The business of First Nation government

First Nations are beggars on their own land, says Jerry Asp. "Everybody talks self-government in the Indian world," said the C3 Alliance Corporation president.

First Nations are beggars on their own land, says Jerry Asp.

“Everybody talks self-government in the Indian world,” said the C3 Alliance Corporation president.

“But the only way you can have self-government is with a land base and an economic base. Land claims are going to give a land base but it’s only through business you’re going to develop an economic base.

“Without business, without seriously looking at the resources in your traditional territory, you’ll always be administering your own poverty.

“As long as Indian Affairs controls our money, they couldn’t care less what kind of laws we make.”

Asp has been saying this for at least 20 years.

And he was in Whitehorse this week to say it again.

Over the last 62 years, Asp has been a miner, a chief and the founder of a handful of some of the most prosperous development corporations and aboriginal business and mining associations in the country.

Most recently, the Prospectors and Developers Association of Canada gave Asp the Skookum Jim Award for aboriginal achievement in the mining industry.

But Asp hasn’t always been in the business.

He was born in the bush near Dease Lake and lived trapping beaver.

Living off the land is “a tough life,” he said. “People can romanticize all they want but … I’ve been through it, I’ve done it. And today, to be truthful, I’d much rather do what I do now.”

Of all his many accomplishments and the millions he’s made, Asp speaks most passionately about one specific feat.

“I took the Tahltan nation from 98 per cent unemployment in the winter and 65 per cent in the summer to zero in the summer and five per cent in the winter,” he said. “Just through mining, just because we embraced the mining industry and worked with them.”

That is the goal behind the Canadian Aboriginal Minerals Association conferences, like the one he’s hosting in Whitehorse, this week.

Asp founded the association in 1991 because he had lost count of the number of aboriginal/mining conferences that achieved nothing, he said.

“Mining companies, resource developers and First Nations just couldn’t talk together, so we started CAMA to bring them together in a nonthreatening environment,” he said.

The association put on the Yukon Aboriginal Peoples Resource Opportunities Conference last year, and it’s back by popular demand.

“They can just sit and have a cup of tea and talk about the weather, as opposed to a fight over some issue,” said Asp. “Cut the bullshit and everyone is speaking the same language.”

This year, the number of participants and booths at the job fair has doubled, he said.

Dave Austin was trying to organize a job fair at Yukon College this week, but no one could attend.

“Everyone was busy coming here,” he said.

So the college partnered with the conference.

Approximately 30 college students left the fair with jobs, said Asp.

The first, full day of the conference showcased the Yukon’s biggest mining companies.

On day two, local First Nation development corporations took the podium.

Numerous chiefs, public government officials and other industry and aboriginal bigwigs attended as well.

But Liard First Nation Chief Liard McMillian was not there.

Currently, he’s the only chief in the Yukon to be actively opposing mineral development on his traditional territory.

But McMillian did send the head of his development corporation, Alex Morrison.

The current zinc-lead development by Selwyn Chihong Mining Ltd. has already faced considerable resistance from the unsigned Kaska nation over environmental concerns.

In the past, McMillan has said he is acting on the wishes of his elders and people.

But when Asp heard that, he shook his head.

“He’s being told by his consultants who are collecting a paycheque,” he said.

Asp’s own elders told him those pretty rocks were put there to use, just like the fish and animals.

“The trick is to use them respectfully,” he said. “If Liard doesn’t get in, they will miss out on the main opportunities.”

McMillan’s absence didn’t seem to worry Premier Dennis Fentie, who has been an integral part of getting Asp and this conference to the territory.

“The chief might have been busy,” he said. “I don’t think this demonstrates at all that the Kaska people are against the mine. I think what they’re trying to ascertain is how they can become more involved in that particular project.”

Asp is harsh on mining industry “dinosaurs,” as well.

“They have to listen to First Nations,” he said.

But while they have to listen, constitutionally entrenched aboriginal rights do not give First Nations veto power, said Asp.

Development projects will go through whether First Nations are involved or not, so why not capitalize on the opportunities developments offer? he said.

“Unless you want to live on welfare all your life.”

Contact Roxanne Stasyszyn at