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[Traditional greetings] Good day and thank you for welcoming me to your beautiful territory. I am truly honoured to be here – to learn from you of the challenges and priority issues in your territories, and to share with you some of our plans for moving forward based on First Nation rights and Treaties. I opened in my own language by thanking the Indigenous peoples of this territory – the Nisenan and Plains Miwok. It’s great to see so many familiar faces, including President Jefferson Keel. The Assembly of First Nations and NCAI touched base just a few weeks ago during a visit in Washington. Last year, the AFN and NCAI co-hosted an International Indigenous Summit on Energy and Mining on the Canadian side of Niagara Falls. But more on that later… My message builds on your messages here today. I’d like to reflect on your theme ‘Our Rights, Our Sovereignty’ from a perspective of considering “Our Resources and Our Economies”, and highlight the opportunities and importance of moving forward together. You see – there are many similarities in our work and I see a true moment of reckoning for all of us to capitalize on these similarities and shared priorities and goals to achieve a better day for indigenous peoples across North America and around the world. While we have distinct cultures, traditions, ceremonies, we have similar challenges and priorities. And above all we share a responsibility – to our peoples, to our lands, and to our brothers and sisters around the globe – to stand firm on our rights, our sovereignty – to create healthy, sustainable, thriving communities for our peoples to learn and grow. I believe that after several centuries of struggle and strife, now is the time for our peoples to strengthen our cultures, our economies, and our Nations. Our Peoples have much in common, and all in this room are familiar with our kinship. Many of us share the same DNA and the same language origins.
The Dene in the Yukon, the Northwest Territories and northern Alberta share the same dialects with the Apache and Navajo in California and Arizona. The Indigenous Peoples on the Pacific Northwest coast – from Alaska, to British Columbia, to Vancouver Island, where my territory is, and south to Washington and Oregon – have the same shared lineage, heritage, and customs. While this year may mark the 25th anniversary of the North American Free Trade Agreement – NAFTA – many people in this room know that Indigenous peoples had already been freely trading among each other for thousands of years. In fact, 800 years ago, the ancient city of Cahokia – near present day St. Louis – was bigger than any city in Europe at the time, including London and Paris. Cahokia was built upon trade with the Indigenous peoples of the north – some of whom traveled from smaller trade centres located in what is now Toronto and Winnipeg – as well as those Peoples from the southern part of the United States and Mexico. And trade wasn’t just limited to our peoples. In the past few years, archeologists have found Chinese coins that are 300 to 400 years old in Alaska and the Yukon. In fact, the Tlingit used these coins to decorate clothing. Let’s face it; both of our respective countries – the United States and Canada – would not be two of the wealthiest nations in the world if not for the natural resources in our territories. When our Peoples signed Treaties with the Crown, it was understood that the land we agreed to share with the newcomers would equally benefit everyone for as long as the sun shines, the rivers flow and the grass grows. When the Chiefs in northern Ontario signed Treaties 150 years ago, they said they felt “the rustling of gold under our feet”. They expected a fair share of that wealth. The City of Sacramento wouldn’t be here today if it weren’t for the gold rush of the 1840s and 1850s. The same can be said for Whitehorse and Dawson City in the Yukon – Fairbanks and Skagway in Alaska – during the second gold rush of the 1890s.
We now have a 21st century gold rush. Not only does it include precious metals but also the new gold – energy. And the main market for those resources are the same people we traded with along the Pacific Northwest 300 years ago. We are all witness to the global economic shifts – and the growing importance of natural resources and balance of our rights. In recent months, China has invested billions of dollars in Canadian mining companies. As we speak, China’s national oil company made a bid to buy one of Canada’s largest energy companies – Nexen. The Canadian government will either approve or reject that bid next month. World leader after world leader, including Indigenous leaders, are looking much more closely at their relationship Asia and beyond I would like to share with you a bit of our experience on a shifting world. One year ago this month, I accompanied a number of First Nation leaders and representatives of our business community on a Mission of Friendship and Trade to China. Over the course of 10 days, we met with dozens of Chinese politicians and business leaders, who are eager to do business with us – from natural resources to tourism to agriculture. While we were there, First Nation Grain Management – based in Alberta – opened an office in the port city of Dalian. The Lax Kw’alaams First Nation in BC now has an office in Beijing. Last year, they sold $40 million worth of lumber to China. Food grown and raised by First Nations – particularly grains, beef and fish – is also a fast growing export to Asia. Another First Nation business story is that of One Earth Farms, they are targeting one million acres of First Nation land in order to grow wheat and raise cattle for markets in North America and beyond. The Tobique First Nation in New Brunswick has begun flying their tuna catches directly to buyers in Japan. One bluefish tuna can sell for several hundred thousand dollars. You can say those tuna are worth more than their weight in gold.
