Negotiation is better than conflict

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My people have come a long way in obtaining a life with more opportunity and hope. Through education First Nation people all over Canada are moving into leadership roles in government and private enterprise, in both Native and non-Native initiatives. We have very intelligent, well-educated, strong and capable leaders in politics, law, education, business and every sector of Canadian society.

I have seen much progress in First Nations first-hand with the communities that make up the Wabun Tribal Council in northeastern Ontario. Over the past 20 years I have watched these First Nations led by their chiefs and supported by an administration headed by Shawn Batise as they began to lobby government and the private-sector resource industries. Over the years, Wabun has become internationally known for negotiating all kinds of agreements with government and the private sector that provide benefits to Wabun First Nations.

Wabun is well recognized across Canada for its expertise in this area and Batise and the chiefs have shared their knowledge with other Native organizations. For so many years Native people were left out of the loop when it came to participating in development on traditional lands. That has changed with legal decisions, an evolution in the will of government and industry to negotiate with First Nations over development of traditional lands.

I am not saying that every agreement made with developers and government is perfect. This new arrangement is taking time to evolve as everyone learns how to better negotiate and produce fair deals that at the same time consider environmental and conservation issues. It makes me feel good to know that so many people are going to work and making a better quality of life because of negotiated deals on development. I know that the Wabun First Nations are enjoy better housing, improved infrastructure and generally safer, healthier and better community administrations.

Back home in Attawapiskat, my family, friends and a new generation have good jobs with the development of the De Beers Canada Victor Mine. Through negotiations with the company and First Nation leadership financial support is provided to the community and training and good jobs are now available for many members. Are things perfect? No, of course not, but at instead of being left out of the loop as things were done in the bad old days, we as First Nation people are being listened to and respected when it comes to development on our lands.

De Beers is considering further mineral exploration in what is known as the Tango Extension. If this happens and the results are good the current mine will not close in 2018 and instead continue to produce. If mutually advantageous negotiations can be conducted between De Beers and Attawapiskat then this exploration makes sense as there is a skilled workforce already in place, a mine with infrastructure and capability, plus a template to follow for further development. Rather than create conflict and mistrust, we should be making sure we have a place at the table.

Sure, we as First Nation people are close to the land and hold our cultural and traditional lives as sacred. However, we should still be able to benefit from industrial activity on our lands and require that the private sector and government ensure that the land, environment, the creatures, the water and the air are protected.

We can build all these requirements into any development agreements and demand that we have our own experts on hand to protect Mother Earth. Many of the top executives with government and resource development these days are open, well-educated, sensitive and well-meaning. Gone are the days when racism, intolerance and a colonial attitude were accepted as inevitable. In fact, governments and the private sector are increasingly figuring out that, if they are fair upfront, honest about their developments in terms of benefits to First Nations and willing to make sure the environment is protected, good things happen for everybody.

There will still be highs and lows in this development process, but there should always be a way to negotiate and solve problems. Yes, we can always revert to protest and blockades. At times these tactics will still be needed. But there are better and more productive ways to solve problems and allow responsible resource development to take place.

I want my people, my family, my friends and our future generations to have good jobs, a decent quality of life and still know that Mother Earth is being protected and respected. We can do it together. The future is as bright and as beautiful as we want to make it.

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