Canada And First Nations: Time For A New Partnership
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- November 26, 2013 Canada And First Nations: Time For A New Partnership
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- 26 Nov 2013
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- 26 Nov 2013
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- November 26, 2013 CANADA AND FIRST NATIONS: TIME FOR A NEW PARTNERSHIP
Chairman: Noble Chummar President, The Empire Club of Canada
Head Table Guests
Stephen Hewitt, Senior Manager, TD Bank Group, and Director, The Empire Club of Canada; Captain The Reverend Neil Thomsen, Pastor, Evangelical Lutheran Church of the Reformation, and Kitchener Regimental Chaplain, Royal Highland Fusiliers of Canada, Kitchener and Cambridge; Jeffrey Steiner, Board Member, EDC, and Former Chief of Staff to the Minister of Indian Affairs and Northern Development; Bill Boor, Senior Vice-President, Strategy and Business Development, Cliffs Natural Resources; Alan Coutts, President and CEO, Noront Resources Inc.; Patrick Dillon, Business Manager, Provincial Building and Construction Trades Council of Ontario; Pierre Cyr, Chief of Staff, Office of the Minister of Citizenship and Immigration; Arlene Perley Rae, Writer and Children’s Advocate; William F. White, Chairman, IBK Capital Corp., and Director, The Empire Club of Canada; and John Grimshaw, Executive Secretary Treasurer of the Inter- national Brotherhood of Electrical Works—Construction Council of Ontario, and Vice-President, Provincial Buildings and Construction Trades Council of Ontario.
Introduction by Noble Chummar
Today’s lunch is about relationships. It is about a fundamental and important connection between people. It is about recognizing that over 2,000 years ago, this great land, this great continent was already inhabited. This lunch is about Canadian life and living together with First Nations fairly in peace and prosperity.
Healthy relationships among Canadians of every demographic make for a prosperous society. Mr. Rae, at this very podium in 1994, famously made this point clear. He said: “I don’t care whether you call it altruism, collective self-interest, civic duty or economic necessity. But it all boils down to the same thing: to maintain our quality of life requires maintaining and strengthening the social fabric of our society.” It’s all about relationships.
Although we have inherited many challenges and perspectives, none of us are actually responsible for the behaviours or decisions of our ancestors. We might take responsibility or own up to the decisions of the past, but we weren’t even born yet. We are all, however, responsible for our decisions now as they affect our future generations.
Our guest speaker will be addressing the club for the eighth time since his first speech in 1982. I think that this is indeed a record for the Empire Club. Mr. Rae is a Rhodes scholar and a distinguished fellow of the University of Toronto and Massey College. Whether as a 30-year-old member of Parliament, as Ontario’s 21st premier, Canada’s leader of the official opposition, or as an international envoy to solve some of the world’s biggest problems, Bob Rae has committed his entire career to public service. Mr. Rae is currently an advisor to the Matawa Tribal Council and Chairman of the First Nations Limited Partnership in British Columbia. He is an Officer of the Order of Canada, a Queen’s Counsel, a Privy Councillor, and a member of the Order of Ontario. When Premier Rae took office in Ontario, it was only a few weeks before he famously declared his support for the inherent right of aboriginal self government. Bob Rae has, to say it mildly, been a lifelong friend of Canada’s First Nations. Ladies and gentlemen to talk to us about relationships, please welcome back to the Empire Club of Canada The Hon. Bob Rae.
Well, thank you very much, Noble. I want to start by recognizing that we are meeting in the traditional territory of the Mississaugas of the New Credit First Nation, and want to express my personal appreciation for a number of representatives of First Nations who are here today. I know that all of you were here for my previous seven speeches, and they are indelibly marked in your memory, so I’ll try to make a point of not repeating what I said on previous occasions. Somebody once unkindly said of me that I was a rising star in five different decades. And the bad news for everybody else is that my mother turns 99 next week, so at 65 I feel like a young kid. I am very appreciative of this opportunity to speak to this audience on this subject, which is one that I think is of great importance to the country.
