Ontario First Nations: Organize and Speak with One Voice
“We can build our own damn houses”, stated presenter, Satsan (Herb George) President, National Centre for First Nations Governance (NCFNG) to the applause of a packed house of First Nation citizens, including two former Attiwapiskat chiefs. Satsan was referring to the opportunity for First Nations to raise revenue as a result of tapping in to the inescapable economic component that arises when working towards reconciliation with the Crown. First Nations need to get organized and strategize to fairly benefit from the revenue that is being generated as a result of activities on their territories. Only then will they be in a position to raise revenue and as a result successfully oversee housing and other economic development activities.
On November 29th over 100 delegates attended “A First Nation Strategy for the Ring of Fire”, a two-day forum held in Thunder Bay, Ontario to discuss mining in the Ring of Fire. Hosted by the National Centre for First Nations Governance in partnership with Aroland First Nation, the forum focused on assisting participants to design a roadmap for developing positive government-to-government relationships and engaging in meaningful negotiations with resource companies. Participants heard from a panel of experts on aboriginal and treaty rights with the central message that First Nations must be organized if they are to negotiate mining agreements that adequately address social, poverty and environmental issues.
Guest speakers included Maria Morellato, a partner at Mandell Pinder LLP, who has acted as counsel in some of the top Aboriginal cases in Canada and Elijah Harper, former member of the Manitoba legislature, Minister and federal MP. Both spoke to the need for First Nations to unite so as to be better prepared to reach agreements that provide sustainable economic and social benefits for their communities, reduce the impact on sensitive northern environments and protect their culture and way of life. Morellato pointed out that the biggest challenge in First Nations is that communities do not realize what they have in terms of recognition of title in the courts. Due to several legal victories, there are rights entrenched in the law that are constitutionally protected and an obligation on the part of the Crown. Morellato emphasized the importance of First Nations communities understanding what the rights are and what they can do with them and strategically organizing to trigger the Crown’s legal obligations.
The forum also heard presentations from Atlantic Migmaq negotiator, Troy Jerome and British Columbia Shuswap Chief, Nathan Matthews about how their respective nations organized and exercised their territorial rights to develop opportunities in areas such as wind energy, forestry, and fishing. Both presenters emphasized the importance of communities getting organized and building a strategy before engaging the Crown, business and industry. Further, they emphasized the necessity of communities to address the internal political challenges that have resulted from Canada’s splitting Nations in to bands and territories. Once Nations overcome these internal political challenges, organize collectively and arrive at understanding amongst themselves, they will be in a position to successfully implement opportunities in areas such as wind energy, forestry and fishing.
“First Nations want their Treaty and Aboriginal rights addressed in order to fairly benefit from business taking place on their traditional territories, industry and Government want economic certainty, and all Canadians want to address the third world conditions in many of our communities”, stated Satsan, “First Nations citizens in Ring of Fire territory must start by unifying around their own strategy, both at the community level and at the treaty level….First Nation citizens want the same thing as all Canadians. Healthy communities, a future for their youth, education, jobs, clean water and to minimize all impacts on their lands”, stated Satsan (Herb George), “This can be done through smart land use, smart agreements and respect for the rights of all parties.”
NCFNG is a non-profit organization dedicated to supporting First Nations as they develop effective, self-determining governance. NCFNG is governed and staffed by Aboriginal professionals.