Wednesday, 11 February 2009

News: Time for mining companies to share the wealth: native leader


Companies like Vale Inco that exploit the natural resources of First Nations should be prepared to share the wealth, a top native leader in Ontario told a Sudbury audience Monday.

Grand Council Chief John Beaucage, of the Anishinabek Nation, said companies should also be prepared to consult with First Nations about the environmental impact of their developments.

"Impact benefit agreements (includes) jobs, partnerships with some of the companies that are going to be deriving benefit off the land," Beaucage said.

"That's how we understood the treaties to portray our relationship with the Crown ... that the land was going to benefit all of us in an equitable fashion.

"For the past 150 years, it has only benefited nonnative governments and corporations."

Beaucage said he doesn't expect revenue sharing to be 50-50, just more equitable in the future. Sharing resources will help get First Nations out of their dependence on transfer payments and into more of a self-governance model.

"Where we don't have to ask permission or ask for hand-outs every time we turn around," Beaucage said. "It's not just hold out your hand and fill it full of money. But let's work out a way to get jobs, people training and business."

It should also apply to the Whitefish First Nation, whose territories include Greater Sudbury, he said. Vale Inco should be consulting and sharing profits with the band, he added.

"That's why we're trying to be involved with changes to the Mining Act," Beaucage said. "I have a meeting (today) in Queen's Park."

The First Nations leader says aboriginal communities want to see better rules for consultation and revenue sharing in Ontario's new Mining Act following five months of discussions.

Beaucage said talks to update the outdated act went relatively well.

The province began consultations in August and, after several delays, is promising to introduce legislation in the spring.

Last year, Whitefish Lake First Nation announced a $550-billion land claim, including almost all of the lands encompassing Greater Sudbury. The band argues the Ontario and federal governments violated the Robinson Huron Treaty of 1850, which it says included an agreement the First Nation would receive money based on the amount of revenue derived from the land.

Officials say the intent isn't to force people off the land, but to get a fair share of profits generated by mining companies in the past century.

Beaucage was in Sudbury to deliver a lecture at Laurentian University's Fraser Auditorium on Monday about "The Treaties in the Modern Context," as part of the Gkendasswin Trail Speakers Series.

Beaucage was elected to serve the 42-member First Nations of the Anishinabek Nation in October 2004.

"It's not so much that the treaties have changed -- we understood them well when we negotiated them over 150 years ago. It is the implementation that is slowly changing," he said.

The change is due to recent Supreme Court rulings.

"The aspects of treaty benefits have gone more to nonnative people than native people," Beaucage said. "So with Supreme Court ruling like Haida-Takuu and Mikisew, it brings things in line a little bit more in terms of consultation and accommodation."

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