First papers in new series highlight the alternative futures facing Aboriginal and non-Aboriginal Canadians in defining new relationships around natural resource development

OTTAWA, 1 May, 2013 – Canada's leading independent, non-partisan think tank, the Macdonald-Laurier Institute (MLI) announces today the launch of a signature project aimed at showing how natural resource wealth may be used to reset the relationship between Aboriginal and non-Aboriginal Canadians.

Canada finds itself today in the midst of one of the most important resource development booms in national history. The scale and intensity of resource development in Canada has buoyed the national economy in the midst of global difficulties; equally important, the vast treasure trove of Canadian resources provides solid assurance that the Canadian economy will remain robust well into the future.

These exciting and important opportunities, however, hinge on Canada's ability to establish fair, clear, and durable agreements with First Nations and other Aboriginal communities over natural resource development. In two landmark analyses released simultaneously by MLI, Ken Coates, Canada Research Chair at the University of Saskatchewan, and Douglas Bland, professor emeritus at Queen's University,  lay out the two stark options Canada now faces; the benefits of getting it right, and the consequences of getting it wrong. These papers set the stage for the Macdonald-Laurier Institute's major new three-year project on Aboriginal Canada and the Natural Resource Economy.

The paper by Ken Coates and Brian Lee Crowley outlines the potentially positive future available if Aboriginal and non-Aboriginal Canadians manage to find ways to collaborate on natural resource development, ensuring significant benefits for all parties. Coates draws attention to the experience of Aboriginal engagement with resource development, growing Aboriginal empowerment over the last 40 years, and the constructive, mutually beneficial collaborations that have emerged between Aboriginal groups, governments, and developers informed and shaped by recent court decisions and modern treaties.

Aboriginal participation in resource development is essential for Canadian prosperity and for a fair and appropriate pathway for the improvement of the situation of Indigenous peoples. The history of Aboriginal/non-Aboriginal relations in Canada has not been kind to Indigenous peoples. They have borne most of the negative effects of resource development and settlement, with the impacts still painfully evident in the 21st century. The legal empowerment of Aboriginal peoples in recent years has given the Indigenous governments much greater, if not absolute, ability to shape development projects to better suit community needs and aspirations. It is vital that the historic pattern be changed and that models of more positive engagement come to the fore. This paper shows that, far from being a vain and pious hope, such models are already emerging and provide guidance on where to go from here.

Coates' analysis shows that decades worth of court decisions have laid the groundwork for legal frameworks upon which successful partnerships have been built.  By building on past successes and learning from past mistakes, Canada's economy can continue to grow on foundations that are economically sustainable, ethically justifiable, legally defensible and environmentally practical.

Douglas Bland's paper argues that Indigenous uprisings in the rest of the world rely less upon "root causes", and more on their feasibility.  Combined with real and perceived grievances of historical, political and social wrongs, Canada also possesses the key components present in other uprisings;

  • Social fractionalization - The fractionalization along First Nations and non-Aboriginal fault-lines is obvious.   Social life on many reserves is defined by poverty and its consequences.
  • A "warrior cohort" - By 2017, 42 percent of the First Nations population on the Prairies will be under the age of 30, over twice their share in the non-Aboriginal community.
  • Economic and resources factors - for Canada, the matrix of the economy, national resources and transportation is irreversibly vulnerable.
  • A security factor - First Nations leaders also understand the reluctance in governments, in the Canadian Forces and police organizations (as demonstrated at Caledonia) to intervene in Aboriginal demonstrations, even when there are urgent and lawful reasons for doing so.
  • Geography – Canada remains a vast, sparsely populated country reliant upon key, strategic infrastructure but lacking sufficient security forces to control more than a handful of locations in the face of large unrest.

However, Canadian governments have options available to them not only to avert such possible uprisings, but to continue to lead the world in economic growth through increased development of our abundant natural resources, including working partnerships with the Aboriginal communities often situated close to resource sites.

The Project


The Aboriginal Canada and the Natural Resource Economy Project arises from a conversation MLI Managing Director Brian Lee Crowley and then-CEO of the AFN, Richard Jock, had about the need for Aboriginal and non-Aboriginal Canadians to be able to look to an independent and non-partisan source of thoughtful analysis about how all communities can realise maximum benefit from the opportunities the natural resource economy makes possible.  The papers released today are just a small down payment on the wide-ranging work in this area that MLI will be releasing in the next three years.

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The Macdonald-Laurier Institute is the only non-partisan, independent national public policy think tank in Ottawa focusing on the full range of issues that fall under the jurisdiction of the federal government.


For more information:


Sean Osmar

Director of Communications

Macdonald-Laurier Institute

613-482-8327 x 103


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