Effect Of Industry On First Nations In The New Era

Effect Of Industry On First Nations In The New Era

The economic status of First Nations has been improving over the last two decades. Reasons like the Tsilhqot’in decision, enactment or amendment of federal laws regarding reservation land use, and better understanding of First Nations, their history and their current realities by the general public have much to do with it. However, First Nation people seem to have benefited economically the most when they are direct participants and stewards of their own economic development, community growth and overall self-determination.

Changing Mindsets

For a long time First Nations engaged in an unbalanced process with the government in an ‘either’ and ‘or’ situation. For years some First Nation groups opposed industrial development on their land especially from oil, energy and mining sectors.
As witnessed most recently in Alberta, First Nations have used energy projects on or near their traditional land as a means of economic opportunity through participation and negotiating impact benefit agreements (IBA’s) and Joint Ventures with industry. Currently in British Columbia, First Nations are at the table with the LNG companies and the BC Government working to negotiate fair, equitable partnerships, whether equity, business development or cash IBAs.

These First Nations are joining the mainstream economy, and are forcing a different paradigm of thinking about how we view new development projects. While they see new projects in the energy or mining sector as opportunities for First Nations development in the form of job opportunities, economic independence and business development strategies, they also see an opportunity to negotiate long term economic deals. Most, if not all First Nations see these projects as a way to change the way industry and business thinks and behaves. With legal precendents in hand, they are forcing the discussion around long term stewardship of land as a required condition for any development.

The primary condition of economic development on First Nations territory is that any venture honours, respects and preserves the land as well as the people. This mindset has brought about some major changes for First Nations people, arguably placing them at the forefront of progressive thinking regarding sustainable resource management at a time when awareness of environmental impacts are becoming mainstream. Consider the recent Alliance of 36 Hereditary and Elected Chiefs from 15 Nations who have signed on to an MOU that among other agreements, commits to Land and Environmental Stewardship as part of any Industrial Project’s proposal in the Northern BC Territories.

Then there are the younger generation of First Nations who are benefitting from more fulsome education than previous generations and therefore, are better positioned to benefit from the economic opportunities that exist for them in their home community. The present-day educated First Nation youth is more business-minded and focused on the present and future economic development of the community.

First Nations people often struggle with deep-seated, yet conflicting values and beliefs when it comes to responding to non-aboriginal industries that want to harvest and/or move natural resources. However, work has been done by some companies to take initiative to better understand, engage and communicate with First Nations people and encourage their participation in corporations with employment opportunities, participation, and better salaries. Equity ownership is increasingly part of the discussion. This is a classic transformation from patriarchal approaches to a more collaborative “you teach us, we’ll teach you” strategy.

Utilizing opportunities

There are now many stories in the news about First Nations people taking initiatives to improve their economic and social situation by creating, controlling and managing their own businesses. They are also paving the way for others in the community by providing them with job training and additional opportunities. It has also put more focus on higher education and its importance for First Nations people. Professionals working with First Nations have a responsibility to pass along technical expertise in keeping with the philosophy of “Building Strength From Within”.

Financial security has made it possible for successful First Nations people to give back to their community in many ways. Successful community members are leading by example that economic growth is possible through 5 key initiatives:

  • Making decisions based on the best interest of their own economic growth and prosperity.
  • Understanding the importance of formal higher education (university, college and technical certifications).
  • Aiming for, and demanding, better job opportunities, as well as moving higher up in the hierarchy.
  • Engaging in better partnerships with various agencies for their own development and also participating in the country’s development.
  • Seeking minority/majority ownership stakes in business interests

GMG Consulting is a relationship-based company committed to building strength from within by partnering with aboriginal communities and organizations, as well as governments and resource-based industries, towards positive outcomes for aboriginal people through Economic Development, Health and Social Wellness and Training. Contact us to find out more about how we First Nations communities with their economic development.