Evidence of meeting #30 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 business.

A recording is available from Parliament.

On the agenda

MPs speaking

Also speaking

4:25 p.m.

Conservative

The Chair Chris Warkentin

Thank you.

Mr. Clarke, you have seven minutes.

March 15th, 2012 / 4:25 p.m.

Conservative

Rob Clarke Desnethé—Missinippi—Churchill River, SK

Thank you, Mr. Chair.

Thank you, witnesses.

I'll shoot straight to the dilemma of the Indian Act. We're heard over and over again that the Indian Act is the cause of the problems here.

Could I get a short answer on this? I have 100 questions here to ask you, and I might just have to borrow some time from my colleagues. In your view, how could the barriers in the Indian Act to accessing capital best be addressed?

4:25 p.m.

Co-Chair, National Aboriginal Economic Development Board

Dawn Madahbee

I think that could be done by using the network of the aboriginal financial institutions. Right now many of them are already lending on reserve. They have been able to overcome the issue of security in most regards because the first nations allow you to go on reserve to collect security, other than buildings or property. There is the ability to go on reserve, because for the most part first nations own these financial institutions, so they allow them to collect security. That's one way of overcoming it, because the banks don't necessarily have that ability. I think there's an agreement there.

As aboriginal financial institutions, we have a strong interest in making sure those businesses are successful. We do a lot of the developmental work ahead of time so that we know we're investing in a good business risk.

4:25 p.m.

Chairman, National Aboriginal Economic Development Board

Chief Clarence Louie

My answer to that is that you have to realize that in every province, there are a handful of first nations that are doing good economic development. They concentrate on it. They do it.

My answer to that would be that we're not going to get rid of the Indian Act right away. I told the minister that this morning. That's a 100-year-old statement. It will probably be around here for another 100 years, so just work with what we have. Tweak it. Put more staff, for example, in the lands section of the department to deal with leases.

Whether it's Osoyoos, Kamloops, Membertou, or Squamish First Nations, we have banks wanting our business. We have decades of the banks knocking at our doors, even though we're under the Indian Act. You can still be under the Indian Act and have all the banks willing to lend you money if you have the income or if you have some land leases. We need the land lease processes to start moving at the speed of business.

One of the things I've asked over and over again, as have many chiefs across this country, is this: why can't we sign off on this fiduciary relationship? I don't want a fiduciary relationship with the government. To me, that means a dependency relationship. On our land leases, rather than having the Department of Justice and SARA, or wherever in the department, slowing it down and worried that the band's going to sue them, let us sign off on something. Let us sign off on this fiduciary responsibility. I don't want a fiduciary relationship with the federal government.

4:30 p.m.

Conservative

Rob Clarke Desnethé—Missinippi—Churchill River, SK

Thank you, Chief.

To what extent would making government-guaranteed bank loans more readily available to businesses on reserves, such as with the small business loans act, address some of these issues?

4:30 p.m.

Chairman, National Aboriginal Economic Development Board

Chief Clarence Louie

That would be great. That would be awesome.

Any time you can add something that's going to speed things up to the speed of business.... Often there is a window of opportunity. When it comes to people wanting to do business, wanting to lease your land or be partners with a first nation, they're not going to stick around for month after month after month. I think of British Columbia, where there are 1,500 Indian reserves; you have a staff at the INAC office you can count on one hand looking after all the leases and all the new leases in the hopper in the province of British Columbia.

4:30 p.m.

Conservative

Rob Clarke Desnethé—Missinippi—Churchill River, SK

Chief, you mentioned the Indian Act being colonial and going back to 1857. You've seen the amendments going through. My impression is that it's a band-aid effect here.

Do you feel that first nations under the Indian Act are ready for a new and modern act? Do you have any solutions for them yourself that could work?

4:30 p.m.

Chairman, National Aboriginal Economic Development Board

Chief Clarence Louie

I don't go to AFN meetings. I'd rather hang around business people. At the assembly, the AFN, you're not going to get consensus around the table on how to deal with even one section of the Indian Act. That, to me, is decades in the making.

I tell the department that we should just work with what we have. Let's tweak. When Aboriginal Business Canada was taken out of Industry and put in the department, and then when they took the lands departments of INAC and put them in economic, it was supposed to.... In theory, it sounded good.

The biggest problem in the Department of Indian Affairs is that we need an economic focus, at least on the floor where lands and land leasing happen—in the Department of Justice and with SARA, for example—rather than having this whole department here in Ottawa and all the regional offices being more like welfare offices.

If they could be changed, if mindsets could be changed, and as the minister has said.... We took Aboriginal Business Canada out of the industry department a few years ago to hopefully wise up the department a little bit and hopefully bring a business mindset to the department, and we moved lands into economic development, hopefully to start creating....

The most important department in Indian Affairs should be the economic development sector of the department, not the social service area. It should be the economic development area.

4:30 p.m.

Conservative

Rob Clarke Desnethé—Missinippi—Churchill River, SK

If I can, may I just ask Chief Stinson Henry what her point of view is, if you don't mind?

4:30 p.m.

Member, National Aboriginal Economic Development Board

Chief Sharon Stinson Henry

I don't mind at all. I agree with Chief Louie.

Rama First Nation has always been proud and progressive. In leadership, long before I came along, we've always done well, despite the obstacles.

I'll give you one quick example of our getting involved with the St. Eugene resort operation in British Columbia. We get around $60,000 to $70,000 for economic development of our community. We were going to use that $60,000 to assist with updating a business plan, or whatever it was. What we found out from Indian Affairs was that we couldn't use that money for that purpose; it had to be used within our own community. That's just one tiny example.

