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



Tom Flanagan: I don't think it's realistic to talk about repealing the entire Indian Act. There's not enough agreement among First Nations themselves about what should replace it. I would advocate supplementary legislation to create new voluntary alternatives, as we've been doing for the last two decades, e.g., allowing bands to levy propoerty taxes on leaseholds.



Comment From Ross: Initiatives such as the use of leasing, the First Nations Land Management Act and variations on fee simple ownership are all well and good, but it's usually the First Nations south of 50, close to markets that have the incentive to participate, and do so. What can the other, often remote, 80% of First Nations do to generate economic development in the absence of resource projects in their backyard?



Tom Flanagan: Ross, I wish I had a good answer for you. The situation of many of these bands is heartbreaking. Some can take advantage of local resource developments, as is happening in northern Alberta. The much-maligned tar sands are perhaps the biggest employer of native people in the country, and Fran Abele had something to do with that. But that doesn't help reserves where nothing at all is happening in the neighborhood.



Frances Abele: I agree with you about the difficulty, and the importance of recognizing the distinct circumstances of northern reserves. There is no simple answer, particularly since many northern areas have a general problem with development --given the structure of the Canadian economy.



Comment From Devin B.: With significant investments in the renewable energy sector in jurisdictions such as Ontario, do you believe there will be significant opportunities for Aboriginal participation? Do you foresee problems arising from the constitutional duty to consult when developers propose to build renewable energy projects on First Nation lands?



Frances Abele: I think part of the answer for the northern reserves lies in their finding ways to work together, across sometimes considerable distances, to develop economic strategies. This in turn usually involves long-term funding for the process, and supportive programming.



Frances Abele: I see the duty to consult as an opportunity. Canada as a whole needs better development planning practices, and especially, better capacity for long-term thinking.



Tom Flanagan: Regarding renewable energy, it depends a lot on which form you're talking about. If it's wind or solar, the First Nation could lease land for a site, but I don't see what else they would do. If it's run of river or biomass, the local people could be more deeply involved in building and maintaining the facilities.



Comment From Alex Williams: To what degree do you think the knowledge of history is important in moving forward? It seems the lack of knowledge of non-native people in this country about the real-life mechanisms of colonization (including the damaging history of much of the residential school experience, but beyond it as well) represents a huge hole in our teaching of history. Knowledge of this history - which has for so long been the burden of Aboriginal peoples themselves, must be shared to the non-native population through education. We cannot not know our history if we are to propose any future direction. The history of disingenuous negotiation of treaty (or lack thereof), the Indian Act and its numerous incarnations, the pass system (in which for at least 56 years First Nations peoples in the prairie provinces, people couldn't leave reserve without a pass), the permit system (control of First Nations agriculture and forestry), legal controls such as from 1927-1951 they couldn't hire a lawyer, to name some of the more egregious examples, need to be known and understood before we can call this history all of ours, and move forward together to see the structural and emotional changes that need to happen.



Tom Flanagan: Alex, I agree totally with you about the importance of studying aboriginal history, though students of the subject will inevitably come to differing conclusions, and that's beneficial in an open democracy. But whatever the history is, we have to move forward as best we can. As President Kennedy said, "We will be just in our time."



Frances Abele: Thanks for this comment, Alex. I think the history of relations between Indigenous peoples and the newer-comers is fundamental to understanding where we are today. That said, it is a history that has to be taught without a huge dollop of collective guilt --responsibility to improve matters is another matter. I have noticed how discussions improve when facts are shared. While Tom is right that "interpretations" may vary, there is a good deal of our shared history that is well-documented and can be known by all.



Natalie Stechyson: We've had a few questions on this topic, and there's been a lot in the news lately about education and First Nations. What can be done to improve the academic performance of First Nation children who attend school on reserve?

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