There is a lot of attention being paid these days to our First Nations communities and nearby traditional hunting and trapping areas. The fact is that most of the big mining and forestry companies are looking at these lands to make a profit. Many of our First Nations communities are situated in or close to places that have a lot of potential regarding forest and mineral resources.

The bad news is that we, as First Nations people, have been left out of the picture for a very long time. Very few of our people have worked in the forestry or mining areas although the actions of these big companies have had an impact on our way of life. Most of our work in the past has had to do with education and government funded opportunities on our communities. It has been very difficult for our people to find employment in remote First Nations communities.

The good news is that partnerships and meaningful agreements are increasingly being developed between First Nations communities and mining and forestry companies. These companies are realizing that it is well worth the effort to forge meaningful relationships with First Nations communities. It is good to see our people benefit from jobs and development happening in and around our communities.

I think a lot of people don’t realize we have been a forgotten people through the actions of former governments. Our people were forced to give up their nomadic lifestyle of gathering food and living off the land. We were driven into small units of land where it was difficult to maintain our lifestyle and impossible to find employment.

In the later stages of this arrangement we became more or less wards of the government and that has further demoralized our people. Many children throughout the last several decades were taken from their parents and their homes to attend residential schools and we have suffered much from this policy. Somehow we have managed to survive and to thrive although many of us are wounded.

It is gratifying to see new partnerships that allow us as First Nations people to benefit from the harvesting of natural resources in our areas. The future looks bright with the promise of employment in these ventures that are developing on or near our traditional lands.

Today we have a strong leadership that fights for our rights. We have a leadership that is well educated, intelligent and dedicated to our people.

People like Grand Chief Lawrence Martin of Mushegowuk Council, Grand Chief Stan Beardy of Nishnawbe-Aski Nation, Shawn Batise of Wabun Tribal Council, Bentley Cheechoo of Matawa First Nations Management, Regional Vice Chief Charles Fox of the Chiefs of Ontario and Grand Chief Matthew Coon Come of the Assembly of First Nations are all committed to putting our people to work and providing a better life for them.

The federal and provincial governments must continue to support partnership initiatives with the funding of groups like Mamo-Wichi-Hetiwin Employment and Training in my area, so that our people can be trained and educated for opportunities that arise out of these partnerships and agreements.

Perhaps non-Native people wonder sometimes why we protest and why we are making such a racket about issues that deal with our lands. If everyone just took a moment to think about it I am sure they would realize it is only fair that First Nations people are finally being provided an opportunity to benefit from development in their own backyards. I am hopeful, as many of our leaders are, that this new trend of good will and fair sharing continues. We all need the opportunity to make a living, to provide for our families and to feel good about ourselves.