-term wealth creation opportunity for First Nations. This demonstrates the real potential set out in the principles in the Political Accord when supported by a shared commitment for change.
More significantly, we now have the opportunity to secure our rightful place not only in the energy sector but in the economy as a whole. Our ancestors would be proud, and our children will finally see the prosperity promised so very long ago.
Isadore Day is the AFN Ontario Regional Chief