I suspect that I’m similar to many people of my background and my age when I say that I spent most of my childhood and adolescence without ever meeting a member of a First Nation. I think that for many Canadians living in southern Ontario, perhaps an occasional trip to the cottage or to what we called “the North” at that time, might have led to a meeting or an encounter. But I think that for much of the country, as we are a population so heavily dense along that strip with the American border, the question of First Nations, Aboriginal people, Indigenous people, was seen as an issue that was out there somewhere. It was out beyond where we lived and where we made a living. And so, we’ve often spoken of our country as being of two solitudes. Certainly with respect to the historic issue of English and French Canada, it could rightly be said that we have from time to time lived in solitudes, but not to the same degree and the same extent as the solitudes that we have lived between Aboriginal people, First Nations people, and the rest of us.
Two very broad trends have now put an end to that isolation. The first one is the fact that our resource economy continues to expand and grow to the north. The resource economy has always been one that has dealt with and related to First Nations not always in the most positive or generous of ways. That phenome- non is very much here in this room. I’m aware of the fact as I go around the room that suddenly people from infrastructure, trade unions that are working in infrastructure, companies that are building infrastructure, those who are interested in building roads and mining companies, all people who are engaged in this great and important sector in Canada, suddenly want to have my business card. Suddenly people want to talk to me and say, “How do I get a hold of you?” For me, it’s a remarkable transformation in my life. There was a time when my mother wouldn’t take my calls. So the idea now that people are very keen to talk to me is a novel experience.
The second factor was the one that the Royal Commission on Aboriginal People drew attention to in a dramatic way in its study, which is now 20 years old, but still, if I may say so, a study that every Canadian should read and learn and try to under- stand. It’s the broadest assessment of the relationship between First Nations people and governments and other Canadians that we’ve ever had as a country, and unfortunately, like a lot of royal commissions, it was written and then put on a shelf. But the second huge factor, of course, is the migration, the dramatic change in demographics and change in population patterns that is happening in the country. Toronto is home to the largest Aboriginal community in the country. We don’t think of it that way. It’s not the self-image that Toronto has of itself, but that nevertheless is what Toronto is and what it has become.
If you visit every northern community in this province, every northern community in the country, large cities in Western Canada, you’ll know exactly what I’m talking about. There is a demographic revolution that is taking place in our cities that means that issues that we thought were somebody else’s concern, or that we would never have to encounter as major issues of public policy, in fact are staring us right in the face. To be blunt, when 70 to 80 per cent of the prison population in a number of provinces is made up exclusively of First Nations and Indigenous people, we have an issue. We have something that we need to talk about. We have some realities that we need to confront as a country.
If you recall the video that greeted us as we came into the hall with lunch, you would have seen the classic pictures of how Canada expanded, how Canada grew with large trains going across and mines being opened up and parts of the country being transformed. But that history, if I may so, reflected in that video, fails to recognize a very simple and fundamental fact—those railways did not cross empty land, those mines were not opened in territory uninhabited by people, and in fact the entire expansion of the country, indeed the finding of the country by the first European explorers and then settlers, took place in a country that was already inhabited, that already had people speaking their own languages, raising their families, building economies, in numbers and sizes that our current awareness is suddenly making us realize to what extent there was a world in 1491. There were civilizations in 1491. There were governments in 1491. There were people in 1491. There were economies that all existed prior to the transformation of the world that we associate with the ridiculous expression, “The discovery of the Americas.” Americas had already been discovered, for not just a few years, but for thousands of years. This encounter was not a happy one at the beginning.
The arrival of European settlement meant the arrival of European disease, diseases that people were not ready to deal with, that almost wiped out a population.
In Canada’s case, in the nineteenth century, the common expectation of those who were responsible for public policy was that the Aboriginal issue, or as they called it “the Indian issue,” would be resolved by death and by assimilation. The same prime ministers and premiers, whom we admire for so many different reasons reflecting the public opinion of the majority of the day, had a classically colonial mentality or, if you like, imperial mentality when it came to the First Nations people they were encountering. Treaties were signed, not primarily as a sign of respect, but they were signed by governments, because they needed to confine the First Nations population. They needed to define and restrict the jurisdiction and ability of First Nations to make decisions. And we’re dealing with that legacy today. Noble is quite right when he said that we can’t change what’s happened, and we can’t undo or sort of pretend that it didn’t happen. And we can’t walk around saying, “Well, we take full responsibility for what happened.” But what we can do is decide today how we’re going to go forward, and on what basis is the relationship to be established, not only in Ontario, but right across the country. And of course, a lot has happened. We have, in fact, changed the relationships. We have begun to recognize the nature of the history.
