This is a summary reflection note from the OECD’s mission to Canada in September. We are providing these notes to support knowledge-sharing and learning between countries on Indigenous economic development.
During the mission we engaged with Indigenous communities in Ontario and Nunavut. The mission again reinforced the importance of place as a lens to understanding Indigenous economic development. We observed very different conditions for Indigenous communities between those close to metropolitan areas, and those in remote areas. As a result, very different policy responses
22% of Canada’s total Indigenous population lives within Ontario, making up 2.4% of Ontario’s total population. The Indigenous population in Ontario is mainly urban, with 67% (202,270) living in urban areas. Almost half of the Registered Indian population in Ontario lives on 207 reserves and settlements; there are 126 bands. The conditions for economic development for First Nations (FN) differ substantially across the province.
First Nations in proximity to urban agglomerations (generally southern Ontario) are dominated by businesses in the services sector. Treaty settlements have also been a source of income for some FN. Opportunities for economic development in remote communities are limited by a lack of accessibility and generally poor infrastructure.
Ontario has more remote First Nations than any other region in Canada. In fact 25% of Ontario First Nations are a small, remote communities, accessible only by air year round, or by ice road in the winter. Several FNs in northern Ontario will likely be impacted by the Ring of Fire (mining) development. Negotiations on how impacted FNs will be included in decision making on these developments and related infrastructure are ongoing.
We first met with the Mississauga’s of New Credit First Nation (MNC). We observed that the Reserve was well-linked to municipalities and other reserves (6 Nations FN). The population enrolled 2,330 people, 850 of which lived on reserve. Through their trusts MNC are in an economically stable position and heavily invest in community capacity building. They benefit from having good consultation in their investments. Strive to build financial literacy and accounting for the community. There are many avenues for economic development; need to prioritize investments and build capacity (esp. skilled personnel).
Then we met with Mattawa Tribal Council. Mattawa is a tribal council with nine member Ojibway, Oji-Cree and Cree First Nations. It is a voluntary grouping of bands with common interests which provides advisory and/or program services to member bands. It builds economies of scale for service delivery and scales up the voice of FN members. It also supports economic development of member FNs, supports communications and information sharing among communities.
On the days 4 and 5 we went to meet with Neskantaga First Nation. It is a fly-in community with winter road access and an estimated registered population of 414 people, of whom 304 live on reserve. This community faces many challenges that are impacting its ability to develop economically: high suicide rate; major infrastructure needs; dependence on government funding; housing shortage; lack of adequate housing; lack of potable water, high cost of living and transport; limited connection to broadband internet; higher education (post gr. 8) only available off-reserve in the city; limited employment. New programs are tackling the most urgent needs: New houses (especially for the elderly), water plant upgrades, mental health unit provides counselling and offers community activities. There are many sustainable development opportunities such as Pristine lands and untouched landscapes full of wildlife and rich culture as well as a important young generation. They are eager to be independent economically and self-determined. In fact they have a new financial management structure and started an economic development corporation to explore options and build capacity.
Nunavut is a very diverse region with 25 communities that have different opportunities and challenges (need to move beyond the averages and to take a place-based approach to development). Its economy has a high level of dependency on fiscal transfers and support payments, and traditional subsistence is important to the well-being of local communities. Mining presents opportunities for own-source revenues and local jobs, fisheries are also an area of strong potential, along with tourism. Nunavut’s Government and local communities have strategies for economic development but the challenge is in implementing them.
Nunavut’s public governance model is unique, and it is based on the Government of Nunavut (GN) (which is a territory within the Canadian confederation established under Federal statute), and on Nunavut Tunngavik Incorporated (NTI) (legal representative of the Inuit of Nunavut and ensures the implementation of the Nunavut Land Claims Agreement (1993))
NTI is a critical stakeholder because of this legal role as the Land Claims Agreement places obligations upon the Federal Government and the Government of Nunavut – it also has rights over land and sea resources making it an important economic player.
Strategic alignment is needed between the GN and NTI on critical economic policy issues and development opportunities, and this doesn’t always happen.
On day 5, we met with the Government of Nunavut Officials and exchanged on the long term infrastructure plan.
We would like to take the opportunity to thank the Indigenous community representatives, officials and political representatives from local, provincial and national levels, and business people for taking their time to meet with us. Support from Patrick Watson, Sidney Kamberbeek and Carlo Rupnik from Indigenous Services Canada was invaluable for the mission. Also thanks to our peer reviewers Anne-Marie Roberts from the Australian Department of Prime Minister and Cabinet, and Matilda Månsson from the Sami Parliament of Sweden.
Photo: Multi-panel Kiinwi Dabaadjmowin (Our Story) muralMississaugas of the New Credit First Nation