Evidence of meeting #29 for Aboriginal Affairs and Northern Development in the 41st Parliament, 1st Session. (The original version is on Parliament’s site, as are the minutes.) The winning word was lake.

A recording is available from Parliament.

On the agenda

MPs speaking

Also speaking

4:40 p.m.

Chief, Nipissing First Nation

Chief Marianna Couchie

It would help to retrieve some of that. Ontario Hydro operates transmission lines through our territories, and part of it is on this unsold, surrendered land. Unfortunately, the government didn't insist on a lease. So we're now in negotiations with Hydro One and Ontario Power Generation about getting leases, because they span considerable distances through our traditional territory.

4:40 p.m.

Conservative

The Chair Chris Warkentin

Thank you, Ms. Duncan.

Mr. Rickford.

4:40 p.m.

Conservative

Greg Rickford Kenora, ON

Thank you, Mr. Chair, and thank you, Chief Couchie, for coming here today. I apologize for some of the interruptions.

On this side, we're in full cooperation with the committee members. We're looking at a number of relationships—legal instruments and policies for land-use planning and economic development. We appreciate that some difficult questions and answers have to come forward, particularly because our government is enthusiastic about more entrants into this process of first nations land management. To increase the number of entrants, we're going to have to take a look at this resource question. We've heard from the advisory board on that.

I want to return to economic development. There was a survey by the Nipissing land office in the spring of 2010. Are you aware of that survey that went out to 35 businesses located within the Nipissing lands?

4:45 p.m.

Chief, Nipissing First Nation

4:45 p.m.

Conservative

Greg Rickford Kenora, ON

The return was about 40%. So for purposes of analysis, it's a legitimate threshold. There were 155 individuals employed very briefly—43 Nipissing First Nation members, 63 people from other nations, and 45 non-native people. There was a salary of $6.6 million. From these numbers, there are estimates that the other 60% of the businesses might provide an additional 231 jobs with a wage cost of around $10 million.

Chief, some of the issues you've raised today notwithstanding, there are real economic benefits to this process. As we go across northwestern Ontario, we're looking at increasing the number of entrants into this process. In our vast region, we are preoccupied with first nations communities in and around lakes, right near cities. For example, in Kenora, the great Kenora riding, we have communities near Thunder Bay and then we have our isolated communities.

Could you highlight some of your successes related to this process and give me a few recommendations for helping some of the native communities in my riding to move forward with this?

4:45 p.m.

Chief, Nipissing First Nation

Chief Marianna Couchie

I will attempt to answer your questions, sir.

We’ve had control of our land since the sixties. That's when we took over the leasing of land. Indian Affairs had set up these lease agreements and we were not getting the return that we felt was necessary, that was fair market value for the land. So we had those lands assessed and were finally able to increase the lease amount, and that does bring in money for us. It's not a great amount—$108,000 or so, plus—but that money gets used because our budgets are not keeping up with the times. So whatever we make in our leases, we have to reinvest. But we're very fortunate—I'm not trying to bellyache here.

March 13th, 2012 / 4:45 p.m.

Conservative

Greg Rickford Kenora, ON

I'm not taking this as bellyaching. I understand there are some issues around that, and that's one of the reasons why you're here today. But on the other hand, clearly some of these numbers tell us...and you've just said that you have significant increases, in some cases, of the land contemplated by this process.

You mentioned that 33,000 acres of land—and as unfortunate and longstanding as that issue is, and I would certainly be pleased to take a closer look at why that process has taken this long—and notwithstanding that, being involved in the FNLM process has enabled you to develop business in the unsold surrendered lands. Frankly, because of the capacity-building exercise under the First Nations Land Management Act, you've been able to provide the same leasing and permits on the reserve as are provided there. So whether they fall into the category or not, your development strategies are essentially—and by all accounts from stakeholders you interact with—quite advanced, developed, and secure. There's certainty there for them to make investments in a critical area of northern Ontario. Would you agree with that?

4:50 p.m.

Chief, Nipissing First Nation

Chief Marianna Couchie

Yes, I do.

On those lands that we're waiting to get back...we do have some of our people leasing land from us. In those instances, we don't charge them a lease; we give them a land permit. In a way of helping our local economy develop, we forego any leasing charges. Now, for the non-nation businesses, we do charge them a proper lease.

4:50 p.m.

Conservative

Greg Rickford Kenora, ON

I agree, Chief Couchie, that it is an unfortunate situation. There are other communities in the same situation, particularly some of the entrants. But just in the context of my question—a very narrow inquiry into some capacity and economic development—what's important is that commercial and industrial opportunities have been impacted by better land management structures and controls. I think that's what I'm hearing you say.

4:50 p.m.

Chief, Nipissing First Nation

Chief Marianna Couchie

Yes, definitely. We're always open for business, for new businesses.

4:50 p.m.

Conservative

Greg Rickford Kenora, ON

You're certainly a model for all of northern Ontario.

I thank you for your time today.

4:50 p.m.

Conservative

The Chair Chris Warkentin

Thank you.

Thank you, Mr. Rickford.

Ms. Bennett, we'll turn to you for seven minutes.

4:50 p.m.

Liberal

Carolyn Bennett St. Paul's, ON

Thank you very much.

Thank you for your perfect brief and for doing our work for us by actually having the recommendations. That's always very helpful.

In our trying to write a report, I think it's helpful for you to describe what you can do now that you couldn't do under the Indian Act, or how you've been able to move forward more quickly as the model that you are now.

4:50 p.m.

Chief, Nipissing First Nation

Chief Marianna Couchie

Certainly under land management we're able to expedite.... When we grant for residential purposes, we can do that within a day or two, whereas before, with Indian Affairs, it would take us a year or two to finally get that approval.

We're able to now.... What am I trying to say? There was so much bureaucracy tied into lands and lands management, so we can do transactions much quicker. We can set leases on our own. We don't need the approval of Indian Affairs, or Aboriginal Affairs, as it's now called, to enter into those agreements.

Because we're in such a strong financial situation.... We have a very good economic situation, so we're able to go out and borrow money to develop on our leased lands. Our members are now able to get mortgages from a local bank so they can build their houses to the standard they want. The trick to that is that we guarantee those leases, and if they default—and we try to work with our membership—we take that house back, and the land, and then we will try to sell it to our membership, and whatever profit is gained we will give back to the mortgage holder.

It's only because we control those and we guarantee those loans. That would not have been afforded us under Indian Affairs.

We have a good housing market on Nipissing First Nation. Some of the houses are selling for $300,000. That was unheard of in the days when Indian Affairs looked after our affairs.

Does that...?

4:55 p.m.

Liberal

Carolyn Bennett St. Paul's, ON

I think that's good.

In the funding formula you were describing, in terms of the actual distances, it's quite clear that one size doesn't fit all. I remember even during H1N1, whether it's Georgina Island or Christian Island...they are not really remote, but because you have to get to them by water, there are serious challenges.

You're saying that some of the funding formulas need to be developed bottom up, based on the actual costs to operate a perimeter of a lake or unique situations, as you mention in your first recommendation.

How would you do that?