Saturday, August 15, 2009

A New Approach For Canada's First Nations?

Fixing the native economy

Minister of Indian Affairs, Chuck Strahl's new approach:
"He talks of multilateral agreements, private investment, and making Aboriginals full members of the national economy. When a community asks for funding, he says, he wants to hear first about what other partners have agreed to invest—something, he maintains, he demands of any applicant in his B.C. riding of Chilliwack-Fraser Canyon. The Aboriginal population, he says, is eager to be involved, and corporations are equally ready to do business."
"Strahl’s optimism was seconded earlier this summer by economists at TD Bank. With lengthy caveats about the challenges faced and the mess of obstacles that must be overcome, economists Derek Burleton and Don Drummond reported that “the winds of change may have started to blow in the right direction.” These winds, they wrote, include Supreme Court decisions demanding Aboriginal input into natural resource development on their land, burgeoning Aboriginal entrepreneurship, recognition within the private sector that the Aboriginal population presents untapped opportunity ahead of a looming labour shortage, and greater government focus on the need to improve education standards."
"Strahl may find some agreement with Shawn Atleo, the newly elected national chief of the Assembly of First Nations, whose campaign platform describes “education, entrepreneurship and work” as “the new whale.” And on general philosophy, at least, there may be some wider agreement, even optimism."
Okay. Sounds good. Not a huge departure from the recent past, but certainly Atleo's position dovetails nicely. Perhaps the stars are lining up and the Age of Aquarius has, in fact, finally dawned.

Now, if I may offer my suggestions, perhaps one of the first things that needs to happen is that someone needs to instill in folks like the ones manning the barricade in northern Manitoba an understanding that the surest way to get a job with Manitoba Hydro, or for that matter, any other big corporation, is to ensure you have a trade or skill set that they actually need and that starts with staying in school long enough to complete your grade 12 and when you're in the process of getting your basic education, perhaps you should actually attend school more than just three days a week, with an extra day off here and there over and above. (And by the way, in Saskatchewan at least, and probably throughout Western Canada, trades people are in serious demand and there just aren't enough of them to fill the positions already in place.)

The second thing I might suggest is to any private sector player that may be interested in partnering with First Nations and Government on this. Perhaps a minimum standard may need to be set with respect to accountability and good governance at the reserve level. If a First Nation from the prairie provinces has refused to participate in The Aboriginal Governance Index survey any notion that they should be viewed as a potential partner should be categorically nixed until they clean up their act. Read pages 13 through 19 to get a taste of what goes on some reserves in this region of the country. As an example, take this passage and mull it around:
"Most reserves, including Saskatchewan First Nations, usually have two or more large families or groups who battle constantly for control of the band offices that carry with them the power to give financial compensation to whomever they set fit. These power struggles become protracted and "dirty"."
Observations like this are hardly new. In fact, similar descriptions of band governments in Manitoba and Alberta are reported in the Aboriginal Governance Index. As long as factionalism, graft and nepotism reign in these communities, I would stay well clear, otherwise the business players become little more than partners in oppression and the denial of basic human rights.

The good news is that The Aboriginal Governance Index also describes many First Nations that have booted out their old, corrupt regimes and put in place progressive and accountable band councils.

All in all, there is something in the air to be hopeful about. We'll see what happens.


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