We also met with the China Investment Corporation, which is perhaps the largest sovereign wealth fund in the world, with at least $410 billion to invest in foreign operations. The CIC has only one foreign office and it happens to be located in Toronto because the Chinese realize there is much potential in Canada’s resources. For example, in the past several years, Chinese mining and exploration companies have sought partnership agreements with First Nations in northern Ontario. For those who may not have heard about this, the 21st century gold and precious metal rush is centered in an area known as the “Ring of Fire” in the Far North of Ontario where 90 per cent of the population is First Nation and 100 per cent of the land is traditional territory. The Ring of Fire has the potential to generate tens of billions of dollars in revenue for the economies of both Ontario and Canada. Its’ importance has ensured prominent references in the 2012 federal and provincial budgets as one of the great economic opportunities of the 21st century. Our people and our lands hold tremendous potential for economic relationships domestically and abroad. This is something we share – a common goal to ensure our fair share. There are compelling reasons to be part of the strategy – part of a new relationship – but not at any cost. Let me start with only a few of the reasons: • North of the border, First Nations are the fastest growing segment of the Canadian population. When we combine this growth with the reality that our working age population experiences three times higher rates of unemployment – the math is painfully obvious not just for our communities but for all of Canada. • We can invest in our people to benefit all Canadians or continue paying the price to perpetuate poverty. Canada’s economic fundamentals require greater economic participation of our quickly growing population. • Recent research shows that closing the skills and education gaps between First Nations and the rest of the population will generate $400 billion within a generation and save Canada $115 billion in social costs. • Our rights, treaties, and the environment cannot be disregarded in the process. We need to find ways to bring life and respect to each.
In the lead up to next month’s presidential election, we’ve heard on the news in Canada that what America needs are major investments in order to turn around a stagnant economy and put millions of unemployed people back to work. I realize many leaders here today must be asking how your interests will factor into the political and economic policy decisions. We ask those questions, too, of the federal government in Canada. In our case, besides natural resource development, green energy has the potential for our Peoples to lead the way with wind and solar technologies. Not only will preserving the land for generations to come serve as a priority, but being a major contributor to the North American economy is a priority too. For example, back in my home territory, the Haida Nation, the Lax Kw'alaams First Nation and the Metlakatla First Nation are partners in NaiKun Wind Development, which will be Canada's largest offshore wind energy project. By 2016, Naikun could power up to 130,000 homes which will result in an annual reduction of 450,000 tonnes of greenhouse gas emissions. Henvey Inlet First Nation – just a few hours north of Niagara Falls and Buffalo NY – is building a billion dollar wind farm that will produce enough electricity to power 70,000 homes annually. This major project would not have been realized without Ontario’s Green Energy Act and Feed-in-Tariff program. Importantly, this project would never have gotten off the ground without private loans and foreign investors. Six Nations – about two hours south of Toronto – recently signed a $700 million agreement with Samsung Energy of Korea to build one of the largest wind and solar farms in Canada. This is the very first project in Samsung’s $7 billion green energy contract with the Province of Ontario.
These green energy and resource developments – with the potential for so many more – are the main reasons why the AFN held the highly successful 2011 International Indigenous Summit on Energy and Mining in Niagara Falls. As I mentioned earlier, Jefferson Keel and I were co-chairs. Over 800 people, from Brazil to China, attended. President Keel emphasized that it is our sovereign duty as the First Nations of this land to be responsible for the management of our energy and natural resources. First Nations and American Indians must do so together, across North America, across borders not of our making. The Obama administration sent several key officials to our Summit because the United States is fully aware that both First Nations and American Indians have become key partners in providing future energy security for North America. As a result of the collaboration between the AFN and the NCAI, our organizations agreed to chart a path for tribally-driven development of Indigenous resources on Indigenous territory in North America where the Indigenous nations are ready, willing and have a central role. We also held a caucus of Indigenous delegates from North America. There was a stated desire and commitment to build indigenous capacity on energy development. Based on the dialogue, we can work together to advocate for Indigenous participation in energy and mineral development in ways that work for us, our nations, the environment, and our economies. Our next steps will need to include: - examining the possibility of a North American Indigenous Task Force on Energy, comprised of representative organizations; - participating in global leadership forums to help promote awareness of strategies that include Indigenous peoples; - and, to build specific expert capacity using an Indigenous Virtual Resource Centre on Energy and Mining. This Virtual Resource Centre will work to provide subjectexpert support to our peoples’ energy projects, environment-based protections, and so much more.
