October 18, 2022
AFNQL: First Nations Do Not Want A Superminister of The Economy
NationTalk: Wendake, October 18, 2022 – The Assembly of First Nations Quebec-Labrador (AFNQL) does not look favorably on the possibility of Premier François Legault appointing Pierre Fitzgibbon to the head of a superministry of the Economy when creating his new cabinet. “This would be very bad news for First Nations, who have nothing to gain from a superminister for Economy,” said AFNQL Chief Ghislain Picard.
The AFNQL wishes to point out that relations with the CAQ government have been particularly difficult, especially when it comes to economic issues, employment, investments, and the exploitation of natural resources. Faced with a lack of listening from the government, the AFNQL has chosen to directly contact companies and civil society organizations that want to build business relationships with First Nations. This will is at the heart of the creation of the Grand Economic Circle of Indigenous People and Quebec, held in November 2021, after which more than 150 organizations, including Hydro-Québec, adopted a declaration that emphasizes, among other things, that ” the current socio-economic context of the Indigenous peoples does not allow for individual or collective development, in particular to eliminate the enormous gap that separates the living conditions of Indigenous people from those of Quebecers.”
In recent months, the AFNQL has also increased its meetings and exchanges with various companies and organizations wishing to become allies of the economic growth of First Nations. One of the findings that came out of these exchanges is that civil society is significantly more open than that of the government. “Unlike the Quebec government, civil society, business, and municipal organizations are not afraid of the rights of Indigenous peoples. On the contrary, they are quite prepared to recognize the distinct economic development rights of First Nations, that take into account our particularities as nations as well as the historical ties we have with the land,” said Chief Picard.
It is worth repeating that First Nations are Nations of their own with full rights, who have established, over the millennia of their existence and presence on the land, their own governments, their own laws and practices for the benefit of their populations and of the sustainable development of their territories and resources, and whose rights are confirmed by the United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples.
After over 4 years of difficult, even conflictual relations with the various ministers with an economic vocation, the AFNQL can’t help but be concerned about the possibility of the appointment of a superminister of the Economy. “There are many development projects among all First Nations, but there are also several obstacles that hinder the growth of our communities. The Government of Quebec has a broad responsibility in this regard, as it is able to act as both a facilitator and an obstructor. The choice of appointing certain people at the head of key ministries can have significant impacts on the future of our communities. We therefore sincerely hope that the Premier will abandon this idea of putting that much power in the hands of Mr. Fitzgibbon alone,” concluded Ghislain Picard.
About the AFNQL
The Assembly of First Nations Quebec-Labrador is the regional political body that brings together the 43 Chiefs of the First Nations in Quebec and Labrador. Follow the AFNQL on Twitter @APNQL
May 11, 2022
Alberta Court of Appeal finds federal Impact Assessment Act unconstitutional
NationTalk: The Indian Resource Council – IRC, an organization representing over 130 First Nations who produce or have direct interest in the oil and gas industry, was gratified by the opinion handed down by the Alberta Court of Appeal determining that the federal Impact Assessment Act is unconstitutional.
The Indian Resource Council was an intervenor in the case. It objected to the federal government’s overreach in determining, on behalf of Indigenous nations, whether a project is in their interests or not. Indeed, the IAA would clearly limit the economic activities that nations could participate in, in violation of Aboriginal and treaty rights.
Indian Resource Council sees Opinion on Impact Assessment Act as “a victory for Indigenous rights”
The reference affirmed the IRC’s view that the IAA “smacks of paternalism” and undermines the ability of Indigenous nations to make agreements with provinces and industry proponents.
“The opinion is a victory for Indigenous rights,” stated Chief Roy Fox, Chair of the Indian Resource Council and Chief of the Kainai Nation. “The Courts are recognizing federal overreach and interference which is incompatible with the autonomy of Indigenous peoples. We have a right to make arrangements with industry and determine what is in our own best interests.”
“As we argued, First Nations have a right to improve our economic and social conditions through the creation of economic activities. Whether that comes from oil and gas production or other projects is our decision, not the federal government’s. They do not get veto power over us,” added IRC President Stephen Buffalo.
