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Evidence of meeting #36 for Indigenous and Northern Affairs in the 41st Parliament, 1st Session. (The original version is on Parliament’s site, as are the minutes.) The winning word was shanks.

A recording is available from Parliament.

On the agenda

MPs speaking

Also speaking

Gordon Shanks  As an Individual

5 p.m.

Conservative

LaVar Payne Conservative Medicine Hat, AB

Yes, we've seen that, obviously, in Westbank First Nation, and it certainly moved them to a comprehensive self-government.

Do you see this vehicle as an opportunity to move more first nations into self-government in the years to come?

5 p.m.

As an Individual

Gordon Shanks

I would imagine so. I think what will happen is communities will get their feet wet. They'll find they can do it, that they have the capacity. Their self-esteem will grow and they will be able to take charge. I think they will probably take on other aspects of governance.

Maybe this is the place to add that one of the things that is missing.... This is not a partisan comment, but there have been attempts in the past to amend the Indian Act to make communities more accountable, more transparent, etc. Any efforts that could be done in that regard would be helpful, because community members still feel disenfranchised, by and large. They don't have the legal capacity to actually force their governments to be transparent in many cases. Some of them have codes that do this, but the overall regime is not that robust. So I think something in that legislative regime there would be very helpful.

5 p.m.

Conservative

LaVar Payne Conservative Medicine Hat, AB

Actually, on our trip to a number of the first nations, they did talk about transparency and good governance and open governance to their individuals, particularly because that gives them the opportunity, obviously, to make sure things are done right for the first nations.

How much time do I have left?

5 p.m.

Conservative

The Chair Conservative Chris Warkentin

Less than one minute.

5 p.m.

Conservative

LaVar Payne Conservative Medicine Hat, AB

In thinking about the opportunities that might be created, what types of economic benefits would you see being available to some of these first nations?

5 p.m.

As an Individual

Gordon Shanks

I think you're going to see first nations become almost unrecognizable from other nations, other communities. They will join the mainstream.

I can cite an example just outside of Saskatoon now with the Dakotas. I don't think anybody going there would say this is an Indian reserve. They wouldn't. This is a modern community that is fully functional, that has good housing, good infrastructure. People have jobs. They're proud of their community. And I think you're going to see a lot more of that.

5 p.m.

Conservative

LaVar Payne Conservative Medicine Hat, AB

We did actually visit the Whitecap Dakota and certainly saw and heard from the chief and the councillors about how well they're doing and the progress they're making.

5 p.m.

Conservative

The Chair Conservative Chris Warkentin

Thank you, Mr. Payne.

We'll turn to Mr. Genest-Jourdain now for five minutes.

5 p.m.

NDP

Jonathan Genest-Jourdain NDP Manicouagan, QC

Mr. Shanks, for years, centuries even, we've seen a complacent and anything-goes attitude towards aboriginal communities in this country when it comes to the environmental assessment and follow-up of sites that are sometimes contaminated. I'd like to hear your take on the environmental impact of the lack of any such assessments on communities, especially as regards a community's desire to pursue economic development.

5 p.m.

As an Individual

Gordon Shanks

Thank you.

Contaminated sites are significant, there's no question about it. They're on the contingent liabilities of the Government of Canada as federal lands.

From what I know, there has been significant effort to try to deal with them, but there are so many. As you said, in the past people weren't as conscious about environmental degradation as they are today. As a result, you have some enormously difficult areas.

From what I know, the government is expending its resources to clear up as many of these as it can, as quickly as it can, but this is a resource issue. It's a very difficult problem in some cases. The efforts have to be to stop creating new ones, though, and that's an important aspect as well. I think there have been major strides in the last 20 years or so to stop further environmental degradation and then to work backwards and try to clean them up.

5:05 p.m.

NDP

Jonathan Genest-Jourdain NDP Manicouagan, QC

Could that slow a community's economic growth? What's the real impact of these contaminated sites?

5:05 p.m.

As an Individual

Gordon Shanks

Again, it's an empirical question. It depends. In some instances, it could be. In other cases, though, I hate to think of it as an opportunity, but it may well be.

Take, for example, the Sydney tar ponds in Cape Breton. The first nations now have a significant economic development opportunity in actually cleaning up those tar ponds. It can be negative in the sense that nobody is going to develop unless this is cleared up. But there is an opportunity to clear it up, if the resources are found to do that, and then move forward. It can be constructive.

5:05 p.m.

NDP

Jonathan Genest-Jourdain NDP Manicouagan, QC

Am I out of time?

5:05 p.m.

Conservative

The Chair Conservative Chris Warkentin

You have two minutes.

5:05 p.m.

NDP

Jonathan Genest-Jourdain NDP Manicouagan, QC

I was very glad that you discussed education as a tool to foster economic development and assert a community's sense of identity.

Do you think access to higher education or post-secondary studies within the communities has a positive impact on their economic development?

5:05 p.m.

As an Individual

Gordon Shanks

As I said earlier, that's absolutely critical. It's critical that people be given the opportunity for education. It's critical that communities, though, support the young people who want to get an education, so that they actually use it in the communities.