We are also beginning work together to ensure adequate recognition and benefits for Indigenous Veterans. First Nations Veterans in Canada have had a long history of service with the Canadian Forces in many instances enlisting in incredible numbers. AFN fully supports the efforts of First Nations Veterans in obtaining and receiving the benefits and entitlements as a result of their service. We look forward to learning more from our US counterparts and to further engage to better understand common challenges. At our last winter Assembly, AFN Chiefs called for an International Indigenous Border Security Summit to take place in Akwesasne in May 2013. Under the leadership of Grand Chief Mike Mitchell of the Mohawk Council of Akwesasne, we look forward to working with NCAI to bring together Indigenous leaders and governments and to ensure that our inherent and Treaty rights to travel and trade freely on Turtle Island are affirmed. The summit will be an excellent opportunity to assert that the border that was imposed on us must no longer restrain our communities, separate our nations, and impede our economies. These are just some of the important first steps in the transformation that I’m sure we can all agree is essential to achieving a better quality of life for all Indigenous peoples in North America. Essential for indigenous rights and survival; Essential to create a path of mutual respect and cooperation, as opposed to perpetual conflict; And, essential to generate mutually beneficial outcomes – building indigenous economies and playing an increasingly important role in the broader Canadian and North America economies. Earlier this year, the federal government in Canada announced the streamlining of the environmental review process, which has created great concern and opposition for many First Nations in our country. For example there is an increasing opposition to the proposed Northern Gateway Pipeline, which would supply Canadian oil from Alberta.
If this pipeline is built, there are two potential dangers. An oil spill on land could destroy some of British Columbia’s most pristine wilderness. An oil spill along the coast would have much more disastrous results. Our rights have never been properly addressed in these existing processes. We must see a clear and explicit commitment for our rights and interests to be addressed, as required by the federal constitutional duty in Canada. First Nations will stand firm in our rights and our responsibilities to protect the sustainability of our lands and resources. Just as governments and companies have learned well the importance of protocol in breaking open lucrative foreign markets ... so too MUST relationship- building create the path forward in protecting the environment and unleashing economic potential throughout North America. Our economic visions are not dissimilar – sustainable, healthy communities and families are central to our overall success. At the same time, our Indigenous values, our traditional knowledge, and our connection to our lands and waters is – and will always be – an unshakeable bond. The United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples calls on states to work in mutual partnership and respect with Indigenous peoples and sets out the standard of free, prior and informed consent. Article 32 of the Declaration also states, “Indigenous peoples have the right to determine and develop priorities and strategies for the development or use of their lands or territories and other resources”. International experts assert that Indigenous Peoples enjoy Permanent Sovereignty of Natural Resources. The UNDRIP is our guide. We must use it together. In closing, let me summarize that the economic imperative is clear – we all have much at stake – our Nations and our countries. We know what we are capable of doing. It was trade among our Peoples that built Cahokia 800 years ago. Now is the time to rebuild the spirit of Cahokia for the 21st century.
First Nations and Indian Tribes will become increasingly important economic agents. We will unleash our own potential and support sustainable opportunities in North America’s critical resource sector, labour force, and economy. And we can capitalize on the opportunity to do this together, for we are truly stronger together. Unique in our cultures, traditions and ceremony, but similar in our resilience and our plans for success for our peoples. Whether through trade, agriculture, mining, fishing, forestry, energy, or emerging technologies – our Nations and our rights are a reality and they present unlimited opportunities. Our rights and our sovereignty will allow us to use our resources to build our economies. From Alberta to Arizona, from Ontario to Oklahoma, Indigenous Peoples will be the agents of change. For the sake of the land, and the sake of our children, we can and must create a new age of prosperity for all. Make no mistake – this is a moment of reckoning – a moment of rare opportunity for Indigenous peoples in North America to stand up for our peoples and Indigenous peoples globally. We have a responsibility to one another – as brothers and sisters here in North America – and to those far more worse off than us in other communities around the globe. We must stand together – grounded on our rights and sovereignty for this generation and the next. Let our voices, our successes be a beacon for Indigenous peoples internationally. And let us showcase our strength – together – for this generation and the next. Kleco, kleco.
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