October 14, 2022
AMC calls out Manitoba over Meagre Indigenous Economic Development Fund for the Interlake Outlet Channel Project
NationTalk: Treaty One Territory, Manitoba – The Assembly of Manitoba Chiefs (AMC) issued the following statement in response to an inadequate Indigenous Economic Development Fund announced by the Province for 39 communities affected by flooding in and around Lake Manitoba and Lake St. Martin.
The AMC stands with the First Nations leaders from the Interlake Reserves Tribal Council, who have voiced their disapproval and disappointment over the grossly inadequate Indigenous Economic Development Fund of $15 million announced on October 5th by the Provincial Government. The projected cost of the proposed Lake Manitoba and Lake St. Martin Outlet Channels Project is currently upwards of $600 million. The $15 million Indigenous Economic Development Fund would be accessible to 39 communities to assist with flooding recovery. If all eligible communities applied to this fund, each community would only receive $400,000, which is the cost of building a single house. This type of application for funding model also inevitably leaves less for the most affected First Nations. “We won’t be applying for this funding,” Deputy Grand Chief Cornell McLean said. “It is an insult and a contradiction to what was conveyed to us in initial meetings. This government benefits very richly from our resources on these lands and, once again, is not providing adequate support to First Nations. We came in expecting equal partnership, and we won’t have the Province dictating what crumbs we get.”
The Province and the Interlake First Nations leadership met this past summer to discuss the project, leaving the Interlake First Nations leadership with expectations of developing a flood protection partnership. Now it is clear that the Province has disregarded everything that they discussed in those initial consultation meetings. First Nations are most affected by environmental infrastructure projects, historically suffering the effects of inadequate engagement with changes to the traditional use of lands and resources, changes to the biophysical environment, and effects on fish and fish habitat, vegetation, and wildlife resources. AMC has outlined in specific detail what the steps for adequate engagement are, and it is disappointing that, once again, proper engagement did not happen.
Environmental regulators in Ottawa have raised concerns and questioned whether the Provincial Government has done enough to address nearby First Nations concerns. This concern was further supported by the Court of Queen’s Bench ruling last June that the Province did not live up to its constitutional duty to consult First Nations involved with the outlet channel project, a ruling which has delayed its approval. In 2019, the AMC proposed a work plan for a collaborative process of engagement with First Nations regarding the Lake Manitoba and Lake St. Martin Outlet Channels Project. In the work plan, AMC outlined that project-related engagement includes the Indigenous and Public Engagement Program (IPEP) for the Environmental Impact Statement (EIS) and Crown consultation processes.
“Again, we see that the Premier’s commitment to reconciliation is nothing more than a PR tagline to benefit their political agendas,” Deputy Grand Chief Cornell McLean said. “We call on the Premier and provincial officials to honour their duty to consult and to step forward and partner with us on a Nation-to-Nation basis. We know what we as First Nations need to protect our Nations, and as environmental stewards of these lands and waters.”
March 22, 2023
B.C. First Nations file court case against federal decision not to renew salmon farm licences
The lawsuit says the federal government failed to respect Indigenous rights to self-determination
CBC News: Two B.C. First Nations and a British Columbia salmon farmer company are going to court to challenge the federal government’s decision not to renew the licences for its open-net farms off Vancouver Island.
The We Wai Kai Nation (Cape Mudge Indian Band) and Wei Kai Kum First Nation (Campbell River Indian Band) have applied for judicial review of the federal government’s decision not to reissue aquaculture licences for seven open-net Atlantic salmon farms found in the territory of the nations (which the filing say are known collectively as the Ligwiłda’xw or Laich-kwil-tach Nation) in B.C.’s Discovery Islands.
The lawsuit says the decision not to renew the licences was made “in the face of a detailed proposal by the applicants to permit the staged reintroduction of fish farming in the waters within their core title lands.” “By effectively ignoring the applicants’ proposal, the Minister unjustifiably excluded the Laich-kwil-tach from the management of their own territories,” it said.
