There are community elections coming up for chief and council in my community located on an Indian reserve in Quebec, Canada. It has me thinking about our community’s future and our rightful place in Canadian society.
Native peoples populations in the under age 25 category are increasing substantially, while Canadians have an aging population that are retirement age and older, including the huge baby boomer population. The labour force in Canadian society is shrinking and will shrink in the next decade or so, while native people have a large population under 25, which can contribute to Canada’s work force.
The government of Canada needs to make available training and funding for future youth to have meaningful work and successful careers. There are so many vast resources in mining, hydro, oil and gas, etc. that we need to be included in these ventures, especially when they affect our traditional territories.
Not all development is good for the environment, and I for one believe in sustainable development that does not harm the environment. There are many contaminated sites in native communities across Canada which are suffering the consequences of poorly developed policies in waste management of past companies, such as gold mines, which had little regard in the affects to the environment – water, wildlife and surrounding communities.
In our community, we must create jobs for our people. There are many opportunities, we just have to do our research and partner with foreign investment, if need be. China and India are growing exponentially, and there are opportunities to conduct business with these countries which are becoming industrialized nations.
Changes need to be made in the Indian Act, which is archaic and paternalistic, and is a deterrent when it comes to financing. For example, if you wish to start a business and you own a house on the reserve, for example, you cannot put up your house or land for collateral to obtain capital financing for a business loan. In some ways, this protects native lands and housing, but on the other hand, it hinders our potential to acquire funds from financial institutions. Policies need to be updated and changed. Aboriginal Affairs needs a complete overhaul to facilitate economic development in our communities.
There are financial institutions that cater specifically to Aboriginal communities, for example in Quebec, there is SOCCA, as well there is Industry Canada. Industry Canada has specific businesses that are allowed for the loans they give out, for example, eco-tourism. They don’t want, for example a hairdressing salon if there are already 5 salons in the area, or a restaurant if there are 10 restaurants already. Another business area is innovation and new product development. For youth, under the age of 25, however, any legitimate business can be started up.
These challenges are not easy, but there is potential in Aboriginal communities to be successful in Economic Development and thrive, and have a high percentage of employment for band members in communities. There are some bands that have been tremendously successful, such as the Micmac in Nova Scotia, who created many businesses and have a high percentage of employed band members for their community and are making a profit.
When native communities are successful, its not only of the community’s benefit, but of neighboring communities and the Canadian economy, as businesses make purchases from other businesses (B2B) and it stimulates the local economy.