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Agreements seen as reconciliation

Ontario chiefs and ministry talk about their experiences with negotiations with revenue-sharing
Indigenous frameworks
Jason Batise, Craig Brown, Jason Gauthier and Francis Kavanaugh spoke about their experiences negotiating revenue-sharing agreements with Indigenous communities and the provincial government at the Prospectors and Developers Association of Canada's annual convention on March 5. (Karen McKinley photo)

Several Ontario Indigenous chiefs and executives say revenue-sharing agreements will be good for all communities in Northern Ontario because the First Nations are major supporters of businesses in the region.

Revenue-sharing agreements have taken a more significant role in recent years as mining and forestry companies seek to harvest resources from Indigenous lands.

It was a hot topic at the 2019 convention of the Prospectors and Developers Association (PDAC) in Toronto. Several panels were dedicated to discussing personal experiences, legal frameworks and the benefits and challenges associated with them.

One held on March 5 looked specifically at the work done between Indigenous communities in Northern Ontario and the government to ensure fair agreements.

The panel included Jason Batise, executive director of the Wabun Tribal Council; Craig Brown, acting assistant deputy minister in the policy division of the Ministry of Natural Resources and Forestry; Jason Gauthier, chief of the Missanabie Cree First Nation; and Francis Kavanaugh, Ogichidaa (Grand Chief) of the Anishinaabe Nation in Treaty 3.

Kavanaugh said he viewed resource sharing as the actualization of the Great Earth Law, and their system of government is organized to promote sound business practices.

"We live in a land rich with natural resources in Northern Ontario," he said. "A lot of the resources are extracted that are ones that operate the governments in Ontario. So in terms of our council, we are a modern-day corporate entity."

He explained Treaty No. 3 includes a council of 28 chiefs from two provinces – Ontario and Manitoba.

In all, there are three resource revenue sharing agreements with Wabun, Treaty 3, and Musheguok, totalling 32 First Nations.

He pointed to how Indigenous communities support the economy of northwestern Ontario and how they used it as part of the bargaining process. When the Trans-Canada Highway bypass was completed 35 years ago north of Kenora, there was much speculation that cutting the city off of the main highway would mean the city would become a ghost town.

Kavanaugh said he reminded officials that there are 10 First Nations near the city. Every week there were waves of people coming to the city to do business and run errands due to it being a major service centre for the region.

"This is money businesses used to restock, pay bills, staff," he said. "They are a driving force."

They still continue to support the city, as the lumber mill closed, businesses moved away and government services relocated. Those vacant spaces are being bought up and run by First Nations.

Once the new sharing agreement comes into effect this fall, Kavanaugh said it will be an economic boom to the area.

Batise focused on a historic resource-sharing model negotiated the province and the six Indigenous communities Wabun Tribal Council represents, stating it addressed the long history of those Indigenous communities not benefitting from the century-old mining and forestry in the area around Timmins and Kirkland Lake. Mills are still operating after more than 100 years. These agreements were a reconciliation of a lot of inequality and allowed them to finally gain a stable financial foothold.

"For decades, we saw the wealth of the area heading south to Bay Street and other places, and we wondered why we were so poor," he said. "These are stepping stones for our communities."

Batise explained the true intent of treaties was to share. Communities are receiving around 40 to 45 per cent revenues for stumpage and mining. This, he said, is what agreements should look like: an even distribution of wealth between government and communities.

He thanked the people representing the government and First Nations for sitting down and being willing to work out a fair agreement. It's been a long time coming, but he said it's finally happening.

Even though it was a lot of work, Brown said it was an awesome team of negotiators that were "prepared to go anywhere and at any time to negotiate."

And also praised the lawyers who took time to gain trust, a finance department, then take all of that to leadership.

Brown explained the government has three policy objectives. One is to start on a path of reconciliation. Another is to see revenue sharing as a means to share the wealth with the First Nations and provide benefits that would nurture job creation and economic growth, as well as build as stronger relations between the two. The third is the economic mandate to show the province is open for business.

Gauthier said the council of Missanabie is always evaluating how it's going to negotiate agreements with the government and that was going to be a success for their community as a whole.

"I always say everything we are part of we add value to," he said. "It's a catalyst, in a lot of ways."

He added they are always looking to get from a place of "have not" to "have." They were able to navigate discussions in a way that still allowed them to benefit from the negotiations.