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Resource boom holds potential to set all Canadians, aboriginal or non-aboriginal, on a more promising path
Ken Coates is Canada research chair in regional innovation at the University of Saskatchewan and Brian Lee Crowley is managing director of the Macdonald-Laurier Institute, a public policy think-tank in Ottawa.
Regardless of short term ups and downs, Canada’s resource economy is booming as never before. Industrialization and urbanization, chiefly in Asia, will be the unstoppable engine driving the world’s appetite for our resources. This should be an opportunity not just for all Canadians, but especially for many aboriginal Canadians who inhabit the land surrounding the mining and energy projects under-way or planned across the mid and far North.
In fact, this new resource-based wealth could be the key to progress in ending the shameful plight of too many first nations people in Canada. To do so, however, we are going to have to change behaviour and expectations on both sides of the aboriginal/non-aboriginal divide. Happily, far from being a distant and improbable prospect, we can already discern the new shape of the relationship.
Indigenous conflict with resource developers is hardly new. Since the arrival of Europeans, mass evictions, pollution and social turmoil related to resource wealth have been facts of indigenous history.
In one of the most profound changes in recent Canadian history, however, aboriginal people are now poised both to shape and capitalize on the wealth-producing possibilities of resource extraction.
We don’t appreciate the positive significance of what has happened because too many of us are still stuck in the politics of confrontation of the 1980s and 1990s, when indigenous leaders fought for political attention, constitutional guarantees, redress of historical grievances, land claims settlements, self-government and resource rights. That generation of indigenous leaders was hugely successful, and changed the country in the process.
Moreover, the Supreme Court has decreed governments and mining companies have a duty to consult aboriginal people before proceeding with development projects. Like it or not, indigenous peoples will hence-forth be major players in Canada’s resource economy.
In other words, Canada has said “Yes” to many of the demands of indigenous Canadians.
But the most important – and subtlest – change has taken place inside aboriginal communities. A new generation of leaders preoccupied with economic progress has emerged. First nations and Inuit communities across the country have set up development corporations, joint-venture companies with resource firms, locally-and community-owned businesses, and consulting operations. Hundreds of aboriginal students each year attend college and university programs, studying everything from business to engineering, the mining trades and environmental remediation. Thou-sands of aboriginal people now work in the resource sector, with the numbers swelling yearly.
The new realities have also penetrated the corporate boardrooms of the land. Companies are increasingly moving beyond minimum legal requirements, developing substantial partnerships with first nations and Inuit communities, realizing that such actions are not feel-good window-dressing but sound business practice.
For the rest of this column, please go to the Vancouver Sun website: http://www.vancouversun.com/business/shape+centuries+relationship/6963584/story.html