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National Chief’s Speaking Notes – The Vancouver Board of Trade (September 27, 2013)


[Traditional Greeting]

I would first like to take this opportunity to thank and honour the Squamish (Sḵwxwú7mesh), Tsliel-waututh and Musqueam (Xwméthkwyiem) for welcoming us here in their beautiful territory. It is an honour to be here today and in particular to spend time with you to talk about key economic opportunities and challenges facing us all – more specifically – resource development, risks and responsibilities.

These are not new issues for this country, Canada. Indeed the resource economy has always been central. Today, the opportunities remain impressive but the challenges and realities require that we take new approaches, learn from our experiences and one another, and explore new paths.

This last week, I had the opportunity to participate in the week of reconciliation. I want to acknowledge the leadership of Chief Bobby Joseph and tremendous support of Vancity brought us together. We walked with 75,000 – survivors, leadership, corporate Canada, schools, unions, and all levels of government

Relationships are at the very heart of the work we must engage in now together.

We will not be forced between false choices of our rights or economic development, the environment or jobs, our cultures or technology.

We must find new ways to engage in these discussions together with a holistic view that brings together all of our communities’ collective and shared interests.

We must design systems that support and enable,- that recognize and implement rights and responsibilities starting now and through the longer-term – I hear over and over, First Nation governments and economic development leaders say.

It has become obvious; this work is not about passive consultation at the end of a project. Quite the contrary, it requires understanding upfront and it requires commitment to see one another and work together over the very long-term.

This is my message today and I believe, as we look around at the headlines and assess the situation and the stakes for all – the time is now. First Nations have a unique view of development and responsibility. As many of you know, I am from Ahousaht, on the west side of Vancouver Island. We are people of the sea and part of the larger Nuu-chah-nulth nation. As Nuu-chah-nulth we are guided by the worldview “Heshook-ish tsawalk”, which means “everything is one.”

2In my home, and among many Indigenous nations, cultures and traditions, this is a central principle: that we are all inter-connected. Within the Indigenous worldview, sharing is a central natural law that requires the development of protocols of mutual understanding, recognition and respect to maintain balance and harmony of the whole.

This October, we will stand together, as our ancestors did, and remind Canada of our collective obligations and responsibilities to work together to implementing the principles of respect and recognition as set out in the Royal Proclamation of 1763.

The development of protocols and entering into agreement or Treaty provide the first indication of what is required now. We are not seeking token consultation or passive participation. We are calling for recognition leading to the sharing of power and responsibility. This will create the context and dialogue needed to build trust and to build awareness and understanding.

This begins building the relationships that are absolutely fundamental to our collective success – to our shared well-being and our shared prosperity.Our Nations stand directly in the path of tremendous resource development potential. In fact, in the next 10 years more than 500 major economic projects representing $650 billion in new investments are planned across Canada.

All of these proposed projects involve First Nations lands, resources and traditional territories. What we have asserted all along, and is now becoming more and more apparent, is that First Nations have a strong, central position as decision-makers in the success or failure of these projects. This places us as key players in the Canadian economy and a key factor in Canada’s ongoing productivity and competitiveness.

Successive court decisions including over 40 from the Supreme Court uphold and affirm our right to have a say in any activities that can impact our rights and our lands.First Nations have won 170 legal victories according to recent tallies, what some call the biggest winning streak in Canadian legal history.

We are in a strong legal position in challenging any development. But we must all recognize that the courts are not the place to negotiate or consult. They are costly, adversarial and generally do nothing to further positive, collaborative relationships.My nation, the Nuu-chah-nulth, was in a prolonged legal battle. While we eventually won, it took years of legal wrangling and cost jobs and livelihoods. It would have been far better for all had there been willingness to work collaboratively based on the recognition of our rights in the first place.

