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Anishinabek leaders weigh in on resource revenue sharing

Chiefs mull waiting on conclusion of Robinson Huron annuity case before negotiating with province
Lac des Iles 1
Lac des Illes Mine, north west of Thunder Bay (North American Palladium/Impala photo)

If resource revenue sharing is extended to more First Nations in Ontario, a group of Indigenous leaders contend the province must be treat Indigenous government as an equal party at the negotiating table.

Resource revenue sharing was one topic discussed during the three-day Anishinabek Nation's sixth annual Lands, Resources and Economic Development Forum last week.

Anishinabek leadership gave their thoughts on how negotiations should play out and what foundational beliefs are important to them during a Feb. 15 online discussion.

Anishinabek Nation Grand Council Chief Reg Niganobe said those conversations with Queen's Park should not be policy-based but treaty-based.

Over time, he said government has strayed from that path and those discussions have moved into the courts.

"It's vital that our First Nations are heard and we have an equal voice in those negotiations of these agreements," he added. 

Currently, the Ontario government maintains resource revenue sharing agreement with 35 First Nation communities represented by Grand Council Treaty #3 in northwestern Ontario and in the northeast with Mushkegowuk Council and Wabun Tribal Council.

Starting in the fall of 2019, the First Nations signed on receive 45 per cent of government revenues from forestry stumpage, 40 per cent of the annual mining tax and royalties from active mines at the time the agreements were signed, and 45 per cent from future mines in the areas covered by the agreements.

Niganobe said First Nations have "never lost the language of treaty" as evident in the Robinson Huron annuity case with the provincial government appealing to the Supreme Court of Canada.

He suggested that until the case is resolved First Nations should "refrain from finalizing these types of (resource revenue sharing) agreements."

One observation Niganobe noticed is that government prefers to keep these agreements confidential, seeking to curb any communications with outside parties.

Historically, that's not the way Indigenous communities and people prefer to do things, he said.

"First Nations always share information in this manner. We have our kinship and our clan-based and nation-based relationships, we don't necessarily keep anything from each other in those regards. We come together on our clan system of governance to make decisions...based in all the information we have available to us."

He proposes First Nations begin pooling information on agreements reached, past and current, to see what can be learned and to better understand where future negotiations can lead.

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That position resonated with Travis Boissonneault, the regional deputy chief for the Lake Huron area. The Garden River member agreed they should consider holding off on resource revenue sharing discussions until the annuity case runs its course.

"The process is pretty much dictated by the province," Boissonneault said, and there are limitations on what government is willing to share.

At face value, revenue sharing sounds great, he said, but First Nations have no control over how, when and where resources are extracted on their lands based on approvals granted to industry by government.

"It's pretty much one-sided to certain extent."

Revenue sharing generates financial well-being for communities, Boissonneault said, but First Nations and their regional bodies must be more assertive on what is extracted out of their traditional territories.

"We can all learn from each other," he said, by way of sharing best practices from those communities already engaged in economic relationships with government and companies.

With much mining activity and exploration occurring along the north shore of Lake Superior and Lake Nipigon, Melvin Hardy, the regional chief in the Superior region, said past mining practices have disturbed the land and in many places left it damaged.

When area First Nations have attempted to raise their concerns with government, they've often been ignored. Government needs to act in a more respectful way, he said, "because it's not happening."

Hardy takes issue with the exploration industry's ability to digitally stake claims by computer when they should be contacting First Nations at the "intent" stage.

Since the mining companies having the backing of the province, "they can dictate what they want to do," Hardy said. The province, he believes, is not always advocating on behalf of First Nations. 

Still, many communities are signing agreements with industry, he said, and there is much interest in what those communities are doing so others can learn and benefit.

Hardy wanted to emphasize that First Nations are lacking capacity in negotiating skills to be able to build partnerships.

He further contends First Nations should be treated as equals, that's the only way First Nations will get any sense of "gaining any ground" in economic development.

James Marsden, the regional chief in southeastern Ontario, said First Nations in his region are at a disadvantage when it comes to benefitting from mining and forestry activities.

He mentioned an exploration company, possibly with Chinese ties, operating on private land in the Bancroft area, north of his community of Alderville First Nation.

His leadership group questioned the damage a skidder was doing to the land in clearing brush to a drill site. Over lunch, he asked the foreign-owned company about the possibility of resource revenue sharing should they discover gold. Hardy said the company had no knowledge of those types of agreements.

"The door is wide open in Ontario for all these overseas companies just to do some land staking and exploring," said Marsden.

He advised the province to post maps online showing First Nation traditional territories to better inform the exploration companies on who they should be consulting with.

Joe Miskokomon, the regional deputy chief for southwestern Ontario, finds it "insulting" that the province should dictate how much revenue they are willing to share, considering the amount in taxes derived from the oil and gas sector in his part of the province, without any benefits coming to area First Nations.

"I find it belittling, I find it insulting, and the whole attitude towards government reflects back to the very premise that First Nations don't have any rights, unless they're bestowed by government to them. That is a superiority complex that is absolutely revolting."

Initiating any discussions with government, Miskokomon contends, starts with First Nations negotiating on an equal footing with due respect shown, and if that can't be demonstrated by government, "get up and walk away."