In an extraordinary moment, the Prime Minister of Canada apologized to the First Nations, Métis and Inuit people for what had been done in the past, for the assimilating effort to take, “the Indian out of the child” and to attempt effectively to destroy a culture and a way of life. That apology was given and that apology was accepted. But like all apologies, it has to be followed by a change in behaviour. It isn’t enough to say sorry. You have to demonstrate that in fact you understand the nature of the wrongs that have been committed.
We live now in an age of equality. We also live, and I say this very conscious of the presence of a former Chief Justice, in a time when Canadian, Canada’s courts, since the Charter of Rights and Freedoms became the law of the land in 1982, have made it very clear that there is a fiduciary relationship between the Crown and First Nations, that there is a relationship that is based on equity as much as it is based on the common law, that is based on the broadest and most liberal interpretation of treaties as it is on the importance of accommodating and consulting and taking fully into account the interests of First Nations when it comes to economic change and economic development. To put it bluntly, the law today is not what it was thought to be 50 years ago or 100 years ago. The behaviour of companies and of governments that was acceptable 50 years ago or 100 years ago is simply not acceptable today.
The good news out of the challenge that we face today is that not only has the law changed, but from my experience, institutions have changed as well. Now I can tell you my clients would like to see even more change as time goes on, and would like to see even a greater openness to the partnership which I’m about to describe. But I think it’s fair to say that there is a greater willingness to engage in discussions about this partnership across the country than there has ever been. From the signing of the Niska Treaty, which was an historic breakthrough in British Columbia, to the dramatic change in public policy in that province as a result of the leadership of Premier Campbell, to the treaties that have been signed, the land claims negotiations that have been arrived at in all of the territories, to the point now where we have shared management of resources, we have shared rights with respect to governance, we have a recognition of a deep and genuine partnership to the James Bay treaties which literally not only transformed the relationship between the Government of Quebec and the Cree Nation in Quebec, but also effectively over the last 30 years have transformed the economic lives of those people living in northern Quebec. But there is another James Bay Cree. There is another James Bay community that lives not to the east of the border in Quebec but to the west. There is a contrast between the effects of a modern day treaty, that is based on respect and partnership and shared governance and a recognition of the economic stake that needs to be there for prosperity to be deeply embedded, and what we faced in the Province of Ontario, where the Treaty Number Nine was signed in 1905. It did not lead and has not led to the prosperity that we can see on the other side of the border.
So the challenge today is whether or not we’re prepared as a nation and as a province to engage in a dialogue which is based on the principle of partnership. Noble mentioned the fact that one of the first things I said as premier was to recognize the importance of the inherent right to self-government. We as a government signed a document called the Statement of Relationship, in which we established that from the perspective of the government of Ontario we were prepared to talk to the First Nations of the province on a government-to-government basis, and were prepared to engage in a spirit of partnership. I’m not going to relive the history of the last 20 years except to say that that statement of relationship was not pursued by subsequent governments. Sometimes governments rely on what they think their legal rights are, what they believe the rights of the Crown to be, and we’ve lost, in my view, a lot of time, in this province, to really move forward with an agenda that will be marked by success.
We need to recognize the possibilities of partnership, but we also need to recognize that partnership is not simply an option. It is actually a necessity. It’s a necessity because any other alternative to building this partnership will simply mean a flood of litigation, of conflict, of demonstration, of anger, of hostility, and of confrontation. I don’t say this as a threat. I say it as a description of reality, that if people think that it’s going to be possible to develop the Far North of this province or indeed the Far North of any province or indeed any traditional territories of the First Nations people of this country without a full and effective partnership with those First Nations, if you think it’s going to be possible to do it, in my opinion you’re sadly mistaken.
