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What does the future hold for Canada's First Nations? Add to ...

We asked, you voted: What are the next eight discussions Canada needs to have?

We had a live discussion Tuesday at 12 p.m. ET on one of your top choices: The future of First Nations.

What can be done to improve the academic performance of First Nation children who attend school on reserve? What kind of innovations need to happen in local governance? What are some of the biggest challenges still faced by First Nations in Canada, and what can the government do about it?

Tom Flanagan and Frances Abele took your questions.

Dr. Flanagan is the former Director of Research for the Reform Party of Canada, former Chief of Staff in the Office of the Leader of the Opposition, and the former Manager of the National Campaign of the Conservative Party of Canada. His scholarly work has focused on First Nations and Metis rights in Western Canada. He has written several books on the subject.

Dr. Abele was Deputy Director of Research for the Royal Commission on Aboriginal Peoples, and has conducted research on Canada-Indigenous relations for three decades. She has worked with a range of Indigenous organizations and communities, including work on the Indian Act for the National Centre on First Nations Governance. She is currently a Professor in the School of Public Policy and Administration at Carleton University.

You can read a transcript of the discussion below:

Natalie Stechyson: Welcome to today's live chat on the future of First Nations- the sixth topic in an eight-part series on the next discussions you think Canada needs to have. I'm Natalie Stechyson - one of The Globe's online editors. I'll be hosting today's chat with Tom Flanagan and Frances Abele. We'll be getting under way momentarily. In the meantime, please start submitting your questions.



Frances Abele: Hello.



Natalie Stechyson: Thanks for joining us, Dr. Abele.



Natalie Stechyson: Before we get started, I'd like to add that the AFN was unable to join us today, but we will be coordinating another live discussion with Shawn Atleo for some time in the new year.



Tom Flanagan: Hi everyone. I'm online now.



Natalie Stechyson: Thanks for joining. Let's get started. Why are reserves important to First Nations?



Tom Flanagan: Reserves are lands they can call their own. But ironically First Nations, for the most part, don't own these lands; they are held by the federal Crown for the use and benefit of the First Nations. My recent book, BEYOND THE ACT, proposes a method for allowing those First Nations who wish to own their reserves to do so.



Frances Abele: The reserves are, first of all, home. Though life on reserves has suffered from heavy administration and from the small size, economic problems, and so on ... they remain home base. Their role for the whole nation is thus very important.



Natalie Stechyson: We have a number of reader comments now.



Comment From Terry: There seems to be a wide spread in how well various first nations bands are doing in terms of development. what are the factors influencing which do well and which continue to suffer?



Frances Abele: The strength of First Nations governing institutions isvery important, and social capital



Tom Flanagan: All bands are labouring under a very unfavourable proprty rights regime. In this difficult environment, the ones that do better are usually those with vigorous, enlightened leadership. I would hope we could improve the legal environment so ordinary people could succeed, not just outstanding leaders.



Frances Abele: There are also differences in economic circumstances --location, resources available, for example. The diversity ofcircumstances makes generatlization difficult.



Comment From Ron: It seems property rights and rule of law are two major ways to solve many problems natives face today. Who has been a bigger obstacle to such reform: the federal government, or Aboriginal leaders/communities?



Frances Abele: There is a substantial grass roots movement under way for the development of good governance on reserves. Federal responses must be keyed to these grassroots changes.



Tom Flanagan: Good, question, Ron. Probably everyone has been at fault in the past. I think the way forward is to create voluntary options, so that First Nations can progress at their own rate.



Frances Abele: The National Centre on First Nations governance (with a great website) is full of useful information and ideas on this question



Comment From Cynthia Robertson: The Indian Act has been seen as one of the most significant impediments to development in FN communities, how significant is the resistance to the potential for repealing this Act?



Frances Abele: The resistance by First Nations to repeal of the Act comes from a realistic fear that changes initiated "from above" may cause them to lose, not gain, more control. Land rights are incredibly important.

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