CANDO Statement on the Economic Development Recommendations of the Royal Commission on Aboriginal Peoples
The Joint CANDO-Royal Bank Symposium October 23, 1997, Toronto, Ontario
David Newhouse, Chair, Department of Native Studies, Trent University
Corinne Mount Pleasant-Jette, Director, Native Access to Engineering,
Faculty of Engineering and Computer Science, Concordia University
I am pleased to have this opportunity to speak today about the
Royal Commission on Aboriginal Peoples and its recommendations for
the development of Aboriginal economies. It has now been almost
a year since the Commission tabled its report. We believe this is
sufficient time to read the recommendations, reflect upon them and
prepare the action that one takes.
Corporate leaders prefer action to reflection. They are ready to
take risks, ready to act on a recommendation that is well thought
out. The RCAP recommendations, in our view, well thought out. Success
in the competitive environment of industry and finance requires
not only the capacity for sound judgement but also the capacity
to recognize the importance of timing. At this juncture, one year
following the release of the RCAP report, we believe that the timing
is right. RCAP presented us with a window of opportunity and recipe
for constructive change. It is our view that we should do more than
look through the window.
What did the RCAP say?
The Commission's report, in our view, very clearly points to the
need for change in the relationship between Aboriginal Peoples and
the people of Canada and their government. The old way, based upon
the philosophy of the century old Indian Act, is no longer tenable.
It is simply not acceptable for other Canadians to continue to have
the power to make basic decisions about the lives of Aboriginal
people. The Commission's work clearly shows what happens to a people
when the power to decide their own future is taken from them. The
legacy of the policy of colonialism, marginalization and assimilation
is clear. We are now dealing with the effects of this century long
racist policy. The story is one that should be familiar to each
and everyone in this room.
The Commission recommends a new political relationship between
Aboriginal peoples and Canada. We agree that this is needed and
urgently needed. In our view, the move toward self government should
occur with as much speed as possible. We also agree that the logical
basis of this move should be reconstituted Aboriginal Nations based
upon traditional cultural groupings. We also agree that the governments
of these Nations should be constituted as a distinct order of government
in Canada. We believe that the Canadian federation is strong enough
and Canadians generous and thoughtful enough to accept these recommendations
and begin to make these changes. The country which was built on
our land now must take the necessary steps to ensure that we are
accorded a place of dignity and respect within it.
While we believe that a new political relationship is necessary
and inevitable, we also believe that there must now be a more equitable
sharing of the resources of this country. Aboriginal interests in
the natural resources of this country have been, in many places,
erased and ignored. We agree with the Royal Commission that treaties
should be the basis of this new sharing, either through the implementation
of the current treaties or the signing of new treaties that include
land and other natural resources along with the powers to control
What happened to Aboriginal peoples over the last two hundred years?
Over the last two centuries, as the market economy took hold around
them, many Aboriginal people were prevented from meaningful participation
in it, either as business people or as laborers. Provisions of the
1876 Indian Act effectively kept Indian people from participating
in the most basic mechanism of capitalism: the capital market. Access
to capital through credit for Indian people residing on reserves
was denied. Access to technology that would have enabled Indian
people to compete more effectively in farming in the West was denied.
Access to sufficient land for market farming was denied. Often the
provisions of the treaties were simply insufficient to allow Indian
people to gain any competitive advantage in agriculture or natural
resource extraction. Aboriginal peoples were often relocated far
from other Canadians which made it difficult for Aboriginal people
to gain a foothold in markets. And often, mainstream Canadians simply
did not want to do business with Indians.
Aboriginal people have always had a strongly held value of self-sufficiency:
we have always wanted to take care of ourselves. We have always
acted to ensure that we can do this. As you can see there have been
many ways in which they have prevented us from taking care of ourselves.
Prior to contact with European newcomers, Aboriginal people were
self-sufficient. Trade and commerce played an important part in
the lives of many tribal communities. It was not until the imposition
of foreign values that these practises were curtailed. Our ancestral
leaders conducted mutually beneficial trade relationships, supported
whole communities, negotiated among themselves, and laid the foundations
for productive, fulfilling societies before their skills and practises
were cut short by invading strangers.
