Column: Making resource-sharing work for everyone

If one mentions resource-sharing with First Nations, this line is about where the conversation would end.

But what if we didn’t call it resource-sharing and instead framed the discussion in terms that everyone, including participants in the Idle No More movement, seem to want? Suppose we framed it as addressing quality-of-life issues for all aboriginal people, via education and job-skills training, leading to employment opportunities?

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How about we direct our energies to innovative solutions, such as applying new resource royalties to education and job-training sponsorships? What would happen if we offer thriving oil, gas and mining companies specific royalty or tax incentives for each aboriginal student they sponsored or hired?

And suppose that such incentives for sponsored aboriginal students are only made available upon completion of a university degree or skills-training program?

This might not be the right conceptual model. However, there are countless ways to convert the value of resources into solutions for aboriginal unemployment and other social issues.

Programs could be set up to apply resource revenues to address life-skills issues at a much earlier age, such as by using royalties or corporate tax incentives to provide enhanced early childhood development programs and family supports that could be buttressed through stay-in-school programs.

The point is, solutions exist out there if we start to better understand the problem and its history, and abandon our stubborn notions and prejudiced view that treaties are only for First Nations people, or stop thinking that engaging in a little more tiresome squabbling magically will produce a solution that has eluded us in 140 years of such squabbling.

It’s too easy for the rest of Canadian society to keep believing that treaties are exclusively about First Nations, and that a system that brought us the Indian Act, reserves, residential schools and a century of aboriginal poverty is far superior to the townships and apartheid of South Africa that Canadian governments fought to end.

Harder still to understand is that we have social and even contractual treaty obligations to keep looking for solutions.

It’s just as easy for First Nations people, including those in Idle No More, to dwell on such past failings, view treaty deliberations or a rewritten Indian Act as the sole solution, and blame everything on a federal government that often seems no more capable of conducting its own affairs (see a great Twitter tag called #Ottawapiskat) than local band councils.

Harder to accept is that First Nations leaders haven’t always had the interests of the grassroots at heart, that solutions won’t be found in the age-old battles over the treaties and the Indian Act and that maybe the federal Conservatives’ push for transparency and accountability by First Nations bands or even a scrapping of the Indian Act actually make some sense.

But even more egregious than the misunderstandings are the missed opportunities.

For example, while there was much humour Monday on #Ottawapiskat that compared Prime Minister Stephen Harper’s Venture Capital Action Plan, which benefits the business sector, to a chief doling money to favoured band cronies, it was also disheartening.

Wouldn’t such a corporate giveaway be more justifiable if it were structured as an incentive for aboriginal education, job training and hiring?

Nevertheless, we could still accomplish a lot, especially at the provincial level that’s responsible for both natural resources and education.

Could provincially driven initiatives be supported by the federal government through the current health and social transfer? Wouldn’t such creative solutions work better than the squabbling over federal transfers?

Suppose we stopped confining our thinking to what has failed aboriginal people for more than a century?

 

Murray Mandryk is the political columnist for the Regina Leader-Post.

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