Good afternoon, and thank you for the invitation to speak with you today.
I'd like to take a moment to acknowledge that we are gathered on the traditional territory of the Algonquin Anishinabe peoples.
I speak to you today as the vice-chair of the National Indigenous 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.
The board believes that reconciliation should begin with economic empowerment. In fact, we published a report entitled “Reconciliation: Growing Canada's Economy by $27.7 Billion”. This report found that closing the gaps in economic outcomes between indigenous people and the non-indigenous population would result in an estimated increase of about $27.7 billion annually in Canada's GDP. You can find that report on our website. We would be able to achieve that if our people were employed at the same level as mainstream Canadians. An important element of this economic empowerment includes being meaningfully involved with the active engagement of indigenous communities concerning natural resource developments on our traditional territories.
On behalf of the board, I would like to offer information that may assist you in your study on international best practices for engaging with indigenous communities. The work of your committee is timely as the international Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development, OECD, is currently undertaking its own global study of how indigenous communities can be linked to economic development opportunities in their traditional territories and regions.
The OECD launched its first-ever indigenous-specific study in late 2017. The study looks at leading practices worldwide on engaging with indigenous peoples and linking them to regional economic development. The report will be published later this year. This initiative is being undertaken in partnership with several countries that are members of, or seeking membership with, this international organization. On behalf of our national board, I have been the champion of this initiative with OECD as a means to gather critical data that can help shape and inform Canadian policy in establishing the meaningful engagement of indigenous people in Canada.
I was asked to be one of the Canadian peer reviewers of the Australian case study mission, so I'm really pleased to be on this panel with my counterpart there. My involvement in the study mission started in Canberra, the Australian capital, and then took me to Western Australia and the Northern Territory regions of the country.
One of the leading practices I found there was the success of the aboriginal procurement policy, which has produced significant results in terms of contracting indigenous businesses through more than $1 billion in contracts to more than 1,200 indigenous businesses there.
Another example of the success due to the procurement strategy is in Australian mining companies. For example, Fortescue Metals Group Ltd procures services through Supply Nation, Australia's leading database of verified indigenous businesses. They recently reached the $2-billion level in procurement services from indigenous businesses. Canada needs a better indigenous procurement policy and an indigenous-led entity to provide a verified database of indigenous suppliers.
Another good example in Australia that I was able to see first-hand is the work of the Gunyangara people of the East Arnhem Region in the Northern Territory. This is the only indigenous community in Australia, and possibly in the whole world, that has 100% ownership of their own mine. Their arrangement with Rio Tinto, which is the purchaser of the bauxite produced by the community-owned Gumatj Corporation Ltd, is a model for many mineral resource initiatives going forward.
The community is a great example of sustainable development. As they reclaim the land where they remove the bauxite, they have planted a nursery and built forestry operations. They produce a hardwood tree that they use in the sawmill they've started, and they also manufacture furniture with that wood.
However, indigenous people are not sufficiently and meaningfully engaged in regional development. Engaging indigenous people would mean they could potentially benefit from regional development or they would designate large regions of lands and resources as protected from exploitation. I suspect there is a fear that this would result in fewer revenues for the financial coffers of government and industry.
Indigenous people recognize the need for important minerals that support important global needs. We recognize that it's in all elements of cellphones and cars and the technology that we use. As such, many are interested in business partnerships to not only reap a fair share of economic benefits but to help ensure that resource development is done sustainably through investing in the latest technology and innovative processes with proper oversight in place.
One of the main initial findings of the OECD across the case studies is that governments should ensure participation of indigenous people in decisions about projects that affect their traditional territories through three main actions.
First is supporting and encouraging project proponents to engage in dialogue and meetings with indigenous people prior to submitting projects for approval and agreeing up front on the terms and procedures for engagement.
Second is increasing the scope of environmental impact assessments to include traditional knowledge and socio-cultural issues and to assess the cumulative and wider impacts of projects on indigenous people's cultural values and traditional activities.
Third is developing a national framework for consultation with indigenous groups about project development that seeks alignment with UN international standards of free, prior and informed consent. This must include reduced or no costs to indigenous parties, broad and early consultation with indigenous lands rights holders and clear and informed processes and opportunities to present and partner on fair alternatives.
I had the opportunity to share my own experience at an OECD meeting in Darwin, Australia, last November. I believe that a lot of what I shared with that audience in regard to the involvement of indigenous people in mining projects is applicable to the discussions here today regarding the involvement of indigenous people in energy projects.
As I am from northeast Ontario, a hub of mining activity, I believe it is important to help all parties make informed decisions, including indigenous communities, mining companies and government.
I served on my first nation council, and when we were approached by mining and resource development companies, we would receive reams and binders of technical data and we had nowhere to turn for help. That's why, in 2015, the Waubetek Business Development Corporation developed a new mining strategy to help stakeholders navigate the intricacies involved with resource development.
This aboriginal mining strategy for northeast Ontario outlines priorities in four strategic areas: first, building indigenous knowledge and capacity with respect to the mining industry; second, building mining industry relationships; third, engaging a skilled indigenous workforce; and, four, promoting indigenous business and partnerships.
A key component of this strategy includes the setting up of a centre of excellence on indigenous minerals development, which is a clearing house of technical information for first nations, indigenous businesses, mining companies and government. The centre would provide tools, templates, leading practices, case studies and referrals for legal, financial and environmental expertise.
Companies might go there to find contact information on which communities to engage with for a particular area that they're looking at, while a first nation might go to find out what is involved in mining exploration or the whole value chain or to get referrals for proper legal expertise. The centre will be a first of its kind, not only in Ontario or Canada but in the world.
Overall, I'd like to underline the importance of having indigenous communities included in these natural resource development projects so that our people's knowledge and voice is recognized as vital to this country's development, that all parties involved understand that natural resource projects need to be done in a sustainable way, and for industry to accept that sometimes there will be areas where no development can occur because the area is significant to the indigenous people.
Those are the main messages I want to share with you today. I thank you for your time.
I just want to add one other thing. I'm anxious for Bill C-69 to pass in the Senate.
Thank you very much.