Leveraging natural resources future of First Nation economic development?

Blog, Aboriginal Futures, Joseph Quesnel

Recently, I spoke at the Debating Aboriginal Policy conference at Mount Royal University. I sat on a panel that was looking at the issue of whether land claims settlements addressed Native welfare dependency.

I said they could help address the problem, if the land claims are handled well and if the land title certainty is used to enter the modern economy in a big way.

I used the example of the Maori of Ngai Tahu, a tribal group in the South Island of New Zealand. Through an historic $170 million settlement in 1996, this group has leveraged this money to invest and create businesses.

The Maori of New Zealand have become big players in the Kiwi economy. According to a study by an independent New Zealand think tank, their tax contributions now outweigh what they receive in government benefits. The latest Latest Business and Economic Research report released May 2011 now estimates the value of the Maori economy at $36 billion.

In short, the Maori could teach First Nations in Canada how to enter the economy. Then, I discovered that from May 18 to June 2, 2011, a delegation of Aboriginal businesses are organizing a business delegation to China. The delegation is being led by successful Maori business leaders and organizations.

China may very well be the key for Aboriginal economic development, as their growing economy requires natural resources that we possess in Canada.  Calvin Helin, the BC indigenous author and businessman, identified that much of Canada’s natural resources are on First Nation lands. Many of the land claims in the North cover a large portion of total Canadian territory and contain valuable resources.

The next step in the equation in this is if First Nations can leverage these resources, they have to be good stewards of them. Businesses need to be run well and separate from politics. The revenues gained should be put towards creating sustainable jobs and long-term training.

Once again, we can learn much from the Maori on how to do that well.