In February 2017, the Public Policy Forum held a one-day conference, “Expanding the Circle: What Reconciliation and Inclusive Economic Growth Can Mean for First Nations and Canada”. With approximately 150 delegates, the conference was co-hosted by the National Aboriginal Economic Development Board, the National Aboriginal Capital Corporation Association and Indigenous and Northern Affairs Canada.

FNTC’s Chief Commissioner C.T. (Manny) Jules appeared on a panel, “Taking Action for Reconciliation and Inclusive Economic Growth”, where he outlined his position for improving the numerous economic development challenges facing First Nations and how they can become part of the national economy.

This includes the creation of an institutional basis for First Nations to move forward. Chief Commissioner Jules discussed some of the initiatives the FNTC is working on with First Nations, including an infrastructure institute, a land title registry and an aboriginal resource tax.

Chief Commissioner Jules also spoke about the commitment by the federal government to create a new fiscal relationship with First Nations. However, he stated the relationship must not be based on program-based financial transfers, as the financial need will never be met. “I don’t want to create a situation where our governments are managing poverty, and that could happen as a result of a new program-based fiscal relationship. Our governments have to be able to manage wealth. They have to be able to set up standards to facilitate economic development growth. We have to own our own lands.”

Chief Commissioner Jules, in keeping with the theme of the segment of ‘taking action for reconciliation and inclusive economic growth’, said this means the work begins with First Nations.
“We, as Indigenous people, have to come up with the solutions. There’s no way that the federal government, provincial governments or indeed the municipal governments can come up with the solutions. This has to come from us.”

The Minister of Indigenous and Northern Affairs, the Honourable Carolyn Bennett, and the National Chief of the Assembly of First Nations, Perry Belgarde, addressed the delegates in separate presentations.

Later in the day, the keynote address was delivered by the Honourable Jody Wilson-Raybould, the Minister of Justice and Attorney General of Canada. Minister Wilson-Raybould outlined the federal government’s plan to review laws and policies related to Indigenous Peoples. A working group of ministers will be responsible for the review and will examine relevant federal laws, policies, and operational practices to help ensure the Crown is meeting its constitutional obligations with respect to Aboriginal and treaty rights; adhering to international human rights standards, including the United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples; and supporting the implementation of the Truth and Reconciliation Commission’s Calls to Action.

Minister Wilson-Raybould will chair the working group, which will be comprised of six ministers who have significant responsibilities for the relevant statutes and policies to be reviewed. The working group will first develop a workplan and set of principles, which will reflect an all-government approach that addresses all Indigenous Peoples.  Minister Wilson-Raybould said First Nation-led institutions should play a key role in rebuilding the relationship with First Nations. “As we move forward, in my opinion, we also need to give more consideration to how we support Indigenous-controlled institutions that advance nation rebuilding, so that it is Indigenous peoples that govern these institutions with a vested interest in the outcome of the work they do and the decisions they make… I am also very well aware of the Fiscal Management Act and the importance of the initiatives to strengthen the ability of First Nations to raise revenues as well as borrow monies from the bond market and generally establish sound financial administration systems. The role of the First Nations Finance Authority, the Financial Management Board and the First Nations Tax Commission, are very critical. And in my opinion, there is a need to consider how we can support additional Indigenous institutions that support nation rebuilding.”

The working group will work with Indigenous leaders, youth, and experts on various legal and policy questions relating to Indigenous Peoples. At the conclusion of her remarks, and in keeping with the work of the working group, the Minister offered to meet with the Chairs of the FMA institutions in April.