Harnessing the ‘Indigenous Potential’ | The Mark

First Nations deserve a fair shake in the development of energy and mining resources.

This is a time of enormous potential for indigenous peoples in Canada and around the globe – a time when respectful energy and mining development could be a key tool in helping our peoples and nations reach their full potential.

Across North America, there are unprecedented opportunities to develop resources on indigenous lands in a responsible and sustainable manner, and many First Nations in Canada are using these opportunities to build and rebuild their nations, build skills and capacities for their people, and build up their economies. They are creating thriving communities in which their people can live, work, and grow.

With the reality of climate change and the prospects of green energy, there is a growing global demand for natural resources and energy. This creates an opportunity for us to shift the view from what is too often seen as the “indigenous problem” to one of “indigenous potential.”

In Canada, First Nations citizens can add over $400 billion to the economy by 2026 if we close the education and labour-force gap between First Nations and other Canadians. As the fastest and largest growing segment of Canada’s population, with almost half of our people under the age of 25, First Nations citizens in Canada could fill the looming labour shortage created by Canada’s aging, retiring population.

By increasing and improving the collective understanding of indigenous rights, responsibilities, and opportunities in relation to resource development, we can, and will, create the space for indigenous citizens, communities, and economies to thrive. These are the factors that recently brought together more than 800 indigenous leaders and citizens and representatives from government and industry from around the world in Niagara Falls for the first-ever International Indigenous Summit on Energy and Mining.

The three-day summit, hosted by the Assembly of First Nations and the National Congress of American Indians, is just one of the many efforts underway to transform the relationship between indigenous peoples and the rest of the world. The summit was a chance for all the key players to identify and discuss effective approaches to energy and resource development, keeping in mind the necessity for approaches that respect indigenous rights and treaties. Through this – and through other relationship-building approaches – we will continue to share experiences and challenges, answer questions, and develop best practices that will eventually lead to increased recognition, respect, partnerships, and prosperity for all.

More and more, First Nations citizens in Canada are taking their rightful place as leaders and active participants in the economy in ways that benefit our peoples, our communities, and our collective future. While there are good examples of effective engagement and agreements between industry and First Nations, there are also too many bad examples. This is our chance to work together to eliminate the bad examples. I have said, recently, that this could be our new fur trade. Indigenous peoples in Canada were essential to the fur trade. We were active participants, providing knowledge and insight to traders, and the traders, in turn, respected our right to our resources, lands, and territories.

First Nations are not opposed to development, but we do not believe in development at any cost. We continue to advocate for the full implementation of the United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples and the principle of free, prior, and informed consent before any development occurs. That means consulting and accommodating First Nations prior to development. Our mantra is: “Engage early and engage often.” This is necessary to establish the relationships required to build effective partnerships and agreements between First Nations, governments, and industry.

As stewards of the land, as fathers and mothers, and as business people and community leaders, indigenous peoples in Canada have a responsibility to our ancestors to fulfill their vision. This is a vision of strong, healthy communities that are thriving in our languages, cultures, and economies. With this knowledge and respect for our ancestors and Elders, we continually seek an important balance – living and learning according to their wisdom while gaining the knowledge and support we need to fulfill our roles and responsibilities for future generations.

Those who attended the International Indigenous Summit on Energy and Mining brought with them their best ideas and best practices. We announced the creation of a First Nations Virtual Institute on Energy and Mining, which will serve as an online tool for sharing information, experience, and data. And everyone who participated agreed we must gather again soon to maintain momentum on this important matter.

We have shown that we can build on existing successes, learn from our challenges, and recognize opportunities for indigenous peoples to work together and lead the way based on the original relationships set out in treaties and the United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples. We can transform these relationships in ways that strengthen our citizens, communities, and economies. This is a win-win situation for everyone. By raising the collective literacy around energy and mining development and the rights of indigenous peoples, we will unleash the full potential and energy of our people in a way that strengthens all of us.

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