Ideafest: First Nations reconciliation as a search for common ground

The reconciliation process now underway with First Nations can go beyond finger-pointing and offer benefits for everyone, says a UVic law professor.

“Reconciliation doesn’t always have to see us being opposed to one another,” said John Borrows, a professor of law at the University of Victoria and the Canada Research Chair in Indigenous Law. “Reconciliation can also look like a search for common ground.”

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Borrows and fellow professor Brent Mainprize will present their research into the subject tonight, ahead of a panel discussion including Ovide Mercredi, past national chief of the Assembly of First Nations; former Haida leader Guujaaw; and environmentalist David Suzuki.

For Borrows, a member of the Nawash Nation in Ontario, economic success can flow in more than one direction. It can provide good homes, jobs and opportunities for First Nations peoples, and provide a good sense of security for investors.

Some aboriginal communities have some good resource opportunity available in the form of mining, oil and gas, or forestry, he said. But there might be a lack of trust between investors, resource companies and First Nations to responsibly develop those resources. Business people want an assured financial return. Aboriginal communities don’t want to be cheated.

Borrows believes communities can protect themselves by developing three things:

• First Nations leadership, to provide a clear vision of what economic development will look like and accomplish.

• Good governance structures, to provide an accountability and transparency so all First Nations community members can be confident in decisions made on their behalf.

• Good business law, so that contracts can be structured and enforced to ensure there is a sense of fairness and remedies applied when terms are not honoured.

The result can mean good business dealings for everyone involved, he said.

“There are all sorts of consultations and accommodation regimes that can lead to bands not only employing folks in an industry, but also having a good stake in some of the profits.”

Education, consultation and partnerships can also see First Nations develop layers of expertise and social capacity within their own communities.

Education in trades, time spent in colleges and universities, and partnerships, for example, can empower people with ideas and talent to keep things running.

• Brave Spirits on New Paths: The Road to Indigenous Economic Reconciliation is 7-9 p.m. today at the Alix Goolden Hall, 907 Pandora Ave.

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