I think governments realize this and I think the corporate sector realizes it as well. And I think everyone is struggling now to say, “Well, how do we do this? How does it get done? Are there frustrations?” Let me tell you that of course there are frustrations and there are difficulties. But think of it for a moment. In northwestern British Columbia, the Tahltan people signed an agreement which has allowed for the greatest expansion of mining development in the history of northwestern British Columbia. It has allowed for the electrification of the entire region, so that no community is without electricity or power, has allowed for training, has allowed for a flow of money and yes, of cash, that will benefit communities directly and that will ensure that those communities are direct economic beneficiaries of the prosperity that will then grow.
So it’s not about saying, “Well the First Nations seem to be against development.” No, that’s not the issue. That’s a misconstruction of the problem. The challenge is to realize that First Nations want to be effective partners in development. They want to be owners of part of the development. They want to have a stake in the infrastructure that many of you want to build. They want to be able to become the beneficiaries of the revenues that will flow to governments at Queen’s Park and in Ottawa. I can’t help resisting commenting today to say that it is, to me, deeply troubling that the two governments still can’t agree on who’s responsible for what. This is challenging for First Nations. It’s also challenging for companies that are trying to do business. We need to create some certainty. But that certainty has to be based on dialogue and discussion, negotiation and the emergence of agreements that allow people to see what the rules of the game are. And if everybody thinks that the answer is just to run off to court, well, we can do that from time to time. I certainly know there are many lawyers who’d be keen to pursue that. But I still think negotiation is the better route, and negotiation and partnership are the better outcomes.
The partnership is not only economic, although there’s a profound need for us to address the economic gap in development between First Nations communities and other communities. If you travel far north, 300 kilometres north of the high point of Lake Superior, you will fly into communities. You have to fly in because there are no year-round roads. There is no year-round access. There is no assurance of power. People are not connected to the grid. Housing is poor and bad and difficult. Education is a challenge. There are not only economic discrepancies, discrimination, a gap between the life that is led there and the life that is led elsewhere, but also social issues that have to be dealt with. The Oxycodone epidemic that’s affected much of northern Ontario has had a dramatic effect on the wellbeing of the people and the wellbeing of children. There’s a social discrimination that can’t be allowed to continue.
And finally, it is about self-government, because yes, the units of self-government need to change and need to be able to evolve. We’re now engaged in the Matawa Tribal Council with a fascinating—and there are some members here so they’ll know what I’m talking about— and challenging effort to bring people together to say, “What are the things we have in common and how can we move forward together in our discussions with governments, in our discussions with the corporate sector?” What are the things that First Nations do on their own? It’s sort of like Canada, right? What can the province do? What can a municipality do? How can we get these things right? And so these challenges are there.
I want to conclude by saying there was one article in a newspaper a while ago on the Ring of Fire, which talked about the fact that this was a development that was in the middle of nowhere. The Ring of Fire is not in the middle of nowhere. It’s in the middle of somewhere. It’s in the middle of a traditional territory of people who have been living there and working there and raising their families there and dying there for thousands of years. The fact that the reporter saw it as sort of saying, “Well it’s somewhere north of Steeles, so it’s got to be the middle of nowhere,” is a reflection of a cultural attitude that has to change, because it reflects a lack of understanding of the challenge that we face. Matawa has asked for roads not just for mining companies, but roads for people, so that people can actually go from one part of the province to another. They can be connected by a road, so they can be connected by electricity, so they can be connected by broadband, so their children will have exactly the same access to information, exactly the same access to education, as anyone else would have. We want to be part of this province. We want in. We don’t want out. We want to be part of the development, but we also want to have a say in how that development happens. We want to be able to say that it’s going to be sustainable, and that the development will be done in such a way that it protects the land and protects the water and protects the inheritance which First Nations people have. They want to do it in a way that ensures that they will directly benefit, not just in this generation, but in future generations, from the prosperity that needs to be shared.
It’s a big agenda. It is not an easy one and there will be many bumps along the road. But as I said, partnership is not one option among others. Partnership is the only option that serves everyone’s interest—the interest of governments, the interest of companies, and the interest of First Nations. A partnership that’s based on respect, a partnership that’s based on understanding, and a partnership that’s based on a profound shared commitment to the values and the interests of the entire country, of the entire province, and yes, of our home and native land. Miigwetch. Thank you very much.
The appreciation of the meeting was expressed by Patrick Dillon, Business Manager, Provincial Building and Construction Trades Council of Ontario.