Category Archives: Aboriginal affairs

Population growth hopeful sign for NS reserves

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By Joseph Quesnel, AIMS Fellow

Some new Census data from Statistics Canada about Nova Scotia may hold opportunity and promise for the province’s Indigenous communities.

The first release of data from the 2016 census is showing more evidence of a population exodus from the province towards other provinces. According to a Chronicle-Herald news story, Nova Scotia showed an overall population growth rate of 0.2 per cent, which translated into just 2,000 new residents. The Atlantic province’s rate was much lower than the national rate of five per cent growth. New Brunswick was even lower as it decreased by 0.5 per cent. PEI only increased by 1.9 per cent and Newfoundland and Labrador only increased by one per cent.

However, the lower population growth is not uniform across Nova Scotia. Although some rural regions showed some decline, there were other rural areas that did not. In particular, many First Nations in Nova Scotia showed increases much higher than the provincial average. For example, Membertou First Nation, an Indigenous community in Cape Breton, enjoyed an 11.3 per cent growth rate. This compares to the province of Cape Breton which saw a decrease of 3.2 per cent over the same period.

Eskasoni First Nation, the largest Indigenous community in Nova Scotia, experienced 3.4 per cent population growth. This is not unlike most other Indigenous communities across Canada, where the youth population is booming, much higher than in other non-Aboriginal communities.

Clearly, younger First Nations in Nova Scotia are attached to their communities and families. Policy makers must be taking advantage of this booming younger demographic within Nova Scotia reserves. Those young people are going to need jobs and opportunities.

Perhaps some inspiration can be drawn from other regions of Canada. Just recently, the CBC reported that a trade school for First Nation students just opened in Thunder Bay, Ontario. Many of those students will come from isolated Northern reserves with few opportunities, beyond band jobs. Education officials and First Nation leaders have often had to deal with funding and jurisdictional issues related to Indigenous schooling, mainly because it is a federal responsibility. One student in the CBC piece mentioned how he wanted to be the first qualified mechanic on his reserve. The piece also questions why there are any impediments to young community members learning how to start their own hair dressing business or bakery.

Opening trade schools and programs for First Nation students in Nova Scotia and all over Atlantic Canada would provide opportunities for the growing population of young people, many of whom are not necessarily interested in college or university. It would also create an entrepreneurial spirit that is needed on so many reserves.

See also: AIMS President Marco Navarro-Génie quoted in the Globe and Mail recently about census data and Atlantic Canadian demographics. Link here.

Partnerships key to Energy East, other projects

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Energy East Route. Source: National Energy Board

By Joseph Quesnel, AIMS Fellow

Now that US President Donald Trump has given the green light to the long-delayed Keystone XL pipeline project, Atlantic provinces as well as Indigenous communities should still push for the Energy East pipeline, as it will generate many economic benefits for all involved.

According to the Globe and Mail, some oil and gas analysts viewed Energy East as “Plan B” should Keystone XL be rejected. The new pipeline would move up to 1.1 million barrels a day to Saint John, New Brunswick from Alberta.

A Senate Committee report released in December 2016 recommended that the Strait of Canso superport be the ultimate destination of the pipeline instead of Saint John. The report highlighted how partnerships with Indigenous communities along the proposed pipeline route should be considered, including benefit sharing and equity stakes for the groups involved.

However, whether the pipeline ends in New Brunswick or Nova Scotia would be moot if the pipeline itself were in jeopardy.

Atlantic governments and Atlantic-based Indigenous communities need to all work together to make sure that the Energy East pipeline is seen as viable and that these two levels of government ensure a fair regulatory process for the project to proceed. The project already faces hurdles from Quebec politicians and First Nation leaders.

Some energy research analysts believe that both the B.C.-based Trans Mountain pipeline and the Energy East are advantageous because they expand new markets for Canadian crude beyond just the United States, as Keystone XL intends to do. They argue the renewed protectionism on the part of the new US administration makes the case for a west-to-east project that much more critical.

Government consultation policies with First Nations, or the lack thereof in some cases, are presenting problems for resource development projects. Many Indigenous communities feel they are receiving very little in return for serious environmental risk to their traditional territories. The Energy East pipeline approval process has benefited tremendously from Indigenous input along the proposed route. TransCanada has made hundreds of route changes to accommodate those concerns.

Partnering with First Nations is the path forward on Canada’s strategy for building any new pipelines. This is true in a national context, and especially in Atlantic Canada with regard to Energy East. The time is now for Atlantic First Nations to show their good faith in helping assist resource development. The answer for these impoverished communities is for better deals, rather than opposing all deals.

NS First Nations Provide Guidance on Education

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Photo Credit: CBC.ca

By Joseph Quesnel, AIMS Fellow

The Mi’kmaq model of First Nation education is being emulated across Canada and is providing more evidence that success is not just about more education funding.

Nova Scotia is one province among three that have tripartite agreements with federal and provincial governments over First Nation education funding. These agreements allow funding levels to grow significantly over time. Nova Scotia’s Mi’kmaq communities signed an agreement with both levels of government in 1997, creating an Indigenous school board.

However, the Chronicle Herald recently reported how Nova Scotia officials are demanding more funding for Mi’kmaq educational programming.

But, Mi’kmaq education officials need to demonstrate how funds will be used and how they will improve an Indigenous education system that is the envy of other provinces.

Anishinabek First Nations in Northern Ontario are on the cusp of ratifying Ontario’s first education self-government agreement. The agreement could affect roughly 27,000 Anishinaabe (also known as Ojibway) students in the province.

If passed, the agreement will come into effect April 2018.

Participating Indigenous communities would have full control over on-reserve education. Although the system they have conceived in Ontario is different from the Mi’kmaq model in Nova Scotia, communities there are drawing inspiration from Atlantic Canada.

“The Indian Act hasn’t worked. What has worked are things like negotiated self-government agreements. The Nova Scotia education agreement with the Mi’kmaw is a good example. The B.C. health agreement is a good example,” said Judith Rae, a lawyer with experience on Indigenous issues, in an interview with iPolitics.

However, the Anishinabek First Nations need to focus on accountability for results and structural reform, not just focus on the self-government element. These items are even more important than funding.

The strength of the Mi’kmaq approach in Nova Scotia is its ability to improve high school graduation rates and other education outcomes. When First Nations gain control over education, there is a temptation to focus only on culture and language, to the detriment of traditional literacy and numeracy. Years ago, this occurred in Manitoba.

Finally, the Mi’kmaq approach has shown how self-government does not have to be wholescale, but can be sectoral, and still achieve results. Indigenous communities can sign self-government agreements with government over many areas, such as health or child welfare. The Nova Scotia example on education provides a model for other jurisdictions.