Economic development in First Nations communities: success occurs despite DIAND's best efforts.
That's what committee chair Senator Nick Sibbeston and deputy chair Senator Gerry St. Germain told Windspeaker Business Quarterly on the final day of a week's worth of hearings held in British Columbia and Alberta. The committee visited Prince George, Vancouver, Kelowna and Calgary during the week of Oct. 24 as part of a nationwide study of the elements that contribute to successful economic development in Aboriginal communities, and the obstacles that frustrate that success.
"Everywhere that Aboriginal people have succeeded and have forged ahead in terms of land claims or self-government they have gotten away from the Indian Act," said Sibbeston. The senator has been impressed by the Nisga'a, the Dogribs, the Westbanks in Indian Country. He said the common thread of their success is that they have all been detached from the Indian Act.
"They say, 'We'll make the decisions. We have land. We have governance. We'll make the decisions.' So they are in a position to break away from the control of Ottawa," Sibbeston said.
And breaking away from the control of Ottawa is critical in terms of successful business ventures, said St. Germain.
"We've heard time after time, DIAND no longer services its client base. The people that are successful in their business are those that capitalize on opportunities, and if you are incapacitated by a huge decision-making process in the capital, in Ottawa, or somewhere in the department of Indian Affairs and Northern Development, it's a stumbling block. You know, some of them have described it as a nightmare to deal with them."
Sibbeston said the most progressive people don't want anything to do with Indian Affairs. The department is seen as a lumbering behemoth that can't react at the pace that business operates, so opportunities are lost. Or the opportunities that are pursued cost communities many times over what it would cost without the bureaucracy tied around their necks.
"We are finding that people that have succeeded, the First Nations that have succeeded, have been all those that have been able to make decisions very quickly and respond to business," said Sibbeston. "You know that business operates at a certain speed and if you don't, you fall to the wayside."
"If everything you do takes six months to two years to get through, you can't do it with DIAND," said St. Germain. "That's why we have to totally rethink this and do it immediately because we do not want to lose another generation of young Aboriginals. We've got to get on the road immediately."
Sibbeston admits that getting the department out of the business of Aboriginal business won't be an easy task. There is uncertainty on the part of First Nations who view the Indian Act and Indian Affairs as "better the devil you know," or as a security blanket to cling to when heading into the unknown.
And the bureaucracy will not go gently into that good night, Sibbeston suspects.
"Let's look at Indian Affairs in terms of the number of non-Native people making their livings on the backs of Native people. There's thousands and thousands. I think there is 6,000 people working for Indian Affairs, so it's very hard to dismantle, very hard to change."
Still, both senators have been encouraged by the many success stories they have heard during their study.
"The whole business of Aboriginal people and economic development, I think it's exciting," said Sibbeston. "It's good to see it happening. Finally, Native people are getting involved in business. And there are some amazingly good stories ... It's always a struggle and many of the [successes] occur despite government; it's not necessarily about the generosity of government that these occur. It's the determination of leaders; that leaders are there, despite tremendous obstacles, that they seem to overcome and succeed.
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|Date:||Dec 1, 2005|
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