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Jobs, jobs, jobs is best strategy

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There are a growing number of young people in First Nations communities who believe there is more to be gained standing shoulder to shoulder with non-aboriginal Canadians than by going toe-to-toe.

Cree business leader Christian Sinclair is one of them.

That's not to pass judgment on how issues currently in the news across Canada are being handled. All efforts, especially when it comes to ensuring treaty promises are kept and implemented, are not only worthwhile, they are critical and long overdue.

It's just that Christian's positive approach is not only refreshing, it is a reminder that we also need to spend time talking about solutions which, according to him, are sitting right in our backyards.

"We don't negotiate agreements," said Christian, "we build them as part of a business partnership aimed at creating a strong economic future for Canada's First Nations communities."

Hearing those words stopped me in my tracks. It's a jobs, jobs, jobs approach that seems to be working and working well.

Hailing from Opaskwayak Cree Nation, Christian brings a wealth of experience to his relationships with non-aboriginal business people. The lessons he learned while serving in the Canadian Airborne Regiment and also while operating his own businesses have helped him create a successful partnership model approach that is reaping great rewards for his people and their communities.

While not a magic bullet for all that ails us, Christian believes natural resource revenue sharing can and will lead to great self-sufficiency, especially if Canada is going to take advantage of the growing global need from this sector.

Being a part of this economic strategy, not as veto holders but as partners, is key.

An impetus for resource revenue sharing is built within the James Bay agreement, a modern-day treaty negotiated between the government of Quebec and the nine communities of the James Bay watershed that ensures full participation by First Nations in all resource-related development.

While working with the James Bay Cree, who recently partnered with Stornoway Diamond Corp. in the development of Quebec's only diamond mine, Christian has been able to hone skills and further streamline this new approach to dealing with business partnerships.

The Financial Post reports that "it's the genesis of the negotiation that's really unique. Vancouver-based Stornoway has stoked a relationship with the Cree of the James Bay Eeyou region since it first set foot on the land years ago, appraising its leaders of the diamond play's financial projections and costs. In a very real way, it brought the Cree in as corporate insiders."

Resource revenue sharing has growing support from a surprising mix of Canadians. The Canadian Mining Association, the Canadian Council of Chief Executives, and a growing number of provincial leaders have all lined up behind a model that brings certainty to a relationship that has been plagued with court cases, changes in leadership, and unknown costs. Even in the courts, case after case is coming back in support of First Nations.

For Cree Construction and Development Corp., one of Quebec's largest construction companies, the results are astounding. Boasting 850 employees in peak periods, with more than half of the jobs held by Crees, the partnership model is not only paying off for First Nations, but also for the Canadian economy at large.

That's hundreds of First Nations people, at just one company, working in support of the mine in catering, road construction, housing and the list goes on. And it's all because of open-minded and positive parties on both sides of the agreement-building process.

As he looks to the future, Christian sees nothing but opportunities to bridge First Nations communities into the future.

"With global demand for Canada's resources increasing, a business appetite growing among First Nations, and a largely untapped work force, there is nowhere to go but up," he said.

Resource revenue sharing is a business concept and an economic and social imperative whose time has come. Rooted in Sec. 35 of the Constitution, reinforced through successful court challenges, and proven as an economic engine, it seems only fair that First Nations gain a share of the wealth extracted from their traditional territories that was promised to them so long ago.

It's a road to prosperity that starts with a collaborative attitude and a willingness to see our First Nations communities succeed at great benefit to us all.

James Wilson is commissioner of the Treaty Relations Commission of Manitoba, a neutral body mandated to encourage discussion, facilitate public understanding, and enhance mutual respect between all peoples in Manitoba.

Republished from the Winnipeg Free Press print edition January 31, 2013 A14

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