3Without question, our Nations understand the value and opportunity of development. Development that is responsible, sustainable and recognizes our place, our rights, our values and our interests in it. In fact, the Assembly of First Nations has for years passed specific resolutions and mandates directing efforts such as those that led to our Energy and Mining summit, that have supported trade missions to China and elsewhere, and that have pressed for the removal of barriers to economic development and investment. This is about economic development on our terms. But those terms can be good for everyone. And certainly good for business.

Economic development is one key to unleashing the full potential of First Nations citizens and communities in a way that benefits the country as a whole.Along with the legal impetus for action, there’s an economic and moral imperative as well. We are all too familiar with the sobering and staggering statistics surrounding First Nations poverty.

At the same time, we know that Canada is facing a looming shortage of skilled workers while our populations is the youngest and fastest growing in the country. By investing in our people through education, skills training and employment opportunities, we can take significant strides together securing enhanced employment and participation and supporting Canada’s competitiveness and productivity.

Many of our young (over 30,000 post secondary grads and counting) bring education and skills home, espousing ancient values with modern innovation. This is not just development of human capital for a market economy, but the creation of actors for a more civil society and world. A renewed vision then emerges, led by our young reconnecting with our Elders after seven generations of disconnect and as such a new vision is emerging.

According to the Centre for the Study of Living Standards, if we can raise First Nations education and employment levels to the Canadian average, we’ll add $400 billion to the Canadian economy over the coming years and reduce social costs by $115 billion.

This is an idea that’s gaining currency in influential quarters. The Canadian Council of Chief Executives have highlighted the opportunities and advantages of investing in First Nations skills development and capacity and at the same time emphasized the need for respectful partnership with First Nations. These actions are directly linked and they echo what First Nations have been saying for decades.

For the first time in over a century – First Nations rights and title are at the center of major economic interests in resource development here on the coast. This moment could see a convergence of interests but it could also be a collision.

4We have seen similar events across time and across the country: in the east, the fur trade and James Bay Cree. The James Bay Cree attained attention on the international stage – they spoke to shared economic and environmental interests, addressed and driven by recognition, partnership and agreement.

As Matthew Coon Come said: “We stood in the way for a purpose — not to stop development, but to share in it and to win the right to govern ourselves.”

Today, the Cree are a regional economic powerhouse with $70 million a year in revenues and partnerships with neighbouring jurisdictions and corporations across the country and, equally important, control over the decisions that affect their lives, their lands and their people.

In BC, we have over 30 First Nations languages, 203 First Nation title holders along pipeline routes and in the middle of major resource development projects with no process or mechanism to address these issues.

Recognition and respect are needed and can lead the way to partnership producing mutual benefit to strengthen the Canadian economy overall.

This is what changes the game: the recognition that we are all in this together; that we all have shared interests; that what’s good for First Nations is good for the country, because strong First Nations make a stronger Canada.

So, if we agree that it makes good economic and moral sense to engage with First Nations on development, the question now is: how?

What we need to do is commit to building respectful processes that recognize our rights upfront.

BC’s success will continue to be based on the willingness to rise to meet the many challenges in resource sectors from forestry, to fishing, clean energy (there are over $34 billion in annual investments in clean energy with First Nations) and liquefied natural gas because of upfront proactive engagement by the province and industry, who didn’t wait for the courts to instruct them to start dealing with First Nations.

Most are aware that the Haisla First Nation is a partner and stakeholder in a number of LNG projects worth billions of dollars, including the Pacific Trail Pipeline, Kitimat LNG and others. Now, part of our engagement has to be predicated on the understanding that our communities and our nations are diverse and each has its own unique interests and priorities, that First Nations will not always take the same path. But engaging upfront will help us all understand when and where our interests come together.

5And the building of trust and relationships is also not new to business and industry. When trust is increased so too is the speed with which you can accomplish positive change.

Today, First Nations consume too much of our energy fighting legal battles and languishing in protracted negotiations — a situation highly characteristic of a lack of trust.

