Wednesday, June 18, 2008

Native leaders want revenue sharing

At least two of the North’s influential Aboriginal leaders are calling on the industry and the Ontario government to start thinking more seriously about revenue-sharing with native communities. The comments were made at the Building Bridges Conference in Timmins to explore growth opportunities for Northern Ontario municipalities and First Nations.
Grand Chief Stan Louttit of the Mushkegowuk Council said some good things are happening such as the Impact Benefit Agreement with the De Beers Canada Victor diamond mine.
But he says there are too many other situations “happening in our territories” that Louttit says that are not as positive as the De Beers project.
Louttit says the province is “turning a blind eye” to supreme court decisions that direct that there must be “meaningful consultations” with First Nations before mining companies, can begin to work on the land.
“The Province of Ontario is to blame for that” said Louttit.
Louttit criticized Premier Dalton McGuinty who he said has promised a “new relationship” with the First Nations in this respect.
“But at the end of the day, this is not happening. There’s no new relationship,” he said.
Louttit said that some companies recognize only the boundaries of native reserves and not the full extent of native territories, which some companies regard as crown land.
To be fair, Louttit said many companies are progressive, fair and willing to consult, and willing to share.
He said the Mining Act, which is more than 100 years old, allows mining companies to carry out exploration and development on crown lands. Louttit said this is wrong and should be changed.
He commented on the recent case of several native activitists being sent to jail in Northwestern Ontario for trying to stop mining development on their land. Louttit says that comes from built up frustration when resource companies refuse to negotiate and refuse to communicate, “when it breaks down and we are left with no other option”
Looking around the room, Louttit pointed out several other native leaders and said “you might see us sitting in jail some day,” suggesting that it may be the only way to fight back for revenue sharing.
“Hopefully we can move forward in a different way,” he said.
He commented on the fact that if a mining company sets up in a municipality, then the municipality reaps benefits from taxation. He said it’s not the same for native reserves, but it should be.
“But I think the time is right where the government of Ontario has to recognize we are there, we’re not going away,” said Louttit. He said revenue sharing agreements are vital to First Nations communities.
“There is poverty in our communities,” he said.” We have to have a piece of the pie. All we are saying is we want a little bit so that we can live too and not live in poverty.
Louttit also expressed the hope that conferences may actually building bridges and he is not back before the same podium in two year’s time expressing the same concerns about the same problems.
The importance of revenue sharing was also stressed by Jason Batisse of the Matachewan First Nation, who is also an economic development advisor with the Wabun Tribal Council in Timmins.
Batisse said the recent Impact Benefit Agreement with Liberty Mines nickel project was an excellent example of what can be achieved when realistic negotiations are held between mining companies and First Nations. He said it took more than two years of “hard nosed negotiating”.
“There are revenues that are going to flow to our First Nations,” said Batisse. “ I am not ashamed to say that.”
He said his tribal council intends to carry on negotiations with “all” mining companies and exploration companies that “are on our territories.” He said those companies, whether in development or production, will be expected to share revenues with the First Nations.
“You either have heard from us, or you will be hearing from us,” said Batisse.
He added that Wabun is also negotiating an ownership role in several hydroelectric projects in Northeastern Ontario, since those projects are located in “traditional territories”. He cited a new development on the Kapuskasing River as a good example.
“These are extremely exciting opportunities for our communities,” said Batisse, emphazing that the First Nations will negotiate long-term agreements to eventually own the projects.
“We don’t want trinkets. We don’t want the shiny beads. We want to own these facilities,” said Batisse.
“Our communities aren’t going anywhere. We’ve been here for thousands of years. The First Nations will be here, as Kapuskasing will be, as Timmins will be. We need to finally realize some long-term revenue sharing and move forward. “

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