Some choices for Canada’s native leadership in 2015

Bill Gallagher The native legal winning streak hit the 200 mark the same week that Perry Bellegarde was elected national chief of the Assembly of First Nations. I submit that of the two events, the winning streak is the more important. That's because no


by Bill Gallagher

The native legal winning streak hit the 200 mark the same week that Perry Bellegarde was elected national chief of the Assembly of First Nations. I submit that of the two events, the winning streak is the more important.

That’s because no matter how much effort the AFN puts into advancing other issues, the fact remains that the key to gaining access to the corridors of power lies in aboriginal peoples commercializing their hard-won legal empowerment in the resources sector.

But this dialogue is not happening in a meaningful way (albeit with a couple of notable exceptions) and their winning streak has become one of the main factors why Canada’s resource economy is struggling. You’d think that with 200 legal wins, the native leadership would be positioning to become a resource sector driver in a bid to chart a new course.

Recently the Globe and Mail started running an opinion series called “Rich Country Poor Nations,” about the disparity facing aboriginal outcomes. But I take issue with the concept that we’re a rich country, since every newspaper’s business section on resource access reads like the obituary section. That’s because every resource sector today has dismal industry headlines – some at the hands of native strategists – and coming to a climax right at the time of the AFN election.

Here’s a partial list of such headlines drawn from national print media from the date of Chief Bellegarde’s election as national chief, to underscore the fact that in 2015, fostering commercial opportunities might actually be the better way to go, instead of more litigation (which is becoming quite repetitive in terms of legal rationales).

Dec. 9: New AFN head promises to be catalyst for change; Dec. 17: Site C project still faces major hurdles; Dec. 30: The fight for Energy East.

Jan. 5: Canadian prosperity requires a strong resource industry; Jan. 13: Exxon pledges to work with First Nations; Jan. 23: Revenue sharing is an idea whose time has come; Jan. 31: First Nations demand halt to Energy East NEB review.

Feb. 1: Premiers nearing energy strategy; Feb. 5: Quagmire in native land; Feb. 6: CEAA Notice of Termination: Cliffs Chromite Project.

This is what the downward spiral in Canada’s resource economy looks like today (not to mention reduced revenue streams as a result of energy sector compression). And there’s nothing good in this for future community development anywhere.

Thus I submit: now’s the time to reverse this negative economic trend by engaging in constructive negotiations; so as to benefit from the new tool-box wielded by Inuit, Metis and First Nations, that is literally overflowing with 200 legal wins, surging resource empowerment and real economic opportunity.

The incoming national chief should recognize that the Harper government’s prior commitment to the (now aborted) “First Nations Control of First Nations Education Act” was to address this important issue, such that it would foster a rapprochement on resource access, which remains the No. 1 issue in Ottawa’s energy export platform.

Had that succeeded, I have no doubt that Shawn Atleo would still be national chief and progress would be made today on more equitable arrangements respecting access to resources. Instead, critically needed resource projects continue to spin around in the native empowerment blender without any upside in sight; not for governments, not for proponents, and most definitely not for aboriginal peoples.

As it is, the native legal winning streak is now a definite contributor to resource projects not happening. But it doesn’t have to be this way, and neither should it be.

So, back to that “Rich Country Poor Nations” series running. The AFN and all the regional native leadership right across the country now have a straightforward choice to make:

Are you going to keep litigating proposed resource projects, or are you prepared to constructively engage and develop a rapprochement with Canada and the provinces respecting access to resources?

If you are prepared to engage? Then now’s the time to show true leadership, and there’s not a moment to lose as the hollowing-out of resource opportunities continues apace north of the Trans Canada Highway, notably on traditional lands.

If you’re not prepared to engage, then know that that “Rich Country Poor Nations” headline (in my view) is a resource sector misnomer – because quite simply we’re not that rich! Also know that refusal to engage will make the native legal winning streak appear problematic in terms of public relations (as a negative economic factor dragging projects down) on account of not producing a host of critically needed commercial outcomes. Its time to put those legal wins to work.

