Monday, September 22, 2014
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Tsilhqot'in decision: First Nation equity is the logical way forward

Harold Calla

Thompson Citizen

The landmark Tsilhqot'in Supreme Court of Canada 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 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 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 West Vancouver-based First Nations Financial Management Board, the only federally legislated body, created through the First Nations Fiscal Management Act, which develops and publishes financial performance and financial management system standards for First Nations. The First Nations Financial Management Board is an aboriginal institution that provides a suite of financial management tools and services to First Nations governments seeking to strengthen their fiscal stewardship and accountability regime and develop necessary capacity to meet their expanding fiscal and financial management requirements. Calla is a member of the Squamish Nation located in North Vancouver, British Columbia. He is also currently a member of the board of Fortis BC Inc. and is chair of their audit committee. He can be contacted by e-mail at: This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.

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