Thank you. Meegwetch.
I would like to take a moment to acknowledge that we're gathered on the traditional territory of the Algonquin and Anishinabe people. I speak to you as interim chair of the National Aboriginal Economic Development Board.
Our board is made up of first nations, Inuit, and Métis business and community leaders from across Canada, whose mandate is to advise the whole of the federal government on indigenous economic development.
As you know, the Government of Canada now supports the UN Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples without qualification. As the declaration celebrates its 10th anniversary, the board welcomes and congratulates the Government of Canada for taking this important step towards true reconciliation with indigenous people.
We urge the Government of Canada to take a bold and decisive leadership role in ensuring that a modernized NAFTA integrates indigenous rights and considerations into the very fabric of the agreement. Not only is this in keeping with Canada's stated commitment to a renewed relationship with indigenous peoples in Canada, but it is also consistent with Canada's commitment to promoting human rights, inclusion, and respect for diversity around the world.
During the first NAFTA negotiations in 1994, indigenous peoples in North America expressed different opinions. While some felt that trade liberalization would create economic opportunities, many felt that NAFTA would not benefit indigenous people as a whole. Many of the concerns stemmed from the fact that NAFTA was negotiated without proper consultation and participation of indigenous peoples.
Our board strongly believes that the success of this renewed agreement for indigenous peoples in Canada, Mexico, and the U.S. will hinge upon the process by which the agreement is negotiated, as well as meaningful engagement with indigenous peoples. This is the base requirement upon which the specifics of the terms and conditions of the agreement must be built.
Traditionally, our people had free and open borders. Trade between nations that today fall on both sides of the U.S. and Canadian borders was unencumbered, and there are numerous examples today of communities whose traditional territories exist on both sides of the border. The Jay Treaty of 1794 between the U.S. and Britain sets a precedent for the recognition of traditional indigenous practices and systems of trade, commerce, and mobility that existed long before European arrival to North America. The Jay Treaty recognizes and confirms our pre-existing rights—rights that are constitutionally protected.
For Canada, it is in this context of rights that a modernized NAFTA must be negotiated. In Mexico, since 1994, indigenous communities have faced human rights violations under the agreement through the loss of lands and livelihoods. Our board stands in solidarity with all indigenous communities across North America and urges the Government of Canada to lead in rectifying the issues that led to the violation of indigenous rights under NAFTA. An indigenous chapter is of critical importance to ensure that indigenous rights are inherent in the agreement.
Our board's report, called “Reconciliation: Growing Canada's Economy by $27.7 Billion” estimates that Canada's GDP would grow by 1.5%, or $27.7 billion per year, if barriers preventing indigenous Canadians from participating on an equal footing in the Canadian economy were removed.
In Canada, Supreme Court cases such as Tsilhqot'in versus B.C. have recognized aboriginal title to lands and resources, giving the first nations exclusive rights to the use of this land. Across Canada, indigenous ownership and control over large tracts of land that encompass significant natural resources is a reality that will likely grow, increasing indigenous land ownership and creating opportunities for international trade.
Much of northern Canada, for example, is governed by modern land claim and self-government agreements. These constitutionally protected agreements provide indigenous peoples in the north ownership of large tracts of land, as well as harvesting rights, capital transfers, and participation in land and water management regimes. Canada's north covers 40% of the country's land mass and is almost exclusively covered by land claim agreements.
The forestry sector—one of Canada's biggest trade industries, worth $22 billion annually—involves many indigenous communities and businesses. Across Canada, 58% of indigenous communities have a contract or a partnership with a forestry company. This creates immense opportunities for both indigenous communities and private natural resource companies to respond with innovative solutions domestically as well as across borders.
Besides forestry, indigenous businesses are directly involved in primary resource-related industries including fisheries and mineral development.
Through meaningful inclusion in NAFTA, indigenous peoples in Canada have a unique opportunity to grow our economy by harnessing the energy and expertise of indigenous communities across Canada.
An area of concern for our board in the current round of NAFTA renegotiations is procurement. Subnational procurement in Canada is worth an estimated $18 billion annually, and it is a significant contributor to indigenous economic development.