I recently heard an Elder say that we, as the First Peoples, were given resources by the Creator from which we can make a living. He said, “God gave us resources to use from our lands. Our people did commercial fishing where we sold fish to make a living. We have the land and resources we can use instead of not doing anything with it.”
This message by the Elders has been consistent throughout the years and has been voiced repeatedly. When our forefathers engaged in the treaty-making process, they understood that they were agreeing to share the land and the benefits it provides with the newcomers.
Unfortunately, the text of the treaty does not reflect the discussions as remembered by the elders. They recall agreeing to share the lands and its resources for mutual benefit and not mass land surrender.
The written treaty text states that upon signing the “said Indians do hereby cede, release, surrender and yield up to the government of the dominion of Canada, for his Majesty and his successors forever, all their rights, titles and privileges whatsoever, to the lands included within the following limits, …….And his Majesty the King hereby agrees with the said Indians that they should have the right to pursue their usual vocations of hunting, trapping and fishing throughout the tract surrendered….subject to such regulations as may from time to time be made by the government of the country, acting under the authority of his Majesty, and saving and excepting such tracts as may be required or taken up from time to time for settlement, mining, lumbering, trading and other purposes.”
Throughout Noopemig, northern-based mining, forestry, tourism and agricultural industries contribute more than $23 billion annually to the Ontario economy.
In March of 2006, then Minister of Aboriginal Affairs, (MAA) David Ramsey, announced the Northern Table process (now called Oshki-Machiitawin) with the Nishnawbe Aski Nation (NAN) Chiefs, where he stated, “Today, we are embarking on something new and different. The new political level Northern Table will address some of the challenges to achieving prosperity and well-being in northern Ontario and enable First Nation communities in the north to share fairly in the benefits of natural resource development.”
When the NAN Chiefs asked Minister Ramsey to stop issuing permits while discussions were being held at the newly established Northern Table, he responded, “If you want a piece of the pie, you have to allow development to continue.” As development continued, mining itself generated $11 billion in 2007.
Two years later in July 2008, Premier McGuinty made an announcement on the Far North including a commitment to resource benefit sharing. “The province will create an incentive for communities to allow exploration by ensuring they get ‘a piece of the action’ by way of a resource benefit sharing plan.”
When introducing the Mining Amendment Act in April 2009, Minister of Northern Development, Mines and Forestry, Michael Gravelle stated, “Working in conjunction with other government initiatives—such as the Far North Planning initiative and the $30 million set aside for Resource Benefits Sharing —our proposed legislation would foster partnerships in development…promoting prosperity for Aboriginal communities and Ontario as a whole.”
If the $30 million set aside for Resource Benefits Sharing represents a “piece of the pie,” or a “piece of the action,” the fair share from resource benefit sharing for each of the 49 NAN communities amounted to $612, 244.89 when Minister Ramsey made his announcement in March 2006. That was 3.5 years ago, which, when divided over the same period would result in a lower amount.
It appears that while NAN Chiefs are talking about “revenue-sharing,” which is consistent with the elders understanding of the treaty commitments, the government announcements reference “resource-benefits sharing” which can be at the opposite ends of the spectrum much like “a piece of the action” or “a piece of the pie.”
Resource benefits sharing could include employment and business opportunities while revenue-sharing would include the values realized from the mass volumes of resource extractions that have occurred and can occur throughout Noopemig, including royalties, user-fees and the like. However, the $30 million is referred to as a “down-payment” from resource benefit sharing and not revenue-sharing.
Ontario, through the MAA, communicated to the NAN technical working group that they were considering including the Métis Nation of Ontario in the resource benefit sharing discussions. Additionally, the Chiefs of Ontario, (COO) under its Joint Ipperwash Technical Table, has one of its seven work plans developed as Resource Revenue Sharing. The sub-table heading of Resource Benefit Sharing (RBS) references the April, 2009 provincial announcement, “setting aside $30 million” for future resource benefit payments to First Nations in Ontario. So instead of just the 49 NAN communities, the $30 million will be disbursed amongst the 134 First Nation communities in Ontario and including the Métis Nation.
The work on the resource revenue sharing system must be completed by December 2010, basically guaranteeing that the down payment will not flow anytime soon, providing that once all is said and done, there will be enough left to disburse that will make a difference.
One other government initiative is the Proposed Northern Growth Plan which will strengthen the northern economy. One of the key actions identified in the 25 year plan is “building relationships with Aboriginal people to increase participation in the future economic growth of Northern Ontario and achieve better health status for Aboriginal communities.”
Minister Gravelle says, “The true strength of the north is its people, their resourcefulness and their entrepreneurial spirit. We are harnessing these qualities to develop a Grand Plan for Northern Ontario that is built by northerners, for northerners. We look forward to reaping the benefits in an innovative, robust and competitive northern economy.”
The First Peoples throughout Noopemig continue to wait for the benefits to flow from the treaties for their fair share from the resources extracted from Dunakiiwin…