Economic Development: A Tool for Reconciliation and Collaboration With First Nations
On February 11 and 23, 2021, the Assembly of First Nations Québec-Labrador (AFNQL) facilitated two virtual roundtables with the theme “Economic development as a safeguard against racism and discrimination toward the First Nations”. Following is a summary of the highlights from these roundtables.
The roundtables were facilitated by the Chief of the Assembly of First Nations Québec-Labrador (AFNQL) Ghislain Picard and are a part of a series of webinars whose objective is to initiate reflection with various “allies” on racism and discrimination toward Québec First Nations. The roundtables were able to rely on the participation of Indigenous and non-Indigenous representatives from Québec’s business sector.
The main topic was discussed through three themes: improvement of social conditions and reduction of inequalities; the role of First Nations in major projects; and the future of economic alliances between Indigenous and non-Indigenous people.
Before going to the heart of the topic, an overview of First Nations economic development was provided, despite the difficulty with this exercise due to variability of data. However, a trend emerged from this: diversity because there are as many situations as there are communities. These situations are influenced by:
- Communities’ geographical location.
- Integration of First Nations into major regional projects.
- Openness of governments and organizations toward Indigenous people.
- Development models within communities (private entrepreneurship, community entrepreneurship, or a hybrid model).
First Nations businesses are particularly present in the following areas:
It is also important to mention certain specificities of the First Nations economic model:
- Local governments are the major employers in the communities.
- Indigenous businesses inject a lot of money in regional economies (ex.: purchase of non-Indigenous services).
Improvement of social conditions and reduction of inequalities
There are numerous obstacles to First Nations economic development. Among these we find:
- Lack of engagement and support from governments.
- Restrictive legislative policies.
- An “obsolete” Indian Act.
- Extremely limited access to capital from financial institutions.
- Knowledge deficit of the context, history, and realities of First Nations.
- Social, cultural, and psychological barriers that must be overcome.
- Willingness of governments and organizations to involve First Nations members on projects.
- The development and integration of the Indigenous workforce.
To overcome these obstacles and ensure success, Indigenous businesses must be capable of identifying business opportunities, know how to communicate, and construct their identity and values. This also implies openness, training, and collaboration of stakeholders.
To a different degree, the social economy model (whose values are like those of First Nations) can constitute a solution to improve social conditions and reduce inequalities for First Nations, as well as being a tool for self‑determination. In fact, this model is based on groups of people or collectivities that have confidence in their knowledge to meet local or broader needs and contribute to the development of the territory. Social economy can also be a means of bringing people together because of the Indigenous and non-Indigenous poles sharing common values and missions.
Role of First Nations in major projects
The involvement of First Nations in major projects largely depends on the willingness and openness of governments and organizations of integrating them in economic and territorial development measures. These rapprochements are indeed possible, as shown by the following example:
- The Apuiat project brings together seven Innu communities of the Côte-Nord and the Boralex company, to construct a wind farm of 200 megawatts on the traditional territory (Nitassinan) of Uashat mak Mani‑Utenam and on public lands of the city of Port-Cartier in the Côte-Nord region.
- The “Kipawa Tourism” initiative, contributing to the development of a common tourist strategy by Kebaowek First Nation, the City of Témiskaming, and the Municipality of Kipawa.
The willingness of current governments to accelerate infrastructure projects constitute an opportunity not to be missed for the integration of Indigenous businesses in the process, investment in infrastructure to develop their skills and therefore allowing them to compete on an equal basis against other economic actors.
Other possible solutions could be the integration of First Nations representatives in chambers of commerce throughout the Québec territory, as well as the integration of Indigenous businesses in government supply chains.
Future of economic alliances between Indigenous and non-Indigenous peoples
Economic alliances with First Nations can be in various forms and are mainly implemented in natural resources. There are examples demonstrating the interest in and relevance of these alliances. Such is the case with the historic agreement, dubbed as the Peace of the Braves, concluded between Québec and the Crees in 2002 to pursue economic development on the James Bay territory and contribute to the fulfilment of the Cree Nation.
Many solutions to ensure economic alliances between Indigenous and non-Indigenous peoples can be proposed:
- Provide training for government representatives and business managers on the context and realities of First Nations.
- Provide training to Indigenous people and integrate them into the labour market, particularly outside the community.
- Establish more public/private or private/private partnerships with Indigenous businesses.
- Develop infrastructures and skills in technologies to connect rural communities.
- Offer a platform for First Nations in Québec chambers of commerce.
- Rethink development methods according to the realities of each.
- Create opportunities to meet with Indigenous entrepreneurs, as in the past through dedicated economic forums.
Although a lot is left to be done, the key to success resides in the recognition of the contribution, collaboration, reciprocity, and openness of participants (Indigenous and non-Indigenous). It is therefore our duty to build a common future together for prosperity and cooperation.
To consult other articles on First Nations economic development, we invite you to consult our blog.