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The last frontier.

What aboriginal treaty land claims will mean for business in Canada

When they are settled, the highly controversial Native Indian land claims may be the last economic development frontier for Canada.

Some settlements have already made Indian bands rich, and they are assessing the potential of their new-found wealth.

All over Canada, tribal leaders are pondering the increasing wealth of some of the First Nations and anticipating the buckets of money that will come to native groups when, if ever, long-promised settlements are hammered out. Meanwhile, financiers and investors are poised to get in on the action.

The chiefs, with increasing sophistication and wariness honed by generations of disappointment, are now looking carefully at potential opportunities for joint developments, and they are asking hard questions about what's in it for whom.

The new economy already exists in some parts of Canada. Some tribal nations, fueled by massive compensation packages for hydro development, oil and gas royalties and real estate development on suburban reserves, have been in business for themselves for 50 years or more.

The kind of money out there already is more than loose change. The Cree and Inuit of northern Quebec were awarded $225 million for the James Bay hydro project built on their traditional lands, while in Alberta, 10 bands will receive $750 million in oil royalties. In the Northwest Territories bands received $825 million in settlements with $630 million for Yukon and Saskatchewan bands. There will be millions in gas royalties for the Fort Nelson band and uncounted millions in real estate development undertaken by the Squamish and Musqueam bands just outside Vancouver. The amounts are staggering compared to the aboriginal peoples' past economic anemia. The Squamish alone are taking in $7 million a year in lease revenues.

The watchword for anyone hoping to do business with Aboriginal Canadians is that there are no more beads-and-blankets deals. And Indian and Northern Affairs Canada no longer rules aboriginal Canadians from cradle to grave with grudging paternalism -- the federal government still holds the title to Indian reserves and tribal groups can't use their property for collateral, or claim mineral rights on their lands.

But changes are coming, and some of the First Nations have found innovative ways to get around the restrictions.

The bind is particularly tight in British Columbia because, unlike tribal nations in many parts of Canada, the B.C. Aboriginals never ceded huge swaths of land by treaty. Hence the B.C. tribes still claim aboriginal title to much of the province.

This new age was showcased at a national conference held January 21-22 by the Native Investment and Trade Association. Tribal leaders and some very big Canadian establishment people met in a crystal-chandeliered meeting room in the elegant Pan Pacific Hotel in Vancouver to deal with each other and discuss how they might negotiate together to their mutual benefit. Business and government leaders who took part included Doug Halverson, manager, community affairs, Westcoast Energy; Steve MacAlpine, vice-president, Golden Bear Mine; Michael J. Beley, president, B.C. and Yukon Chamber of Mines; Ron Jamieson, vice-president, aboriginal banking, Bank of Montreal; Jim Matkin, president, Business Council of B.C.; Richard J.H. Barclay, president, Hemmingsen Group; John Watson, director-general, B.C. region, Department of Indian and Affairs and Northern Development.

The message was spelled clearly in the opening address by Calvin Helin, 33, a Tsimshian from the northern B.C. coast, a lawyer, founding president of NITA and one of the top new Aboriginal entrepreneurs.

Helin told the conference: "As developments in the areas of land claims and self-government progress, it is apparent that First Nations are an important player that the resource industry must learn to do business with. Though change is often assumed to be bad for business (because it introduces uncertainty), what is overlooked is that change also represents potential new opportunities that we can all share in."

"Those concerned about the effect of land claim settlements must weigh them against the cost of not settling," he said, quoting a Price Waterhouse survey in 1989 that found $1 billion of currently proposed mining and forest industry investments could be affected by not settling.

This, the survey suggested, could result in the loss of $50 million in capital expenditures each year and the delay of another $75 million annually in investment resulting in the loss of 100 potential primary industry jobs each year and a further 200 service jobs each year, for a total of 1500 permanent jobs.

Helin added, "While there is also some fear of what will occur once land claims settlements are concluded, it is interesting to note that the closer claimant groups come to settling the more practical and business-oriented their views become."

He noted that Alvin McKay, president of the Nisga'a Tribal Council (the only tribal group in B.C. nearing the final stages of negotiation) said the Nisga'a are aware they must encourage and utilize the potential of joint ventures, in keeping with their philosophy of sharing resources.

Helin concluded it is obvious the First Nations comprise a growing economic force, and added this piercing observation: "It is our sincerest hope that resource companies will make the effort to understand First Nations -- as they do with Japanese or any other major economic players."

The message was hammered home by Dr. Peter Pearse, University of B.C. resource economist, who was co-chairman of the conference with Chief Steve Williams, Six Nations of the Grand River, Ontario. "We can't afford to neglect opportunities for economic improvement," observed Dr. Pearse, pointing out that native people desperately need an economic base and that economic opportunities are narrowing for Canada's non-native population.

"Most of you will know," he added, "that the federal and provincial governments and the First Nations of this province are now committed to resolve land claims and have agreed on a process.

"But, in a way, that commitment has aggravated the narrowing opportunities in the resource industries because it has created a cloud of uncertainty about resource rights and the security of contracts with governments over access to land and resources." Settling the claims is likely to take a long time and uncertainty is likely to grow, he observed.

He said it is clear there must be a strong resolve by resource industries -- mining, forestry, fishing -- to understand how to do business with First Nations to secure their positions in the changing economic environment.
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Title Annotation:native land claims and their impact on business in Canada
Author:Rose, Alex
Publication:Manitoba Business
Date:Jul 1, 1993
Words:1064
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