By Harold Calla | December 7, 2022 The Winnipeg Free Press
Over the 40 years that I’ve been involved in First Nations economic development, land management and finance, discussions on the need for economic reconciliation have been at the forefront. Unfortunately, substantive action by the federal government toward that goal has not happened.
While some progress has been made in certain areas, it’s clear that tinkering with existing programs won’t bring about the change that First Nations and all Canadians need to see happen.
I am hopeful that meaningful change is on the horizon. There are signs Canada is ready to move beyond the failed colonial system that prevents First Nations from achieving self-governance and growing our economies.
First Nations Peoples have long been ready; we are tired of the welfare economy and eager to unlock economic growth. First Nations leaders know that with independent revenues and new fiscal powers, they will not only build prosperity in their own communities, but also provide a major boost to the Canadian economy.
The Indigenous economy in Canada has the potential to grow to $100 billion in the coming years. Economic reconciliation means sharing wealth and power; it means First Nations’ control over our economic destiny. And it is in everyone’s interest.
Despite Canada’s decision to implement the United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples (UNDRIP), many First Nations governments still face huge barriers to achieving their governance and economic development goals. And while the federal government has committed to a new fiscal relationship with First Nations, a practical plan forward has been lacking.
Until now. Last week, the First Nations Financial Management Board (FMB) launched RoadMap — a practical, implemental pathway to economic reconciliation with full optionality for First Nations. RoadMap is a plan to breathe life into UNDRIP, to move from a system of the federal government managing poverty to a framework for First Nations generating wealth.
Solid research in support of this pathway comes from the Harvard Project, a global leader in research and policy analysis for Indigenous communities. Its work shows that when Indigenous nations make their own decisions on approaches to development, they routinely out-perform external decision-makers.
This applies to matters ranging from natural-resource management and economic growth to health care and social services.
The RoadMap project is a direct response to what the FMB has heard from the First Nations we serve. It reflects our conversations with First Nations leaders around key questions: How do we achieve economic reconciliation? How do we create self-governance and nation-to-nation relationships from an economic and fiscal point of view?
RoadMap reflects the ideas we gathered from First Nations partners in response to these questions. It also reflects the experiences of other Indigenous organizations that have shared their insights and wisdom with us.
RoadMap is an Indigenous-led response to calls for the statistics and data needed to make informed decisions, for the jurisdiction and fiscal powers needed for sustainable governance, and to close the infrastructure gap.
It’s about collaborating for First Nations’ prosperity, unlocking First Nations’ innovation and economic development potential, and achieving economic reconciliation.
RoadMap will manage risk to enable real change to occur. It provides practical, implementable options for First Nations governments and the government of Canada.
Moving forward requires legislative change. RoadMap proposes amendments to the First Nations Fiscal Management Act to establish several new institutions. These include the First Nations Infrastructure Institute, designed to ensure more sustainable Indigenous infrastructure systems. As well, creation of the Indigenous Development Bank will address the unique capital needs of Indigenous economic development and remove structural barriers that have limited entrepreneurship, major projects and other economic activity.
The RoadMap framework, proposed by the FMB, was developed with input from other First Nations institutions, thought leaders and communities. RoadMap responds to the needs of First Nations peoples and the desires of all levels of government for meaningful, systemic and lasting change.
It recognizes that a one-size-fits-all solution doesn’t work; that the status quo is not a solution.
Ultimately, RoadMap means more First Nations capacity, more self-determination and more socioeconomic growth. We invite federal, provincial and territorial governments — and all Canadians — to support the objectives of RoadMap and join us on this journey toward economic reconciliation.
Harold Calla is executive chair of the First Nations Financial Management Board.