Unfortunately, sometimes—and this is not unique to first nations, but in many parts of the world—those who become more educated move to better opportunities rather than staying home and fixing the issues there. So you need to make sure you have an education strategy whereby students are doing things to benefit their community as well as themselves. Both are possible, and neither is a negative thing.

Without it, there's little chance. Without education, economic development is not really going to take hold. Any employment, particularly in the resource extraction business, now requires a high degree of education. This is not manual labour.

5:05 p.m.

NDP

Jonathan Genest-Jourdain NDP Manicouagan, QC

Thank you.

5:05 p.m.

Conservative

The Chair Conservative Chris Warkentin

Thank you very much.

We'll turn to Mr. Clarke now, for five minutes.

May 17th, 2012 / 5:05 p.m.

Conservative

Rob Clarke Conservative Desnethé—Missinippi—Churchill River, SK

Thank you, Mr. Chair.

Thank you, Mr. Shanks, for coming in today to testify.

One of the things we really noticed during our study and when we went on committee travel.... My portion of the travel was through Muskeg Lake, Whitecap, going to Westbank First Nation, Penticton, and then over to Osoyoos. And one of the main conclusions....

The theme of your paper is economic development. Chief Clarence Louie's main theme—and he was a strong proponent—was jobs, jobs, jobs, and keep people working, get them working, get them off the social assistance, and get them out of the Indian Act. He was quite passionate about that.

I'm reading your conclusion here on page 20. You indicated in one comment that “Serious effort should be undertaken to engage First Nations in defining success.” You point out—and other first nations leaders have stated this throughout at least 50 or 60 years—that the smothering culture of dependency to a positive, future-oriented culture of self-sufficiency.... You also indicated that “Governments at all levels must resist the long-standing urges to impose paternalistic solutions. Governments must find ways to break the ‘fiduciary grid-lock' to constructively engage and share risks with First Nations as partners.”

We're seeing a lot of that, such as in Westbank, where they're doing the box stores. We're seeing one first nation in Penticton just beginning the process of development. You see that in Osoyoos, where they have a very strong leader. You mentioned that one of the main principles for economic development is to have a strong governance. We see a strong leader and a governance of Westbank in place. They are becoming more economically independent. We heard witness testimony of $1.4 billion worth of assets in Westbank First Nations. That's a huge benefit to first nations.

We're seeing that mentality or that desire of other first nations to come through. We're seeing that testimony here today, or last week when we had first nations from northern Saskatchewan. They're purchasing TLE land. They're finding resources for development in the urban centres of Prince Albert, Saskatoon, Regina, Yorkton, throughout Saskatchewan. Some of them are actually partnering in other provinces as economic development.

What are first nations looking for in economic development, and how do they envision their success?

5:10 p.m.

As an Individual

Gordon Shanks

There's great variety in the answer to that question. Some first nations would see mainstream economic development as the ultimate solution to everything. There are other instances, though, in which first nations are not going to be having box stores and are not going to be leasing out subdivisions; they're just not located in places where that's going to happen.

But there are lots of opportunities still. You can imagine people getting into ecotourism or tourism in places where that's viable; you can imagine traditional building of various artifacts that can be developed. But in some instances, communities may decide that their future is really in urban centres, and if the people are educated and trained, and such, they may in fact decide that they're going to relocate over time. We shouldn't consider that a negative thing either.

I don't know whether there are any members here from Saskatchewan, but having grown up there, I know that we went through this: everybody left and went to other places. The regions are stronger as a result of it, and nobody lost.

So I think first nations may well take that on as well.

5:10 p.m.

Conservative

Rob Clarke Conservative Desnethé—Missinippi—Churchill River, SK

I'm just wondering what types of questions government should be asking first nations communities in order to support emerging first nations economies.

5:10 p.m.

As an Individual

Gordon Shanks

I guess what first nations leaders would tell you is “Ask us. Don't decide on your own and then come and tell us what you've decided is your policy.” That tends still to be the way it works, rather than what you're doing, which may be the right thing. You're actually talking to the first nations and asking, what is it you need; what's going to work for you?

Very often, if you're not living the day-to-day circumstances, you don't really have the key insights. You can come up with some broad-brush types of things, but it's the leadership that is going to be able to say what they actually need and what's going to work. You're talking to the people who have succeeded, and they're going to give you some good insights, I'm sure.

5:10 p.m.

Conservative

Rob Clarke Conservative Desnethé—Missinippi—Churchill River, SK

Mr. Chair, I still have one question, if you don't mind.

5:10 p.m.

Conservative

The Chair Conservative Chris Warkentin

You're out of time; you're over by a minute now.

If there are additional questions, we have time, but I know that some of you are trying to get out to flights, so I'm getting a sense that people want to get moving.

Mr. Shanks, we thank you so much for being here today. We certainly appreciate your testimony and your insight. This will be a complement to the report we read that you wrote, and this certainly is supplementary to what we've heard from previous delegations, so thanks very much.

5:10 p.m.

As an Individual

Gordon Shanks

Thank you very much.