National Post – Joe Dion
We’re ready to unleash the economic potential of this country. But we have urgent political problems that require leadership and constructive discussion with all Canadians
One year ago, some of the biggest oil-producing First Nations and I published a proposed treaty to kick-start a reconciliation process to help resolve the ongoing impasse between First Nations and Canada’s resource sector. The plan, which I hand-delivered to Prime Minister Justin Trudeau, offered a framework where Aboriginal people would be guaranteed a share of all resource revenue, while First Nations leaders agreed to champion a pipeline to tidewater, and all projects under federal jurisdiction would require their consent. The treaty is one of the few constructive proposals that has been put forward that aims to break the gridlock impeding our economy.
So I understand first hand the challenges that Conrad Black raised in a recent column (“Let’s end the victimhood,” Aug. 5). I do, however, take issue with his high-handed put-down of my people’s history and their economic and cultural contribution to this country.
Black claims that Canadians are interested in addressing First Nations’ legitimate complaints. Yet, he missed an opportunity to personally extend the hand of reconciliation that Indigenous people are looking for. In his words:
“Most of the Indigenous were nomads. They did not occupy this country in the conventional sense, though it is easy to think otherwise when almost every ceremonious official begins all public remarks with a reference to the native group that was traditionally, in pre-European times, at or near the place where they are speaking. They did not build many structures intended to be durable, and mainly lived in tents which they moved frequently (or igloos)… The natives were themselves immigrants, across the Bering Straits between Siberia and Alaska, more than 40,000 years ago.’’
It’s unhelpful in the present environment for Black to diminish my people’s contribution as not measuring up to the achievements of the European settlers who landed here. It’s divisive to treat our people as “others,” distinct from the rest of Canadians. We are your friends, but that friendship cannot be abused. And it’s disrespectful to consider us as “nomads” in our own land, as if we deserved the rigours of colonization foisted upon us, once dispossessed of our lands.
Tellingly, Black didn’t mention that we have key “land rights” that are protected by the Canadian Constitution. That’s why we have been winning in court against resource projects, as the Inuit of Clyde River did as recently as two weeks ago. In that ruling, the Supreme Court of Canada said the following about how government and industry continue to downplay our constitutionally protected land rights:
“No one benefits—not project proponents, not Indigenous peoples, and not non-Indigenous members of affected communities—when projects are prematurely approved only to be subjected to litigation.”
There have now been nearly 250 rulings in favour of Aboriginal rights in the resources sector. That’s why we proposed the treaty in the first place: to use these rulings to show the way forward for Canadians.
We have a resource toolkit that is ready to unleash the economic potential of the country. Our people now have few legal problems in the resources sector (having won most of the cases). Instead, we have a political problem: how to properly implement the law that’s been set out in all these rulings. These problems are urgent. Moreover, the resolution of these problems requires a positive environment to enable constructive discussion with all Canadians. That’s where Black’s negative commentary does the most damage.
Readers may be surprised to hear that natives are just as frustrated as Black is with the lack of concrete action in making this country work as intended. Speaking as a fellow business leader, my community-owned energy company faces all the same trials and tribulations in making ends meet that Black would have once experienced with his companies. The heavy-oil business is a major contributor to our national economic welfare, and we now need the goodwill and appreciation of all Canadians to make our contribution pay off for a better future. Just as Canadians need our goodwill in return. Obviously, we’re in this together.
In 1976, when I was a young chief, I led a delegation of chiefs from Treaty 6 and 7 to petition the Queen for protection of our rights in a repatriated Canadian Constitution, and I delivered a paper on Indian statehood to then prime minister Pierre Trudeau. The paper discussed the very same issues our treaty addresses today. It seeks equity and revenue sharing for our people, who are founders of Canada, who entered Confederation as equal partners. We seek representation in the House of Commons and Senate, and the right to govern ourselves as the provinces do. Having these demands met will require statesmanship — something in short supply at the moment. As an elder, I’m reminding the Government of Canada that all this unfinished work now has to be completed.
My people are serious players in the resource sector and they want the economic benefits that go with that reality. My message to Canadians is this: don’t be swayed by the dead hand of history. We have to get beyond colonial-era put-downs, and together start putting this country to work in the resource sector.