Brian Lee Crowley (twitter.com/brianleecrowley) is the Managing Director of the Macdonald-Laurier Institute, an independent non-partisan public policy think tank in Ottawa (http://www.macdonaldlaurier.ca). Ken Coates is the Canada Research Chair in Regional Innovation at the Johnson-Shoyama Graduate School of Public Policy, University of Saskatchewan.
OTTAWA, ON, Dec. 28, 2012/ Troy Media/ – Recent protests organized by the Idle No More movement and angry statements by some Western Canadian Aboriginal leaders reflect real frustration among Indigenous Canadians.
At the same time, several impressive agreements between Aboriginal groups and businesses reveal a burst of job creation, joint ventures and revenue sharing the likes of which Canada has rarely seen.
Which model – anger or cooperation – provides the best window on the future of Indigenous relations with other Canadians?
The answer is “both”. The collaborative arrangements are very real. The recent agreement between Pinehouse First Nation and uranium companies Cameco and Ariva are truly impressive. Cameco, a leader in engagement with First Nations and Metis communities, has a workforce that is 50 per cent Aboriginal and contracts 70 per cent of the supply work to Indigenous firms.
Comparable developments with Syncrude and Suncor in the oil sands have shown great promise. On an even larger scale, Inuit participation with the huge Baffinland (Mary River) mine is truly precedent setting.
Most of the best Aboriginal-business partnerships in the country have been signed in the last 10 years, promising a pattern of job creation, Indigenous business development and community benefits that seemed beyond reach just a decade ago.
The anger, however, is neither phony nor manufactured. The hardship and suffering in many Indigenous communities is as real as it is painful. Schools are underfunded. Housing in many communities is totally unacceptable. Add in serious problems with addiction (including the scourge that is OxyContin), violence, welfare dependency and entrenched poverty and the rage of some Indigenous people becomes all too easy to understand.
This is, therefore, the best of times and the worst of times.
The Government of Canada, pursuing policies of equalizing opportunity, not circumstance, is providing policy tools (like the power to tax, reforms to property holding, heightened requirements for transparency) and investments that support those communities willing to commit to economic engagement and to take bold steps to improve socio-economic conditions among their people. The business community is more willing than ever to support these self-help initiatives. First Nations, Inuit and Métis communities looking to engage with the resource and industrial economy or to otherwise assume responsibility for their future directions are finding strong support.
Many communities, however, are not there yet. Sometimes individual and community dysfunction is too overwhelming. In other instances. the best Indigenous will in the world cannot conjure jobs and growth out of being too far from opportunities. And in still other cases there is still the passive expectation (embodied in the now-defunct Kelowna Accord) that the Government of Canada will swoop in and make everything better through massive spending.
The idea of government-led improvements, popular in the 1970s and 1980s, falls short on two grounds. First, the Government of Canada believes that building on opportunities, not increased transfers, is the best way forward.
For the rest of this article, please go to the Troy Media website: http://www.troymedia.com/2012/12/28/aboriginal-prosperity-must-be-earned/