Aboriginal issues are frequently in the headlines these days with the new government's stated commitments to help First Nation communities, as well as deliver on recommendations made by the Truth and Reconciliation Commission.
As the regional chief of Ontario, I realize that meeting basic human rights such as clean water, health and education is just the beginning of a long journey towards securing our rightful place in Canada. Quality of life investments are critical and long overdue. However, economic investments must also be a top priority. Once our Peoples are able to overcome poverty and despair, we must focus on building healthy, prosperous communities. First Nations must work with the business sector and all levels of government in order to fully participate in the Canadian economy.
While there continues to be a downturn in the mineral and oil sectors, there are enormous opportunities for First Nations to partner and own green energy projects, as well as all the related spin-off businesses that supply the energy sector. If Canada is to burn less carbon and reduce greenhouse gas emissions by 30 per cent over the next 15 years, then our Peoples are the natural partners to deliver on those lofty goals.
One great example of how First Nations can begin right now to participate in the economy is the work being done by the Canadian Council on Aboriginal Business and OMX in order to help Canadian aboriginal-owned businesses access contracts from government contractors bidding on work for the federal government.
In Canada, we have the Industrial and Technological Benefits Policy (ITB), which promotes Canadian industrial activities in government procurements. According to OMX president Nicole Verkindt, this policy has done a fantastic job of including Canadian companies in supply chains of major government contractors, as well as promoting investment into Canadian technologies and small businesses and bringing them into global value chains.
So when we talk about the aboriginal community and aboriginal-owned businesses, there are a lot of ways to support them. Provide the right incentives to take risks, leverage investments with tax credits or provide grants. However, providing the incentives for procurement contracts to promote aboriginal-owned businesses is good for the economy, good for jobs and good for all small businesses, particularly aboriginal-owned businesses.
By working together – First Nations, governments, business and industry – we will build a strong, prosperous Canada for all.
Isadore Day is the regional Chief for Ontario.