Monday, September 22, 2014
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Harold Calla: After Tsilhqot'in decision, First Nations equity is logical way forward

by Harold Calla

The landmark Tsilhqot'in Supreme Court decision provides a unique opportunity for governments and industry to partner with First Nation communities to advance major resource projects. There has been a great deal of speculation about how many of these projects are going to grind to a halt as a result of the decision. I would argue that the exact opposite is true. More than ever, we need First Nations participation in resource development but we need to do that with First Nations as real partners with equity in these projects. In the end, First Nations equity may be the difference between success and failure.

Until recently First Nations communities have been frozen in time economically. Many have built up their own economies in an effort to become self-sufficient but they face a number of common hurdles. First Nation communities lack infrastructure, lack financial knowledge, and have an inability to attract long-term financing. Without access to capital markets, First Nations have difficulty developing the necessary infrastructure to increase their own-source revenue and provide economic opportunities for their people.

In 2006, the First Nations Fiscal Management Act (the Act) received unanimous consent in the House of Commons. The Act helps minimize these barriers through taxation, certification, and a financial instrument to allow First Nations to go to the bond market.

The Act provides legislative framework that created three national aboriginal institutions. The First Nations-led institutions are: the First Nations Tax Commission (FNTC), the First Nations Financial Management Board (FMB), and the First Nations Authority (FNFA). Each of these institutions are instrumental in assisting First Nation governments to address the socioeconomic well being along with capacity building within their communities.

These institutions have assisted First Nations in implementing stronger financial management systems within their communities. These communities are improving their quality of life by building much-needed infrastructure and providing necessary and essential services. They now look at managing their wealth, as opposed to fighting poverty. Last month the collaborative work of the institutions led to a first-time debenture of $90 million at AAA rating. This truly was a historic moment for First Nations communities.

Under this Act, there is the ability to administer an equity position in a First Nations joint project. Adding to this, the Tsilhqot'in decision gives us certainty. We know what the rules are and the financial institutions in place provide the capacity to deal with major infrastructure projects.

We have seen First Nations engaged in capacity building and resource development projects, but the status quo hasn’t worked. It is time to look at a new approach that fits within the parameters of the Supreme Court’s decision.

Harold Calla is the executive chair of the First Nations Financial Management Board. Calla is a member of the Squamish Nation.

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