The nation says it has not determined whether it wants to allow fish farming to proceed, but “it intends to determine for itself if, when, and how the seven chosen farms are operated in the future … it seeks to make its own decisions” and calls for the federal decision to immediately be reversed as it infringes on “the principles of self-determination and reconciliation.”
February decision ‘unreasonable, invalid and unlawful’
The federal government is also facing a court challenge from one of the companies affected by the decision. Documents filed in Federal Court in Vancouver by Mowi Canada West, a division of Mowi, a Norwegian seafood company, ask for a judicial review of the decision last month by Fisheries Minister Joyce Murray to shut down 15 salmon farms.
Mowi’s application seeks an order quashing or setting aside Murray’s decision to shut down the company’s 11 open-net salmon farms located off the Discovery Islands near Campbell River. It asks the court to have the matter referred back to Murray and a declaration the minister’s February decision was “unreasonable, invalid and unlawful.”
The federal government has not responded to the application, but as she announced the decision last month, Murray said recent science indicates uncertainty over the risks fish farms pose to wild salmon, and the government was committed to transitioning away from the open-net farms.
The farms off B.C.’s coast have been a major flashpoint, with environmental groups and some Indigenous nations saying the farms are linked to disease that transfers to wild salmon, while the industry, local politicians and other First Nations say they are safe and the closures threaten thousands of jobs.
“Prior to the decision to eliminate aquaculture in the Discovery Islands region, Mowi had 645 employees in B.C., a significant number of whom were Indigenous,” says the court application. “Since the minister’s decision to prohibit aquaculture in the Discovery Islands, Mowi’s workforce has been reduced to 312 employees.”
With files from Jessica Cheung and the Canadian Press
October 20, 2020
Barriers to Indigenous business
Canadian Association of Aboriginal Business (CCAB) – Released the findings of its latest report, “Promise and Prosperity: The 2020 Ontario Aboriginal Business Survey” provide a longitudinal analysis of Indigenous business successes and challenges, while diving deeper into a crucial topic in today’s economy – improving access and participation for Indigenous businesses within government supply chains…only one in four Indigenous businesses have ever bid on a contract for either the Ontario (20%) or federal (21%) governments.
Indigenous businesses cite the following barriers to government contracts:
- the size of government projects (12%);
- the complexity of government procurement (9%); and
- a lack of experience with the process (10%).
The following recommendations will assist in the collaboration of a shared path forward for governments, Indigenous businesses, and corporate Canada, and a prosperous Indigenous economy.”
Based on survey findings, CCAB recommends:
- building awareness of Ontario procurement and funding opportunities
- developing partnerships with Indigenous entrepreneurs,
- simplifying access to financing and funding opportunities, and
- building IT infrastructure and capacity for e-commerce.
April 9, 2021
Dept. of Fisheries and Oceans
DFO support of fish farms vs support for wild salmon
Canada’s National Observer – On Monday, Federal Court Justice Peter George Pamel said Mowi Canada West and Saltstream would suffer substantial harm if they couldn’t transfer juvenile fish into three farm sites in the area. But Homalco Chief Darren Blaney said the companies’ win comes at the expense of wild salmon and all the First Nations dependent on the fish for food, and economic or cultural reasons. The Homalco and Tla’amin Nation were denied the right to intervene and speak on the issue that concerned their rights. 102 First Nations along the coast are opposed to the fish farms yet they were not allowed to intervene at the court to present their objections.
January 22, 2021
Dept. of Fisheries and Oceans
DFO support of fish farms vs support for wild salmon
The First Nations Leadership Council – FNLC denounces the decision of Mowi Canada West Inc, Cermaq Canada Ltd and Grieg Seafood BC Ltd to apply to the federal court for an injunction to overturn the Discovery Islands Decision. Overturning the decision would be counter to the principles of the United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples and would effectively create a situation where First Nations Inherent Title and Rights are contingent on the Crown. The FNLC refutes this, as Indigenous Peoples are the proper title holders and the original caretakers and stewards of our respective traditional territories.