The records of the treaty negotiations in the late 19th century
are filled with the testimony of Indian leaders who knew of the
world that was being built around them and who actively attempted
to obtain the tools necessary to survive and thrive in the emerging
We read the Council minutes of the traditional chiefs of the Iroquois
confederacy and hear the chiefs asking, repeatedly, the Indian agents
about the value of their investments and the size of their bank
accounts in Ottawa. We see them asking to use their own money to
establish loan funds for small businesses instead of being used
exclusively for social welfare. We then see a dramatic change in
the economy of Six Nations when the Chiefs are removed from power
in 1924 and replaced by a Band Councillor under the tutelage of
Ottawa. We do not see much growth until the 1970's, after the galvanizing
action of the White Paper.
Farther back in history, in the records of the fur-trade we read
of constant bargaining over the price of furs by Aboriginal peoples
and the Hudson Bay Company. The Indians were always asking for more
than the HBC was willing to pay. The HBC was forced to put into
place a rather complicated system to decide the value of beaver
pelts. And there was haggling over this system. Indians understood
extremely well how the system worked and for whose advantage it
was built. They usually got their prices.
What is happening now?
There has been a belief, prevalent among all people, Aboriginal
and non-Aboriginal alike, that economic activity and Aboriginal
people were not compatible. There was a belief that we could not
do business, that we could not start or run businesses, that the
pursuit of profit was somehow not consistent with traditional Aboriginal
values. We have never believed that these beliefs are true.
We have seen an explosion of Aboriginal economic activity over
the past few years. There are now more than 10,000 businesses owned
by Aboriginal people. This is up from an estimated few hundred in
the late 1960's. Despite this phenomenal growth, much more needs
to be done over the next decade if there is to be any change in
the economic circumstances of Aboriginal people. The Commission
reports that an estimated 300,000 jobs need to be created over the
next fifteen years to absorb those Aboriginal people entering the
labour force. This level of employment development will just bring
Aboriginal employment to the Canadian level. We all know that the
level of employment in Canada is not high enough and so the RCAP
approach will only increase employment levels but still leave us
with an unacceptably high level of unemployment.
Among the general Canadian population, and I expect here in this
room as well, several perceptions continue to exist today. Perceptions
that vary from Canadians who believe that Aboriginal people are
a drain on the economy, to those who wrongly believe that Aboriginal
people in Canada are somehow beneficiaries of large sums of 'unearned'
income. These Canadians would say that Aboriginal peoples in Canada
receive constant 'handouts' in medical and education benefits and
social assistance. Many still believe that Aboriginal people do
not pay a cent of taxes. Many believe that Aboriginal people do
not want to work, that they are lazy and accustomed to living off
the taxpayer of this country. This is simply not true. Most Aboriginal
people want to be gainfully employed, to take care of themselves
and to pay their own way.
The fact, gentlemen and ladies, is that most Aboriginal people
who are gainfully employed off reserve do contribute to Canada's
tax base, through income taxes, provincial sales taxes and the GST,
and also municipal land taxes, education taxes. The Indian Taxation
Advisory Board and the Canadian Centre for Aboriginal-Municipal
Relations report that Aboriginal people of Canada pay millions of
dollars in taxes throughout the country. It is simply not true that
Aboriginal people enjoy a tax-free existence in Canada.
It is true that there are billions spent on Aboriginal peoples.
Much of this has been spent on social welfare programs. The hundreds
of millions of dollars that are funnelled through Aboriginal communities
are for the most part spent in towns and cities off Aboriginal territory.
Economic studies performed for the RCAP described these economies
as "bungee economies": quickly in and even more quickly
out. These expenditures have benefited those in areas surrounding
Aboriginal communities as well if not more. These government expenditures
keep many small businesses in profits.
False perceptions and misconceptions do not help to improve the
situation nor are they a good basis for action. As Corporate executives,
you want to ensure that you have good information as the basis for
your decisions. What will help is an effort to understand the situation
and a concerted effort by all segments of the Canadian economy to
take the action necessary to make fundamental changes.
