Dispelling Misconceptions

via Toronto Star | June 2013

Indigenous Economy

The economic role Indigenous People play in Ontario and the necessity of indigenous inclusion.

As well as being the original stewards of Canada’s resource rich and picturesque lands, indigenous communities have the fastest growing demographic in Canada with a population rate that’s rising close to six times faster than anywhere else in the country. Provided with the adequate education, training, and job opportunities, this influx of young Canadians could prove to be the most important cog in the future of a prosperous Ontario economy.

“In light of extreme labour shortages in Canada, especially skilled labour shortages, this presents an opportunity for companies to train and put indigenous Canadians to work,” explained Stephen Lindley, Vice President, Indigenous and Northern Affairs at SNC-Lavalin Group. “We should be putting our own people to work. This is an important opportunity.”

Training and Education

Training a homegrown workforce, rather than employing highly skilled workers from overseas, has a number of benefits. Investing in vocational training aimed at indigenous communities is likely to create a stable, long-term and often local workforce, but, most importantly, this skills development and employment will contribute positively to the economic development and well being of indigenous communities.

“Increasing income will contribute to improved health and wealth amongst the indigenous communities, whose standard of living lags behind that enjoyed by most Canadians,” said Lindley. “indigenous people play a role in Ontario’s economy on many different levels.”

Richard Beatty, Provincial Regional Director of Indigenous Services at MNP, said, “there are numerous education and training programs in place within Ontario, including ASETS, Ontario Works EI, AANDC – Aboriginal Procurement and Business Promotion, along with a variety of industry and post secondary opportunities. These initiatives provide critical support that enables First Nations to benefit from, and contribute to, the local economy.”

Concepts of Sustainability

Stephen Lindley believes that by incorporating the natural skills and knowledge of indigenous communities,industry can ensure that major industrial projects are designed to encourage sustainable and ethical practices.

“The millennial old indigenous concepts of sustainability are the concepts we’re trying to incorporate into all of our environmental and social practices when we’re developing new projects,” he explained. “Indigenous people play a key role in being able to ensure that projects are being designed and built in a sustainable way because they are the traditional stewards of the land.”

Some of the misconceptions that were previously held about indigenous peoples’ ability to adapt to modern Canadian industry are beginning to diminish.

“Negative notions and misconceptions are being superseded with success stories in Canada where companies and indigenous communities are working together to improve indigenous-corporate relations through effective partnering,” explained Lindley.

Creation of Wealth

Vice President of Indigenous Services at T.E. Wealth, Jack Jamieson, believes that Ontario’s exploration boom, and the locations in which mining is happening, is a real positive for indigenous communities, and the province’s economy as a whole.

“To gain access to indigenous traditional territories, the mining and exploration industry now has a duty to consult with the affected indigenous communities,” explained Jamieson. “Through the use of negotiated Impact and Benefit Agreements (IBAs), many communities stand to benefit from provisions that include direct and indirect economic incentives, employment and education opportunities, and local cultural and environmental protection.”

Jamieson also feels that by employing a local labour force, big business can really help to make a positive impact in remote, indigenous communities.

“The mining companies need a workforce, and in the more remote areas there are examples of community employment rates rising dramatically as a result.,” he said. “It just makes sense for the industry to train and hire local manpower. This has tremendous spin-offs socially as people are simply feeling better about themselves.”

As well as helping to shape Ontario’s economy with a homegrown workforce, these partnerships give indigenous communities the means to create solid and sustainable local infrastructures.

“Indigenous communities have to run their own schools and support their own social programs,” said Jamieson. “Wealth is being created and that’s a good thing.”

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