The FNLC urges Mowi Canada West Inc, Cermaq Canada Ltd and Grieg Seafood BC Ltd to exercise proactive conservation-based actions and work with First Nations in re-building Pacific salmon stocks.
December 17, 2020
Dept. of Fisheries and Oceans
DFO support of fish farms vs support for wild salmon
The Tyee – Acting on the wishes of seven First Nations in the Discovery Islands DFO Minister Bernadette Jordan has not renewed fish farm licenses in the Discovery Islands but ordered the phase out of all 19 Atlantic salmon feedlots owned by Norwegian-based companies. That means juvenile salmon will not have run through a gauntlet of fish farms and their parasites along one of the province’s largest wild salmon migration routes.
December 3, 2020
Dept. of Fisheries and Oceans
DFO support of fish farms vs support for wild salmon
First Nations Leadership Council – FNLC Nations involved in the Discovery Island consultation on fish farms are seeking to save wild salmon, and support a shift to land-based aquaculture, and an immediate stop to fish farms in the Discovery Islands. In light of the historic low returns of Pacific wild salmon this year, the First Nations Leadership Council (FNLC) is calling on the Department of Fisheries and Oceans (DFO) to fully implement the Precautionary Principle. The Precautionary Principle recognizes that in the absence of scientific certainty, conservation measures can and should be taken when there is knowledge of a risk of serious or irreversible harm to the environment and/or resources using best available information. In applying the Precautionary Principle, the FNLC is calling for the Government and Minister Jordan to take proactive conservation-based actions and commit to prioritizing the rebuilding of Pacific salmon stocks.
There is ample research and evidence that supports our understanding that the decline of Pacific wild salmon is the result of cumulative stressors along its migration routes. This understanding requires a fundamental change as to how we manage and protect wild Pacific salmon, to prioritize the rebuilding of wild salmon stocks and ensuring productive systems seven generations into the future. It is a matter of conservation. It is a matter of protecting the identities, culture and food security of B.C. First Nations across the Province.
October 21, 2020
Dept. of Fisheries and Oceans
DFO support of fish farms vs support for wild salmon
The Union of BC Indian Chiefs – UBCIC is demanding transparency and accountability from the Department of Fisheries and Oceans (DFO) regarding their continued jeopardization of wild salmon stocks. Following the DFO’s recent announcement that open-net pen farms in BC’s Discovery Islands pose a minimal risk to wild salmon, Dr. Kristi Miller-Saunders, head of the DFO’s molecular genetics laboratory, has stated that the DFO remains beholden to the open-net farm industry, underplaying the risks to wild salmon in order to hold aloft a controversial industry.
Chief Dalton Silver, UBCIC Fisheries Representative, stated: “Echoing the concerns of many of our Indigenous leaders, including myself, Dr. Miller-Saunders stated that the DFO appears to be minimizing the risks to wild salmon from sea lice and viruses, while leveraging its conflicting role as regulator and fish farm advocate to prioritize the fish farm industry and control the flow of research and data concerning it. It is highly unconscionable for the DFO to depend on funding from the fish farm industry to conduct research, and for them to regulate this research in order to gain few profits at the expense of the survival of wild salmon.”
UBCIC reaffirms our opposition to the DFO’s pro-industry bias and calls for scientific research to be conducted by Indigenous and independent bodies in order to accurately and transparently disclose the risks of open-net fish farms. The federal government can no longer handle the threats to wild salmon through inaction and misinformation; the very same blatant DFO conflict of interest that is fuelling the current violence in Miꞌkmaw territory is leading to the complete decimation of wild salmon stocks on BC’s west coast.
October 1, 2019
Increase Indigenous business procurement spending
The “Procurement Strategy for Aboriginal Business (PSAB)” has accounted for an average of less than 1% (0.32%) of total annual federal procurement spending since 1996.
Canadian Council of Aboriginal Business released “Industry and Inclusion: An Analysis of Indigenous Potential in Federal Supply Chains” calling on the federal government to increase the dollar value of its procurement spending with Aboriginal businesses to 5% of total procurement spending by 2024. The report found there is surplus Aboriginal business capacity to meet the needs of government and that a 5% target, which reflects the Indigenous population in Canada, is “realistic and achievable.”
