Federal Indian Affairs Minister Jim Prentice has appointed Grand Chief Matthew Mukash to the National Aboriginal Economic Development Board.
“I’m very excited about it,” said Mukash. “Minister Prentice mentioned it to me at a meeting sometime last fall that he’d be interested to have someone from the Cree Nation leadership on the board. He asked me what I felt about it. That’s how it all began.”
Although the board had not had its first meeting as of press time, Mukash’s tasks will be similar to his former job as Director of the Whapmagoostui Eeyou Economic Development Corporation (WEEDCO).
“I think it’s time they use Aboriginal people to advise them on how economic development should be promoted in the Aboriginal communities in Canada,” the Grand Chief said.
Mukash was named to the board in late April along with five other Aboriginal leaders across Canada, including Chairperson Clarence Louie of the Osoyoos Indian Band.
Mukash’s appointment means he and his colleagues are responsible for developing and advising the federal government on viable solutions to the lack of economic opportunity and high unemployment rates that plague Aboriginal communities. The mandate also touches on policy, programming, and program coordination matters related to Aboriginal economic development.
“This is an outstanding group of individuals whose experience and achievement in business, community development, public service, finance, and other fields, allow us to create a renewed and re-energized National Board,” Indian Affairs Minister Jim Prentice said.
“I think the Cree Nation is a good example of an Aboriginal Nation in Canada that has done pretty well in terms of developing economically,” Mukash told the Nation.
“I’m going to suggest that there be a comprehensive plan developed to include all First Nations in Canada and to take the example of the Crees in terms of setting up entities like Air Creebec and Creeco,” he said.
Mukash said his vision of a stronger economic Aboriginal community includes creative ways to get much-needed funds from organizations not often used by Aboriginal bands.
“When I was at WEEDCO, we got our funding from Whapmagootsui’s portion of the Paix des Braves for economic development,” he said. “It was not substantial, but we were able to get some grant money from different sectors and departments of the government and from the banks. That’s the way to operate. We can’t keep thinking it’s only the government that can give you money, it’s not the way it works.”
Crees have to be innovative, he emphasized, saying he’d like the board to look beyond resource development to include science and technology in their economic vision.
“The World Bank has a program for Aboriginal peoples and there are other similar institutons that are willing to help Aboriginal communities in the world to develop. They should be approached to promote the welfare of Aboriginal people in the country,” he said.
“What’s important is to make these economic institutions to operate like any economic entity. When you want to promote a project or a strategy, you don’t look for government handouts. You can do 100 times better if you know how to attract investors into your project. It works and that’s what I’m willing to promote.”