If Aboriginal people are to lower chronically high unemployment
rates, increase purchasing power, participate more fully in the
Canadian labour market and take charge of the economic development
of their communities, then you must put pressure on governments
to implement concrete changes. You must start today. These things
can be accomplished. CANDO has seen clear and unmitigated evidence
that the capacity exists within Aboriginal communities to shape
their own destiny.
I want to give you a few examples of this capacity that is developing
within our communities. Each year CANDO, at its annual conference
gives out an award to the individual or organization or business
which has made the greatest contribution to the development of the
Aboriginal economy. I would like to use, as examples of the excellent
work that is taking place within our communities, the nominees for
the 1997 award.
- The Gitksan and Wet'suwet'en Economic Development Corporation
have aided in the start-up of 94 First Nations businesses, partnerships
with government, mainstream enterprises and other First Nations.
They also offer a Youth in Business program in local high schools.
- The Kitsaki Development Corporation has a twenty-year history
in economic development. They have established 10 new ventures
in trucking, catering, food processing, venture kayaks, auto parts
and bingo. They have developed and started mentor ship programs
for local youth and business people, internship programs for youth
and school to work transition programs.
- Paskwayak Business Development Corporation in Manitoba. This
corporation covers eight First Nations-owned and operated businesses
which employ 225 members. They have done significant work in education
and business development, including the construction of the sixty
room Kikiwak Inn located in Northern Manitoba. Paskwayak also
devotes significant effort toward youth development.
- Chief Louis Stevenson, Peguis First Nation. Under his charismatic
leadership, the Peguis First Nation has undergone dramatic change.
Since he became Chief in 1981, employment levels have risen by
30% and the number of businesses in this small community has risen
from five to fifty-one. In 1995, Chief Peguis received a National
Aboriginal Achievement Award for 'Outstanding Community Development.'
- Chief Archie Waquan and the Mikisew Cree First Nation. Located
outside Fort Chipewyan in Northern Alberta, the Miskisew Cree,
under the guidance of Chief Archie Waquan, a former trapper, hunter,
commercial fisher, tradesman, and businessperson, have been pursuing
a strategy aimed at development in Fort Chipewyan and Fort Mcmurray.
The Mikisew Cree family of companies is the largest source of
employment in Fort Chipewyan. They own Contact Air which transports
14,000 passengers to and from the region each year. In Fort Mcmurray,
they are developing a truck stop-hotel and restaurant complex,
the first development of its kind in the community.
As you can see, there is excellent work occurring within Aboriginal
communities. The capacity to develop our economy is present and growing.
There is now a network of Aboriginal Capital Corporations which help
Aboriginal businesses access capital, a network of economic development
corporations to foster and support development, business support services
of many different types. Now a First Nations Bank, under the chair
of Mr. Keith Martel, the first Saskatchewan Indian to receive a C.A.designation.
There are a growing number of Aboriginal people who are lawyers and
holders of business degrees. There are also 40,000 Aboriginal youth
in colleges and universities representing an incredible intellectual
capital. We are poised to take over the reins of our development.
I hope that you can see the proof of our potential to be productive
contributors to the Canadian economy and to develop the economies
of our communities exists across the country. We have seen it first
hand. Multimedia communications companies in Ontario, high-tech
entrepreneurs in Alberta, development corporations in British Columbia,
export manufacturers in Quebec and hundreds of other success stories
from micro-businesses to highly successful fashion-design companies
are leading the way. But their futures rely, largely, on the capacity
of others to follow in their footsteps.
I believe what we are seeing is healthy and bodes well for the
future. We are seeing people take charge of their lives. We are
seeing people participating very effectively in the Canadian economy.
We are seeing people begin to raise their heads in dignity and respect
after a century of disempowerment and tutelage. We are seeing innovation,
creativity, hard work, diligence and perseverance.