First of all, it's not enough money, as Dawn said earlier. It just isn't enough money. However, we went ahead. Because we had a reputation throughout our history with a local bank that had taken a risk with us many years ago, they trusted our ability to go out and do a good job, because we have great staff and great support staff. We kept the money in Rama, but went out anyway, just based on our reputation.

We shouldn't have to do that. There should be more flexibility and more money. We don't want to have to rely on government money, but it's there. It's a very small portion, and I think first nations that struggle, such as Attawapiskat, for instance, do need help. There have to be more resources for them.

We won't get into that, but we understand that they're not getting their fair share of resource revenue sharing, and there are other issues, I understand.

Again, it's not enough and it should be more flexible.

4:35 p.m.

Conservative

The Chair Chris Warkentin

Thank you, Chief.

We'll turn to Ms. Bennett now for seven minutes.

4:35 p.m.

Liberal

Carolyn Bennett St. Paul's, ON

Thanks very much, and thank you for coming. It has been wonderful to listen to you and hear your optimism for the future. I think sometimes Canadians' eyes glaze over at topics such as economic development. They're not really sure, but when you talk about jobs and the ability to have jobs where you live, I think people understand what the talk is about.

When we met in your office, Chief Louie, we talked a little about the beauty of your location and what it offers. Obviously the Rama Reserve on Lake Couchiching and Lake Simcoe is also beautiful.

You were on your way to Moosonee to talk to some of the people in northern Ontario. I would love to know what to say to those people whose location doesn't offer the same obvious opportunities for economic development. Even the Victor Mine, 80 kilometres from Attawapiskat, is only going to be there for 10 years, and then it's gone.

Is it through additions to reserves? How do you advise those people, or how does your board advise those groups to prepare themselves or to dream in Technicolor about what could happen in the land they have or the land they would like to have?

I think we were a little concerned when Mr. Wernick, the deputy minister, was here saying that first nations need to be ready to enter the land management regime but that the self-assessment tool is designed by the department, not by you. That seemed a little funny. Then you have these big wait times as well for the people who maybe haven't been as creative as you have in being able to work within the Indian Act.

Given that situation, what did you say in Moosonee?

4:35 p.m.

Chairman, National Aboriginal Economic Development Board

Chief Clarence Louie

You have to face the reality, and of course there are certain percentages of the reserves across this country that have a huge isolation factor and, because of that isolation factor, huge barriers to ever getting into economic development at the level of, say, some of the southern bands.

At the same time, I think of the problems of B.C. and the many isolated first nations. Even in the case of the national chief's first nation, you can only get to it by boat. The treaty process is a big issue in B.C., and I tell those involved in the treaty process to make economic development the foundation of their treaty.

Of course it means additions to reserves. Whatever land claim they have, it means going out there and buying properties elsewhere from a willing seller and getting these additions to reserves. In that way they'll have an investment that for many of them is going to be their first chance ever at having a business or having good property from which to start a project.

I think there is at least one first nation in every tribal territory that has the opportunity to do economic development. We can't wait to save everybody. That's another thing: get the ones going that can be got going. At Osoyoos, and maybe at Rama, we employ first nations people from all over the country. Given the choice, most first nations people would rather work for a first nations company. That's why at our last count, 37 different native people have come from Manitoba, Saskatchewan, Alberta, all over B.C., the Yukon, and the Northwest Territories to work at Osoyoos. If it's Membertou, if we can get a handful of first nations....

Let's understand that we're late out of the gate. It's only been since the eighties and nineties that first nations have been involved in business. If we can use the next decades to build on those ones and to improve those ones more and more.... With the speaking requests that I get and others get, and the corporations, I always tell people that more money and more jobs have been created in the last 10 years amongst first nations than in the previous 100-plus. That's a fact.

In the next decade there's going to be even more. We're going to outdo what we've done in this last decade in first nations when it comes to business and economic development. That has to be the focus of the aboriginal affairs department.

Let's face it: the old formula has never worked, will never work, and the department needs to change. That's the most important job, and it should properly finance and staff Allan's office. Economic development should be what the headquarters building is all about here, and all of these headquarters across the country.

You have to realize that there's going to be a philosophy change needed. I talk about our having to switch our philosophy from spending money to making money. That's a change. That's a mindset change. When I go to those first nations that are isolated, I say that hammering and blaming.... Every time a budget comes down from the federal government, everybody's upset about it. The provinces are the first ones upset, unless they're Alberta.

4:35 p.m.

Voices

Oh, oh!

4:35 p.m.

Chairman, National Aboriginal Economic Development Board

Chief Clarence Louie

Every province wants more money. The teachers want more money. Doctors and nurses in this country want more money. First nations are somewhere low on that totem pole.

The reality is that we're never going to get enough money to properly run our programs and services. We have to start making our own money. Put your focus towards entrepreneurship and towards business development.

The problem with most first nations, like those ones up there.... I say, “How many of you people concentrate on economic development? How many of you people concentrate on business and look for business opportunities?”

As Sharon said, getting $60,000 to hire an economic development officer is just crazy. What kind of person are you going to hire with that type of money? The economic development fund needs to be increased, and a decade from now, you're going to see what the chiefs and councils start their meetings with. At Osoyoos every one of our council meetings starts with economic development, just as I'm sure, at the PM's level, that the economy is always the number one issue. With every premier, including the Premier of B.C., the economy is always the number one issue.

That type of mindset gets carried on year after year after year. That's what I tell people in those communities: that they've got to start focusing on the economy, not focusing on running to Ottawa and asking for more money or running to the Department of Indian and Northern Affairs thinking they have more money. There's not enough money to go around, and there never has been. That's what I tell them.