This is why in my four years as National Chief I have called clearly and consistently for the relationship to be fundamentally transformed, to be re-set and to once and for all begin taking decisive action towards reconciliation. This starts with dialogue and it requires the effort and commitment to build trust.

With trust we can remove fear, we can create momentum, and we can generate hope. Building trust is never easy. It requires the best of all of us. It requires listening, creativity and understanding.

There are models we can look to – multi-jurisdictional tables established on the basis of recognition that foster a lasting relationship to address mutual interests and needs –forums that bring together environmental and economic challenges. There are active examples like the Arctic Council and co-management pursuant to treaty of Waitangi in New Zealand.

We know that Parliament will resume next month with a Speech from the Throne, and we are pressing for action in key areas that will advance the agenda for all of us. We are seeking your support for this agenda for progress and prosperity.

We seek clear process and commitment to move forward on recognition and implementation of rights. Proponents of major resource initiatives including pipelines have suggested that our issue or problem is not that of deciding for or against such projects; entirely missing the point.

The point instead is that governments, still stuck in a legal framework and, as such, an out-dated, insufficient policy structure, of non-recognition of Aboriginal title and rights, have an outstanding land question and negotiation problem. Understanding the intersection between the unresolved rights issues as way to jointly design a sustainable economic vision for our shared future will lead us to growth and shared success.

Rather than, as it has been viewed – words I myself have heard uttered by multinational executive in my own territories – “we have an ‘Indian’ problem.” Now is the moment to recognize instead, we have an opportunity to realize First Nations and our collective potential

I’d like to believe that at this current moment in time it is only a continuation of a long standing misunderstanding of the truths of the rights and title built up in over 40 Supreme court decisions, 250 years of struggle for rights since the royal proclamation, 6Royal Commission on Aboriginal Peoples and the United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples … and not wilful ignorance.

This means addressing the land question through a new, fair and just comprehensive claims resolution process. After 20 years of experience here in British Columbia, achieving this change requires the Prime Minister to make good on his commitment that he made to Nations in this and other regions, as recently as January 11th of this year, to work with us to reform the basis on which negotiations take place based on the recognition and affirmation of rights – as already set in the Constitution. It’s in the interests of the corporate community and in fact all of Canada to understand that this moment could be one of a convergence or it could be a collision of title and rights and significant national economic interests in resource development.

Closely related to this is implementation of historic Treaties. Treaty leaders and citizens will take the lead on implementing their Treaty as in those modern agreements most recently forged in British Columbia. My role of the AFN is to stand with First Nations and assist in any and all efforts in this important area. We will continue to, as I am here once again today, putting forward plans to achieve both a just recognition and implementation of our rights and title, which is our path to shared prosperity.

Our next key priority is education. I was here just last week participating in BC’s Reconciliation Week marking the sixth national event by the Truth and Reconciliation Commission. It was at once profoundly moving and uplifting – moving to hear the tragic stories of survivors of the schools who were taken from their families as children and subjected to at-times unbearable trauma, but also uplifting to hear of their survival, their healing and their courage.

If education was once used as a weapon to sever our peoples from their cultures, it can now be forged into the key that unlocks our full potential. This will not happen through unilaterally imposed legislation delivered from on high by the government. We want to create our own systems that are sustainable, that support our students’ success, that value their languages and cultures.

Yes, we have arrived at a shared view with Canada that we must invest in our children and our schools. That we must see fair, sustainable and comparable investment delivered to support our kids to succeed. But it is not only about more resources. We must wrap our children in proper systems and full supports. First Nations right here in BC have worked to build our own First Nation education system, and it holds much potential. Without a doubt this is the way forward. Our young people deserve a chance. We must support their success and that means supporting safe and secure communities. We must see action to address the tragedy of missing and murdered women – an issue that resonates strongly here in Vancouver but hits home for too many First Nations families across the country.

