There is a lot of activity happening in Canada’s northern regions. We always knew that resource development would happen some day near our remote First Nation communities. After all, we are surrounded by millions of acres of untouched forests. Very few people know what lies under the rock and the mushkeg. The rivers are brimming with untapped hydroelectric power.
For all sorts of reasons, this potential development never happened in the past. Whether it was due to timing, remoteness and high capital costs, the Far North has been slow to develop. Now this is all changing and, more and more, companies are looking to our traditional lands in search of natural resources to develop hydro-electric, forestry and mining projects.
Most First Nations look forward to many of these developments as they will mean jobs and business opportunities for community members. These resource-based projects provide some hope for a prosperous future instead of looking towards uncertain government funding to develop our communities.
But this development is a double-edged sword for First Nations communities. Even though we look forward to potential prosperity, we also understand that these activities are taking place on our traditional lands and they will forever change the way we live.
Massive projects which remove great tracts of forest, change the course of rivers and gouge the land will inevitably mean that many of our traditional ways are lost or constrained. Our people have great respect for the land and when it is altered in a substantial way we wonder what will happen to the wilderness, to the environment and to the creatures that live on the land.
So much is changing so fast. Resource-based projects are moving ahead and we will have to adapt. These wide-ranging projects may take years to complete. In the end they will affect just about every aspect of our lives and the lives of generations to come.
Sometimes these projects are already well established before nearby First Nations gain an understanding of what they mean for the future. These fast-paced situations create conflicts for First Nations dealing with companies working on their traditional lands.
This past summer there was a major ruling involving the case of Platinex Inc. vs. Kitchenuhmaykoosib Inninuwug First Nation, in which the Ontario Supreme Court upheld an injunction that prevented Platinex from moving ahead with development without consultation with the First Nation involved. Now, all parties have the opportunity to sit down and implement the project in a mutually respectful way.
Regretfully, First Nations have had to fight for the right to be consulted and included in projects that are taking place on their lands. Provincial and federal governments are slow to put in place a structure that would make this process easier by providing revenue sharing. The sooner that this can happen, the better it will be for resource companies so that projects can move ahead without hitches.
In northeastern Ontario, the Wabun Tribal Council has been very active in negotiating and working with resource companies. Recently, three of the tribal council’s communities – Wahgoshig, Matachewan and Mattagami – came together to negotiate with Liberty Mines to develop several mining projects in the Timmins area. The three communities have signed a Memorandum of Understanding with the mining company. The communities agreed to support continued development in return for benefits, opportunities and that promise of future negotiations to address the First Nation’s concerns regarding mining development.
Resource companies that are planning for the future now realize they are the new kids on the block. We First Nation peoples have been following our traditional pursuits on our lands since the dawn of time. It is good to see First Nations and the resource developers sitting down at the table to negotiate agreements that make life easier for everyone.
Gone are the days of unbridled development and the exclusion of First Nations from their traditional lands. We have a lot to offer when it comes to development on our lands. We have an ancient and sacred trust as keepers of the land and although we do not want to rule out beneficial resource development we certainly have a different perspective when it comes to a relationship with the land.