Resource developers and First Nations are finding common ground when it comes to the creation of projects on traditional Native lands. The main ingredient to successful partnerships that benefit everybody seems to be respect.
I have watched First Nations all across Canada interact with resource developers and often there are problems. The main problems seem to stem from the lack of communication between all of the parties involved. When First Nations, resource developers and governments come together in respect for one another and with a will to share in resource development wealth, good things usually happen.
Everyone must remember that First Nations were very much left out of the loop on resource development for more than 100 years. Even though mining, forestry and hydro projects were being developed on traditional lands, Native people never benefited in a big way from these initiatives. For the most part, there were no jobs and few opportunities for First Nation people to receive any kind of financial benefit from huge multi-billion-dollar developments.
In the past, Native traditional lands have been negatively impacted by much of this development. This was disastrous in many cases for First Nation people still living off the land.
Over the past few decades, there have been more Native people accessing education at post-secondary levels. Today I see many Native executives, lawyers, consultants and academics successfully empowering our people. Over the past few decades I have also seen a new willingness by resource developers and governments to consult with First Nation people over initiatives on traditional lands.
It is relatively new to see First Nations partnering with resource developers and government on these projects. I find it exciting and very satisfying to see my people securing good jobs in mining, forestry and hydro development. I think that resource developers are also more sensitive about how they care for the land when creating projects because of First Nation involvement and concerns.
Recently, I reported on the signing of a Resource Development Agreement (RDA) between three Wabun Tribal Council First Nations, Wahgoshig First Nation and Gold Corp of Timmins, Ontario. These kinds of agreements are a positive sign that resource developers are consulting with First Nations in a more inclusive way. These developments have not happened overnight.
I know people like Shawn Batise, Executive Director of Wabun Tribal Council, and his respective First Nation Chiefs have been negotiating for years to create templates for negotiations with resource developers that really work. Although it is a cliché, these negotiated agreements really are a win-win for everybody concerned. There is a lot of expertise needed to identify, initiate contact and negotiate with resource developers coming onto First Nation traditional lands. I find it exciting to see my own people succeeding at research, analysis and communications so that beneficial agreements are reached with resource developers and governments.
I know that so many First Nation Chiefs and Councillors are focused these days on making their communities more self-sufficient. I see evidence of this in many projects where Native people are finding training opportunities and employment in major projects. That means that my people can take care of themselves and provide for their families. They can have access to a lot of the same benefits that non-Native people have known through work for many decades. In general, our quality of life is slowly increasing but we still have a long way to go.
Thanks to leaders like Chief Walter Naveau of Mattagami First Nation, Chief Elenore Hendrix of Matachewan First Nation, Chief Murray Ray of Flying Post First Nation, Chief Dave Babin of Wahgoshig First Nation, and executive powerhouses like Shawn and Jason Batise of Wabun Tribal Council, a lot of First Nation people I know in northeastern Ontario are going to work and living better lives.