As noted above, on Dec. 13, 2020, the Government of Canada committed to increasing their procurement spend with Indigenous business partners to 5%.
CCAB Industry and Inclusion Recommendations:
- Set a government-wide Indigenous procurement target of 5% within five years, through a 1 percentage point increase annually. Each federal department and agency should lay out a strategy to achieve this target and report annually on progress
- Require that all departments incorporate considerations of Indigenous peoples (business and community) analogous to the requirements for gender-based analysis for submissions to Treasury Board
- Develop additional programs to support existing Aboriginal suppliers in department purchase categories where there is currently insufficient Aboriginal business capacity to supply
- Conduct additional research to identify key barriers to Indigenous business participation in federal supply chains, both from the perspective of Aboriginal business and government procurement officers
August 11, 2022
Inuit Organizations Challenge Nunavut’s Move to Transfer Mining Companies’ Property Tax Liabilities to Inuit
Iqaluit, Nunavut, Nunavut Tunngavik Inc. (NTI) and the Regional Inuit Associations (collectively with NTI, the “Inuit Organizations”) filed a lawsuit on August 10, 2022 challenging the Government of Nunavut’s move to transfer mining companies’ property tax liabilities to Inuit. On May 27, 2022, the Government of Nunavut brought into force Bill 55 – An Act to Amend the Property Assessment and Taxation Act (PATA), which was passed and received Assent in September 2021 over Inuit Organizations’ objection.
Bill 55, among other things, transfers property tax liabilities on a mining company’s assets from the company to Inuit, if the assets are located on Inuit Owned Lands (IOLs) where Inuit hold the mineral title and regardless of whether Inuit Organizations have received any revenues from the company. Inuit Organizations could end up owing millions of dollars in tax liabilities if a mining company fails to pay or goes bankrupt.
Because mining companies own and control the mining assets and improvements, it is the universal practice across Canada for government to collect property taxes directly from mining companies.
“Transferring mining companies’ property tax liabilities to Inuit is simply unconscionable and regressive, violates the Nunavut Agreement. It is a big backward step on the road to reconciliation. Bill 55 also fails to recognize the public nature of Inuit Organizations and IOLs – no other public organizations in Nunavut have been required to shoulder property tax liabilities of private mining companies,” says President Aluki Kotierk of NTI.
In the past two years, Inuit Organizations have consistently opposed some of the proposed provisions of Bill 55. At the Annual General Meeting held in November 2021, the NTI Membership passed a resolution condemning Bill 55 in the strongest terms. The NTI Membership also directed NTI and RIAs to develop mitigation measures to offset the additional risks arising from Bill 55 and to safeguard the interests of Inuit. Inuit Organizations will be implementing the following measures, among other things:
- Additional monetary security to be paid by mining companies;
- Additional consent requirements by Inuit Organizations for any infrastructure or improvements to be built on IOLs where Inuit hold the mineral title; and
- Additional requirement that to the greatest extent possible, mining improvements, facilities and infrastructure not to be built on IOLs where Inuit hold the mineral title.
The Government of Nunavut has decided to bring the Bill into force, despite being made aware of the many legal and practical issues related to those parts the Bill to which Inuit Organizations object, and the increase in costs for mining companies to do business in Nunavut. Inuit Organizations have no choice but to challenge the legislation in court.
“This is a poorly thought-out piece of legislation,” says Vice-President James Eetoolook. “We strongly urge the Government of Nunavut to reconsider this matter, and to amend the legislation accordingly.”
For further information:
Assistant Director of Communications
Nunavut Tunngavik Incorporated
Tel: (867) 975-4900/Toll-free: 1-888-646-0006
May 1, 2019
Lack of access to capital for Indigenous business
“Evening the Odds: Giving Indigenous ventures access to the full financial toolkit”
Restricted access to capital impedes indigenous entrepreneurs from developing business opportunities. Some First Nations have unlocked greater economic development on reserve lands by opting out of the Indian Act system of lands management in favour of the First Nations Land Management Act. Those First Nations operating within the regime have witnessed a dramatic increase in new businesses, internal investment, and employment opportunities on reserve. These communities also use their revenues to invest back into the community, which in turn strengthens education and employment outcomes and reduces dependence on social programs.