7We are pressing for action across all these areas and we hope all of you will join with us. Everyone in this room can play a role in creating change in our lifetime. As the powerful Dr. Bernice King reminded us just past Sunday: “This is no time for apathy or complacency. This is a time for vigorous and positive action.”

I come back to the issues dominating the headlines and also the conflict, the risks and the responsibilities facing all of us right now. We have a young and growing population that will not wait another generation to see change, that are willing to work for a better future, that will take to the streets to oppose a pattern of federal policy that for a hundred years has been paternalistic at best and assimilationist at worst. We have a growing chorus of Canadians that are standing with us who want to see a fair and just resolution to the problems that are holding all of us back.

Let us agree here today to not let another moment, month or year go by without taking concrete steps toward returning to the relationship that binds us, that obligates us to respectfully and collaboratively work together for all of our futures. This must become the new normal.“Heshook-ish tsawalk”,

As I said at the outset – a fundamental philosophy of my people – the concept that all things, the animals, the elements and the peoples are all connected is a critically instructive and illustrative principle right now.We must set the course for innovative new processes and raise our expectations of what is possible when we come together to build awareness and understanding of one another – culturally, spiritually but, just as importantly, in economic terms.

I want to suggest today a challenge if you will to corporations across the country. Beyond suggesting the need for corporate social responsibility, beyond the need for investment in jobs and opportunities for our communities, we need to work with corporate Canada and with governments to launch new systems across this land. For example, Vancity grabbed our attention because not only did they invest, they shared their hearts. We saw them in their red shirts, walking with us.

We must design systems that support and enable, that recognize and implement rights and responsibilities over the long-term.

Building relationships upfront will yield returns for all parties and end the delays and lost opportunity.

Let me summarize then the way forward


  • Capacity support
  • Fiscal measures, for example loan guarantees and removing barriers to investments.
  • Projects that focus on economic, social, community housing, infrastructure, and equity participation.
  • Fixed rate loans soon to be issued with the proceeds from the historic first “First Nations Finance Authority Bond.”
  • First Nations access to capital markets worth $212 trillion globally, with excess of $1 trillion in the bond markets in Canada, and. First Nations “own revenues” and governance.

2. A NEW CONSERVATION ECONOMY that involves not simply the review of single projects, but the overall oversight, planning, management and benefits of entire environmental and economic systems across regions. This is about mutual learning and understanding. And it is about building mutual trust. This requires…

  • Traditional environmental knowledge and principles.
  • Placing limitations on the capacity of the natural environment to support us.
  • Addressing climate change and other environmental pressures
  • 35 years ago – long before it was uttered in mainstream society – I distinctly recall my late grandfather telling me of changes to the environment, the warming of the oceans and the effect on the salmon and the pattern changes he observed.

3. SHARED DECISION-MAKING and ACCOUNTABILITY – Recognizing that equity, including achieving resource revenue sharing and empowerment, are key aspects of success now. Decision-making and management must be inclusive and accountable to all citizens affected… everything is connected.

We are all one.

And once again to the words of Dr. Bernice King, still ringing in the ears of all of us who gathered to listen to her and to feel the echo of her father’s words – I am convinced that we can achieve change.

Dr.King warned us: “this is no day to pay lip service – It’s incumbent on everyone to pay life service. Canada cannot afford the luxury of slowing down, or cooling off.”

And as I travel across this country to the remote reserves and see the eyes of children filled with wonder and potential, I couldn’t agree more. 9We can create change in our lifetime. At this moment in history, we are the ones who have been called on to fulfill this country’s potential.

50 years after her father, Dr. Martin Luther King, made his famous “I have a dream speech” in front of 250,000 on the famous March to Washington. His daughter, Dr. Bernice King, issued a challenge in front of 75,000 people right here in Vancouver last week that resonates to this day, calling on us to move boldly, and to feel as her fatherfelt, the fierce urgency of now.

Kleco, kleco

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