OTTAWA -- The federal government has singled out three Manitoba First Nations as economic successes worth studying in a new research project looking at how some reserves are prospering in Canada.
Opaskwayak Cree Nation, Buffalo Point and Rolling River were among the 65 First Nations Indian and Northern Affairs Canada selected because they have prospered economically and Ottawa wants to know how they did it so they can try and extend that success to other reserves.
OCN is the only one of the three an INAC team will study. INAC selected a statistical sample of 33 of the 65 economic superstars to be part of its reserve land and First Nations development project.
"These First Nations did not become successful overnight," wrote Paul Fauteux, senior adviser on lands and economic development at INAC, in a letter to the 33 chiefs in the spring requesting a meeting.
He said INAC wants to help First Nations enhance the value of their assets and that means it needs to understand why some First Nations have been successful and how they've done it.
The 65 communities were chosen based on their performance on the Community Well-Being Index, which gives communities in Canada scores of zero to 100 based on census data reflecting income, housing, education and labour-force activity.
Generally First Nations fare far worse than non-aboriginal communities on the index. According to INAC, almost all of the 100 communities with the lowest scores are aboriginal. Only one of the top 100 communities is a First Nation.
In Manitoba, for example, Winnipeg has an overall index score of 82.
Opaskwayak Cree Nation scored 55. Buffalo Point and Rolling River scored 77 and 59 respectively.
Most Manitoba First Nations have scores under 50.
Fauteux has already met with 25 chiefs and will meet with the remaining eight by the middle of this month. Then he will prepare a report providing advice to the department on best practices and advise INAC how to proceed with modernizing reserve land management.
That has some fear among aboriginal leaders this is Ottawa's way of moving in to privatize reserve lands with a proposed property-privatization act.
Assembly of First Nations National Chief Shawn Atleo said if individual First Nations want to go that route it's up to them but it should not be something the federal government imposes on all First Nations.
"Privatization of First Nation lands is not necessary for economic development and success, a point made by the leaders of many First Nations that are enjoying economic success," said Atleo in a written statement Wednesday.
In fact, the AFN believes the economic success stories INAC has singled out on its list of 65 proves First Nations can proser without privatization of their lands.
The AFN general assembly rejected the idea of a national property act at its recent general assembly in Winnipeg.
"The overriding concern is that converting First Nations lands to private property could lead to a massive erosion of the First Nations land base and, ultimately, the disappearance of all First Nations lands," he said.
Assembly of Manitoba Chiefs Grand Chief Ron Evans said the AMC supports economic development and the idea of looking at the best practices in successful communities is a good one.
But he said this study is cause for concern because it has not been properly discussed, its overall intention is unclear and its study is of a very limited number of communities.
"For Manitoba First Nations, we would not consider a review of one community to justify major changes that would affect all of our communities," said Evans. "We would require further information and full consultation on any legislative changes that impact our land and treaty rights."