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Opinion: Energy development isn't only option for First Nations

Filed Under: Canada | Opinion
More on: david peerla, economic development, energy, ontario, shiri pasternak

Writers discuss how energy development debates are affecting First Nations in Ontario:
The Ring of Fire, now rebranded as Wawangajing, is located in one of the largest intact wetlands in the world, 500 kilometres northeast of Thunder Bay in the James Bay Lowlands. The Ring of Fire apparently holds immeasurable wealth in the form of precious metals and minerals, and if we are to believe the Chamber of Commerce, has the potential to drive the Ontario economy for decades. The Chamber estimates that within the first 32 years of operation, the Ring of Fire could generate more than $25 billion in economic activity across a number of sectors. Never afraid to over-sell a project, the Ontario Premier once described the Ring of Fire as a project in the "national interest" and compared its importance to the Alberta tarsands.

Bob Rae is the prophet for a new kind of market-based Canadian aboriginal policy. The new religion of economic development – mines, pipelines, power projects and private property – is promoted as the only alternative for First Nations.

Under the new Ring of Fire social contract the government’s job is to help build the all-season roads, string power lines and broadband, train First Nation workers and share a small portion of mining revenues with the First Nations. Public investment would be on the order of $2 billion. The corporations’ job is to pay decent wages, buy from First Nation suppliers and take care of the environment with First Nation monitors. The Ontario government invests in a new economy for First Nations, subsidizes the project costs for corporations and helps the federal government contain expenditures on First Nations health, housing and education. It is a virtuous circle. However, First Nation sovereignty is never mentioned.

The “big idea” of a First Nation social contract has the power of the Canadian elite and the resources behind it.

Get the Story:
David Peerla & Shiri Pasternak: The New First Nation Social Contract (Indian Country Today 5/26)

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