- The Government of Canada should continue to expand investments in and support for Aboriginal Financial Institutions (AFIs).
- The Government of Canada should make a substantive effort to renew the fiscal relationship and to make fiscal fairness and affordable borrowing a reality for Indigenous peoples and communities. This includes addressing current legal and regulatory barriers to accessing capital, as well as exploring and supporting new and alternative lending options.
- Indian Act restrictions on land ownership and restrictions on accessing the funds in Indigenous trusts are areas for reform
- Indigenous and Northern Affairs Canada (INAC) should continue to work with Indigenous peoples, nations and governments to expand investments in communities and to enhance the investment climate.
- Future economic development programming should emulate the approach that led to the creation of the Native Economic Development Program (NEDP) in the mid-1980s.
- INAC should enhance the relevance, quality and availability of information to Indigenous households, businesses and communities through a commitment to transparency and openness, as well as supporting Indigenous-led research and data governance
- An area of particular concern is a requirement for community guarantees for private home ownership, a liability no other local order of government in Canada could shoulder alone. These requirements result in individuals’ access to housing being contingent on the financial health and fortune of their community.
September 17, 2021
Making Inuit liable for mining company debts
With the passage of “Bill 55 – An Act to Amend the Property Assessment and Taxation Act”, the Government of Nunavut and the Members of the Legislative Assembly have transferred the burden of paying millions of dollars in property taxes each year from mining companies to Inuit, and make Inuit guarantors for mining companies’ tax arrears, stated the Presidents of:
- Nunavut Tunngavik Inc. (NTI),
- Qikiqtani Inuit Association (QIA),
- Kivalliq Inuit Association (KivIA) and
- Kitikmeot Inuit Association (KitIA)
collectively with NTI, QIA and KivIA, the “Inuit Organizations”).
Under Bill 55, Inuit are responsible for property taxes on mining developments on subsurface Inuit Owned Lands (IOLs). Article 22 of the Nunavut Agreement provides that Inuit may be responsible for property taxes for the value of IOLs in some limited situations. Inuit were never meant to shoulder the entire tax burden of mining companies. The Bill makes Inuit Organizations liable for unpaid property taxes if a mining company becomes insolvent or fails to pay. That will enable the GN to collect property taxes from Inuit Organizations including by seizing Inuit funds or selling off assets. Since 2018 the Inuit Organizations have advocated that Bill 55 be amended or withdrawn. The GN has refused to address Inuit concerns.
The Bill represents a “lose-lose” situation for Inuit and Nunavut – the mining industry did not ask for it, Inuit Organizations strongly opposed it and the GN will not receive additional revenue as a result. The transfer of tax liability from mining companies to Inuit Organizations is totally unnecessary. The Bill will harm the mining industry in Nunavut by increasing the legal and financial risks for Inuit Organizations.
In the rest of the country, mining companies and not landowners, are responsible for paying property taxes on mining infrastructure. This is so because mining companies own the infrastructure and benefit from the resulting development with the income from their mining projects. Landowners, on the other hand, especially during the early stages of mining projects, earn very little revenue. Bill 55 substantially increases the risk of mining development for landowners by obligating them to pay the outstanding property taxes of mining companies, if a mining company fails to pay or becomes insolvent. The GN is asking Inuit Organizations to collect property taxes from mining companies on the GN’s behalf, thereby forcing Inuit Organizations to be the guarantors for the debts of mining companies. Most mining development in Nunavut currently takes place on IOLs.
The GN failed to adequately consult with Inuit Organizations and ignored their concerns. While the GN consulted with Inuit Organizations on the initial legislative proposal in the fall of 2018, the government went on to make substantial changes and additions to the bill that ignored Inuit concerns.
