Say no to tinkering [First Nations]

TheGlobeandMail.com – Opinions/Letters to the Editor – First Nations Open For Business – editorial, Sept. 1
Sept. 3, 2010.   Shawn Atleo, National Chief, Assembly of First Nations

If the federal government is truly interested in finding ways to spark economic success for first nations, it need not embark on a new, costly consultation on privatizing lands (First Nations Open For Business – editorial, Sept. 1). It need only look to leading-edge work from Harvard University under the Harvard Project on American Indian Economic Development. That project aims to understand the conditions under which sustained, self-determined social and economic development is achieved among Indian nations, including first nations in Canada.

The Harvard Project identifies the factors critical to economic success, and it’s not location or private property. It’s real decision-making authority supported by capable governing institutions that are culturally appropriate. In this way, first nations have the ability to make decisions, take responsibility for those decisions, and set a strategic direction. This is not possible under the Indian Act, which forces first nations to implement federal policies and decisions that often have no relevance to their circumstances.

This is why first nations are calling on the government to work with us to move beyond the Indian Act. We need a conversation and capacity so first nations can set their own paths to development. But what’s needed is not blanket privatization, but bold innovation. Many first nations that are making great strides in economic development and self-sufficiency are doing so without privatizing their lands.

The time for tinkering is over. As the Harvard Project says, “The best way to perpetuate reservation poverty is to undermine tribal sovereignty. The best way to overcome reservation poverty is to support tribal sovereignty.”

Shawn Atleo, national chief, Assembly of First Nations

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