What can you do? A keen sense of timing and a strong measure of
good judgement on your part as the leaders of corporate Canada have
brought you here today. We believe that your interests will be served
as well if the Aboriginal population of the country has the opportunity
to experience an increased standard of living. The development of
Aboriginal peoples' economies provides new markets, new consumers
with growing incomes and new business partners.
The research of Aboriginal Business Canada shows that Aboriginal
businesses, when started by women, have a higher chance of being
here five years down the road than those started by their mainstream
male counterparts. No group within Canada offers more potential
to develop and maintain the small and medium business sector of
the Canadian economy than Aboriginal people. No group within Canada
is more dedicated to their development than Aboriginal people. No
group within Canada has displayed more determination and spirit
in changing their place in Canada than Aboriginal people.
It is this spirit that we want to nuture. We want somehow to create
the conditions under which this creativity, this perseverance, this
desire to do things for ourselves is supported and encouraged to
We believe that the economic development recommendations of the
Royal Commission will encourage and support this new spirit. The
nine steps outlined by Professor Fred Wien in his paper are the
foundation of this support. The recommendations put control back
into the hands of Aboriginal people.
Long term development agreements allow Aboriginal nations and communities
to choose their own development path and give them a base of resources
to start to follow it. The rebuilding of economic institutions in
Aboriginal nations and communities provides the mechanisms to support
this development and enables governments to guide it. Development
requires a concerted and co-ordinated effort of many parts of society.
It is our position that the government of Canada should adopt the
economic development recommendations of the Royal Commission on
Aboriginal Peoples. However, that will not be sufficient. It will
also take some action by those in this room.
Your input is critical. To derive the benefits of increased volumes
in your stores and operations, to increase investment levels in
your banks, and to make significant improvements in your bottom
line results, our people must experience sustained levels of economic
activity. Heightened purchasing power for this segment of the Canadian
population will create a win/win situation for all of us. You will
see the spinoffs from improved Aboriginal economies. Heightened
consumer spending resulting from improved economic development will
translate into increased margins in all geographic regions and in
all industrial sectors.
We have learned that development of our economies is not a task
that we can undertake ourselves. Our economies are interwoven with
yours in many ways. Your support and involvement are important and
necessary. I urge you to write to the Minister of Indian Affairs
and Northern Development, the Honourable Jane Stewart. Urge her
to adopt the economic recommendations of the Royal Commission on
Then turn to your colleagues and ask: what can you do to help create
a place of dignity and respect for Aboriginal peoples in this country?
Buy from an Aboriginal supplier. Help a small Aboriginal business
get started. Start an internship program to hire Aboriginal people.
Support Aboriginal educational efforts.
These suggestions are the first steps you can take when you return
to your offices his afternoon. I encourage each of you to extend
your support through new and creative ways. The talents and skills
that have produced your own success stories are needed throughout
Aboriginal communities across this country.
Call to your local business school or an Aboriginal organization.
It could lead you to Aboriginal students or entrepreneurs who could
benefit from the advice and guidance of a mentor. An invitation
to a group of Aboriginal young people could lead to a talented pool
of summer employees who need exposure to corporate environments.
Support colleges and universities where Aboriginal students are
pursuing post-secondary professional programs.
The Council for the Advancement of Native Development Officers
is an organization dedicated to the rebuilding and strengthening
of Aboriginal economies. It consists of approximately 350 economic
development officers from communities all across Canada. It also
has approximately fifty corporate partners who work with us in this
daunting task. These partners are involved in some form or other
with Aboriginal businesses. All are making an excellent contribution
to the development of Aboriginal economies.
It recently announced the first Aboriginal certification program
for economic development officers in North America. This work has
been the result of the efforts of CANDO's educational partners:
seven colleges and universities across Canada who offers some form
of education directed at Aboriginal economic development. We believe
that this initiative, over time, will ensure that those who are
working with us have a common understanding of the tasks and the
skills to perform them.
CANDO's efforts as an organization are directed toward at those
on the front lines of economic development: the economic development
officers. It provides support, advice, training and information
to help them do their jobs. We hope that you can become involved
in our work. It is important work for Canada and for Aboriginal
people. It is the work of a generation and it is the work of all