Treaty Renewal is Canada’s Biggest Challenge

Land Claims & Treaty Land Entitlement | Resources and Environment | Self-Government

Bob Final

How is renewal of the historic treaties critical to Canada’s future? Bob Rae, a senior partner at OKT, asked this question to a packed room at the University of Regina last week, before fielding more questions from an attentive crowd and media.

Rae explored self-government and access to revenues from resource development as a cornerstone for building healthy Aboriginal communities. “Canada needs an agenda on self-government,” he emphasized. “We need an agenda on revenue-sharing, on empowerment. We need an agenda on education, housing, and the urban future for First Nation people of our country. All of our political parties have to address these issues. We ignore them at our collective peril. The fact is that unlocking the resource wealth and the human capital of the country depends on facing up to these problems.”

A video of Rae’s speech is available here. A written copy of the speech is available here (note: the speech varies from the text). Media coverage is available here and here.

Rae’s speech focused on the growing gap between the large parts of Canada with historic treaties— notably, Ontario, Saskatchewan, Manitoba and Alberta— and everywhere else. In the Yukon, the Northwest Territories, Québec, British Columbia and Labrador, modern treaties and land claims negotiations are leading  to tremendous gains for Aboriginal communities as self-government and economic self-sufficiency become more of a reality. The social and economic situation in areas with historic treaties, most of them signed over a century ago, is far more difficult.

A previous OKT blog post explored the origins and consequences of this gap. Rae explained why it is time to revisit the historic treaties, which were signed in a racist era of residential schools and the first incarnations of the Indian Act. Today, First Nations and Canadian governments have vastly different understandings of the historic treaties. This gap has become a source of conflict over resource development on Aboriginal traditional territories, and a barrier to improved economic and social well-being in Aboriginal communities.

Rae suggested the concrete steps needed to move forward to renew the treaties. These include more revenue sharing and jurisdiction for Aboriginal people as resource extraction in Canada continues to march through traditional Aboriginal territory.

“The resource frontier of the country is moving north and west, where there is traditional territory of Aboriginal people. We cannot ignore this issue. And if I was a smart guy in oil or gas or mining or forestry, I would need to get my head around this question,” Rae said.

Rae criticized provincial Premiers for their unwillingness to share revenue with First Nations. In Ontario, Rae continues to negotiate on behalf of nine First Nations with respect to proposed developments in the “Ring of Fire,” where resource revenue sharing is a key component of discussions about the massive mining project.

“Canada tried assimilation, marginalization, dependency and powerlessness,” Rae said. “None of them worked… Now it is time for more self-government, and the transfer of land, money, and jurisdiction to First Nations peoples.”

Bob Rae will  be lecturing at the University of Toronto on November 12 and the Canadian Aboriginal Minerals Association Conference on November 17.