JAMIE SCHMALE MP for Haliburton-Kawartha Lakes Brock, Shadow Minister for Crown-Indigenous Relations
For many years, the prospects for Indigenous youth, both on and off-reserve, were tied to the paternalistic view that economic opportunities were best provided by non-Indigenous organizations and governments. In 1984, the Supreme Court ruled that the federal government had a “fiduciary responsibility” for Indigenous peoples and lands reserved for First Nations – that is, a responsibility to safeguard their interests. But this only addressed part of the problem and did nothing to advance reconciliation. Reconciliation is not about establishing and maintaining a mutually respectful and dependent relationship between Indigenous and non-Indigenous peoples in this country. More recently, there has been a positive shift as Indigenous governments, communities and organizations are taking a more active and guiding role in the creation of opportunity for Indigenous youth. This has provided more stability for young Indigenous peoples and has consequently fostered a stronger desire to move Crown-Indigenous relations further down the path towards true reconciliation. To achieve true reconciliation, Indigenous communities need to be able to make decisions for themselves and their children and have the economic clout to implement those choices. We need the political willpower to dramatically shift away from the Indian Act and provide those Indigenous communities, that are ready, with off-ramps to achieve economic self-sufficiency. While many Indigenous people view the Indian Act as a racist document, communities cling to it as they are afraid of what lies beyond the Act. For that reason, I believe that there needs to be a robust dialogue on the plan for life after the Indian Act. This national dialogue must be held inclusively with Indigenous and non-Indigenous peoples with the clear aim of ending the paternalistic relationship between the Crown and Indigenous peoples and empowering communities to establish their own economic resources to look after their own priorities. There are Indigenous communities that are no longer subject to the Indian Act and they have succeeded at creating wealth and joining the broader Canadian economy. An economy that adds $30 billion in GDP per year and was estimated, pre-COVID, to add close to $100 billion by 2024. We need to call on the expertise of Indigenous led financial institutions, like the highly regarded First Nations Financial Management Board, First Nations Financial Tax Commission, and the First Nations Finance Authority. These three financial organizations were established under the former Conservative government and are currently working with over 200 Indigenous communities to achieve varying degrees of financial self-sufficiency. Through the elimination of hurdles enfranchised in the Indian Act, we can provide Indigenous communities with more fiscal powers to enhance their economic base and build financial capacity to support their own infrastructure, business, and social development initiatives. In this manner, Indigenous peoples can provide Indigenous solutions to water treatment, food security, education, broadband infrastructure, environmental protection, and economic and governance self-determination. In the short-term, the federal government can support economic reconciliation by back-stopping loan guarantees to support Indigenous equity buy in for large infrastructure projects in partnership with the private sector. We can defund contentious federal government projects like the $250 million Chinese-based Oversees Infrastructure Bank and use that money to fund an Indigenous Infrastructure Bank to help interested Indigenous communities build more fiscally, economically, and environmentally sound infrastructure.
In the long-term, we must recognize that Indigenous communities are the best positioned to decide for themselves the best paths forward for the environmentally and economically sustainable development of their territories. By helping Indigenous communities grow their economic base, they can establish the on-going financial stimulus needed by Indigenous governments to fund their own socio-economic development projects that are important to their communities and their children’s futures. To achieve true reconciliation, I believe that economic self-sufficiency is the best solution to address many of the problems that have disadvantaged Indigenous youth for over a century.