The new federal government of Prime Minister Justin Trudeau comes with very high expectations for all Canadians, especially for First Nations. We have endured a decade of darkness and despair under a Conservative regime – First Nations are ready to move beyond this era, setting the tone, pace and opportunity for positive change.
In recent years, approximately one billion dollars in critical social services for First Nations was held back by the Conservative government. Prime Minister Trudeau has pledged to repair and restore the Nation to Nation relationship between First Nations and Canada. This includes a long-awaited national inquiry into Missing and Murdered Indigenous Women.
Prime Minister Trudeau has pledged to invest in badly needed critical infrastructure – this includes ending decades of boil water advisories within five years. Most importantly, First Nations are also in dire need of investments in housing, health, and access to affordable food. We need billions of dollars for education and job training.
There is so much work that needs to be done to begin to right all the wrongs inflicted upon our Peoples over far too many decades. So where does the mining industry fit in all of this? First of all, we don’t expect industry to step in and provide First Nations with the funding and services that government has denied us.
However, we do expect industry to invest in our communities and partner with our Peoples. If you want a share of the resources from our lands, then there is definitely a quid pro quo. But you also have to remind government – both at the provincial and federal level – that they also have responsibilities. Otherwise, our Peoples will continue to suffer – and industry will continue to encounter delays.
Another big promise that Prime Minister Trudeau has made is to implement all 94 calls to action released by the Truth and Reconciliation Commission this past June. However, the federal government cannot do this alone. Society and industry must also participate.
Specifically, the mining industry needs to follow through on Recommendation Number 93.
It states: “We call upon the corporate sector in Canada to adopt the United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples as a reconciliation framework and to apply its principles, norms and standards to corporate policy and core operational activities involving Indigenous peoples and their lands and resources.”
This would include, but not be limited, to the following:
Commit to meaningful consultation, building respectful relationships, and obtaining the free, prior and informed consent of Indigenous peoples before proceeding with economic development projects.
Ensure that Aboriginal peoples have equitable access to jobs, training, and education opportunities in the corporate sector, and that Aboriginal communities gain long-term sustainable benefits from economic development projects. And,
Provide education for management and staff on the history of Aboriginal peoples, including the history and legacy of residential schools, the United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples, Treaties and Aboriginal rights, Indigenous law, and Aboriginal—Crown relations. This will require skills based training in intercultural competency, conflict resolution, human rights, and anti-racism.”
We need to once and for all eliminate the horrible social conditions that result in missing and murdered women and girls – that’s not an obvious investment to industry, but it’s a vital starting point for First Nations, first-order of business to get our communities investment ready. The time to invest in our Peoples is right now. The dividends will provide security and prosperity for all our children.
Industry also has a duty to remind the federal and provincial governments that First Nations must be treated as equal partners in resource development. You must remind governments that First Nations signed Treaties in the belief that they would be sharing in the wealth of the land and resources.
For example, when the Chiefs in northwestern Ontario signed Treaty 3 in 1874, they said they could “feel the rustling of gold” beneath their feet, which they assumed would be shared equally with the Crown.
One of the Treaty signatories, Chief Powasson, had a set of notes made for him during the negotiations. The notes state: “If some gold or silver mines be found in their reserves, it will be to the benefit of the Indians. But if the Indians find any gold or silver out of their reserves, they will surely be paid for the finding of mines.”
However, the final Treaty document makes no reference to sharing gold or any other resource. And a lot of gold, silver, iron ore, diamonds – and the list goes on — has been found on Indian land for the past 150 years. It has made Ontario very rich.
Isadore Day, Wiindawtegowinini, is Ontario Regional Chief