Further, with Bill 55 the Government of Nunavut has unilaterally amended provisions of the Nunavut Agreement without Inuit consent. The GN has given Inuit Organizations no choice but to challenge the legislation in court.
February 3, 2023
Opinion: How to stop the Indigenous brain drain
The Calgary Herald: The term “brain drain” refers to the effects of government policies, taxes or world events that cause highly skilled workers to leave their homes (cities, provinces or countries) and relocate elsewhere in search of work. While this global phenomenon is well studied and understood, it is also appropriate to apply this term to Indigenous Peoples in Canada.
With most Indigenous communities located in remote and rural areas, there is limited access to job opportunities, and the available jobs do not match the demand. As a result, skilled workers are forced to move to urban areas in pursuit of employment, resulting in a brain drain.
As highly skilled members leave their communities, the economy grows less, which results in rising poverty rates, a growing detachment from culture and the land, and a lack of motivation for Indigenous entrepreneurs to launch businesses in their communities. All of these outcomes are indicators of a functioning colonial system.
Historically, the government’s grand strategy was to assimilate Indigenous People into Canada and entice them to leave their communities by excluding economic and employment opportunities.
The Peasant Farmer Policy, which operated between 1889 and 1897, placed restrictions on what First Nation farmers could cultivate and sell and the equipment they could use. Due to this damaging legislation, First Nation farmers were at a competitive disadvantage and were unable to compete. Members were therefore faced with the difficult choice of staying in their community and economically struggling or moving to seek other work.
Similarly, many members of Métis settlements in northern Alberta worked seasonally as labourers in sugar beet farms near Lethbridge in the mid to late 20th century because there were no job opportunities in their communities. For nearly three decades, many Métis families were separated for several months as men from the community were forced to travel hundreds of kilometres to earn a temporary income while budgeting for long cold Alberta winters.
While policies like the Peasant Farmer Policy no longer exist, the brain drain is still a pressing issue. With Indigenous People being the fastest-growing demographic in Canada, this pressing issue will only worsen if there is no swift action.
As governments, academics and employers have turned their attention toward this national issue, they should pay special attention to the digital divide.
A recent study by RBC noted only 24 per cent of Indigenous households in Indigenous communities have access to high-speed internet, creating significant digital inequities. The divide was exacerbated during the pandemic as the country shifted to the online world to communicate, work and access education. Due to the lack of connectivity infrastructure in their communities, many Indigenous communities were left disconnected and unable to participate in the online world.
As the digital divide closes, there will be greater opportunities for Indigenous workers to stay in their communities, which will help prevent the brain drain, boost economic growth and preserve cultural connections.
Indigenous small to medium businesses are rapidly growing, but limited connectivity, access to talent and resources can deter businesses. As communities access reliable connectivity, it will encourage more Indigenous entrepreneurs to start or grow businesses. The ripple effects of more Indigenous businesses can increase employment opportunities in communities, generate wealth, and boost Indigenous companies’ competitiveness.
Indigenous People who move to urban areas can struggle to find a community, and when they try to return home, they can feel disconnected from their family and community members. This experience of yo-yo-ing between both worlds can lead to feelings of not belonging and loneliness.
Once communities receive high-speed internet access and Indigenous employees start to work from their communities, it opens the door for them to become more engaged. For example, they could participate in more cultural activities, ceremonies and harvesting. It could also contribute to less burnout and limit the isolation Indigenous employees experience.
A common concern for employers is sourcing Indigenous talent. With the digital divide being addressed, it will increase the talent pool as Indigenous candidates can still live in their community and access employment across Canada. Furthermore, having Indigenous workers from the community working in different industries will highlight to younger generations diverse career pathways, which could break down future employment barriers.
It’s time to stop the brain drain within Indigenous communities. Indigenous skilled workers should be able to stay in their communities and access the same resources most Canadian workers have, which is the ability to log on to their devices and access the internet that most Canadians take for granted.
Sarah Jacknife is a proud member of Elizabeth Métis Settlement located in northeastern Alberta and currently works at Rogers Communications Inc. as a senior manager of Indigenous community engagement.