All Canada has to benefit – including first and foremost aboriginal peoples.

Bill Gallagher is a strategist, lawyer and author of Resource Rulers: Fortune and Folly on Canada’s road to Resources. This article originally appeared in First Perspective.

Get local stories you won't find anywhere else right to your inbox.
Sign up here

Just Posted

Yukon Employees’ Union says a lack of staff training and high turnover at the Whitehorse Emergency Shelter is creating a dangerous situation for underpaid workers. (Crystal Schick/Yukon News file)
Yukon Employees’ Union says lack of training at emergency shelter leading to unsafe situations

Health and Social Services Minister Pauline Frost said the staffing policy “is evolving”

Justice Karen Wenckebach will begin serving as resident judge on the Yukon Supreme Court early next year. (Crystal Schick/Yukon News)
All-female justice roster ‘a good step’ for diversity in Yukon Supreme Court

Karen Wenckebach is the third woman appointed to the Yukon Supreme Court in history

The Liberal government blocked a motion by Yukon Party MLA Brad Cathers that would have asked the federal government to provide the territories with more than a per capita amount of COVID-19 vaccine doses during initial distribution. (Crystal Schick/Yukon News file)
Yukon Party says a per capita distribution of vaccines would leave Yukon short

The opposition is also asking the government to release their plan for vaccine distribution


Wyatt’s World for Dec. 4, 2020

Dawson City’s BHB Storage facility experienced a break-and-enter last month, according to Yukon RCMP. (File photo)
Storage lockers damaged, items stolen in Dawson City

BHB Storage facility victim to second Dawson City break-and-enter last month

A sign outside the Yukon Inn Convention Centre indicates Yukoners can get a flu vaccine inside. As of Dec. 4, the vaccinations won’t be available at the convention centre. (Crystal Schick/Yukon News)
Whitehorse Convention Centre ends flu vaccination service early

Flu vaccinations won’t be available at the Whitehorse Convention Centre after Dec.… Continue reading

Whitehorse City Hall. (Joel Krahn/Yukon News file)
City hall, briefly

A look at decisions made by Whitehorse city council this week

Nominations continue to be open for Northern Tutchone members of the White River First Nation to run for councillors in the 2021 election. (Maura Forrest/Yukon News File)
White River First Nation to elect new chief and council

Nominations continue to be open for Northern Tutchone members of the White… Continue reading

The Town of Watson Lake has elected John Devries as a new councillor in a byelection held Dec. 3. (Wikimedia Commons)
Watson Lake elects new councillor

The Town of Watson Lake has elected John Devries as a new… Continue reading

The new Little Salmon Carmacks First Nation council elected Dec. 1. (Submitted)
Little Salmon Carmacks elects new chief, council

Nicole Tom elected chief of Little Salmon Carcmacks First Nation

Submitted/Yukon News file
Yukon RCMP’s Historical Case Unit is seeking information related to the unsolved homicide of Allan Donald Waugh, 69, who was found deceased in his house on May 30, 2014.
Yukon RCMP investigating unsolved Allan Waugh homicide

Yukon RCMP’s Historical Case Unit is seeking information related to an unsolved… Continue reading

A jogger runs along Millenium Trail as the sun rises over the trees around 11 a.m. in Whitehorse on Dec. 12, 2018. The City of Whitehorse could soon have a new trail plan in place to serve as a guide in managing the more than 233 kilometres of trails the city manages. (Crystal Schick/Yukon News file)
2020 trail plan comes forward

Policies and bylaws would look at e-mobility devices

Snow-making machines are pushed and pulled uphill at Mount Sima in 2015. The ski hill will be converting snow-making to electric power with more than $5 million in funding from the territorial and federal governments. (Joel Krahn/Yukon News file)
Mount Sima funded to cut diesel reliance

Mount Sima ski hill is converting its snowmaking to electric power with… Continue reading

Most Read