First Nations need access to capital — and the economy

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Mark Podlasly of the First Nations Major Projects Coalition has been making the news as a champion for the rightful role of First Nations in the “mainstream economy.”

To begin with, he says, they need access to capital to invest in projects in their territories, and to build true equity partnerships with resource developers.

“Ottawa needs right now to move on access to capital for major projects. There needs to be some mechanisms that allow Indigenous people access to capital at a reasonable rate, to make investments in the economy.

“The problem, particularly for First Nations, is that we don’t own our assets. Our assets are held in trust by the government, for our use. It’s very difficult, then, to participate in the mainstream economy.

“First Nations can’t participate in the mainstream economy without the ability and the tools that private enterprise and private citizens have. Those investments are important because they will generate own-source revenue for communities, for nations, to make their own self-determination decisions.”

He says equity ownership of resource and infrastructure projects is increasingly seen by Indigenous people as a means to exercise rights, protect environmental interests, and share in economic benefits.

“The new reality of Indigenous infrastructure owners has significant benefits for First Nations and Canada alike, including greater investment certainty and reduced opposition to projects, First Nations with access to capital sources leveraging investment market funds to invest in the national economy, and the improvement of environmental, social, and governance sustainability ratings of utility companies to attract private sector capital.”

There’s more from Podlansky, director of economic policy and initiatives for the First Nations Major Projects Coalition IFNMPC) and a member of the Nlaka’pamux Nation in BC:

He says those who measure the economy, and who measure corporate performance under ESG values (Environmental, Social, corporate Governance), need to take First Nations values into account.

On ESG-evaluation standards: “While the adoption of ESG standards by Canadian companies and investors has become common, the standards they are using were developed outside of Canada without consideration of the rights, interests and input of Indigenous peoples. . . . As a result, this introduces an unacceptable level of investment risk to proposed commercial and infrastructure projects.”

On measuring the economy: “B.C., like Canada and most countries around the world, measures its economy using gross domestic product  (GDP). Developed in the 1930s at the height of the Great Depression, GDP is a crude proxy for gauging economic performance in that it measures national income and economic growth above all other factors.

“It reflects the values that were considered important at the time of its creation for a ‘good life’ – namely money and the production of goods.

“Yet for B.C. Indigenous people, the concept of a good life has always been more than just money and goods. An Indigenous good life is one that is made ‘richer’ with clean air, regenerative wild fisheries and forests, socially healthy families, the passing down of cultural values, excellent education, respect for traditions that values Elders and living Indigenous knowledge, a responsive health-care system and a natural environment that sustains our collective – Indigenous and non-Indigenous – well-being.”

He continues: “This way of living has been refined over millennia and varies within each First Nations culture, language and location. And it’s not unique to B.C. Countries around the world like New Zealand, Iceland and Finland are increasingly adopting new indices of well-being that measure economic income, plus a full suite of good-life indicators, including the environment, culture, safety, leisure time, health and education. “These worldwide well-being indices measure life values that are remarkably similar to those held by B.C. Indigenous peoples.

One measurement of well-being standards, often cited by Perry Bellegarde, as national chief of the Assembly of First Nations, is the United Nations Human Development Index. Under that, Canada as a country ranks eighth in the world. But if you apply that index to Canada’s Indigenous people, they place 63rd.

Podlasly notes that in 2020, the B.C. Assembly of First Nations (BCAFN) studied more than 40 worldwide well-being indexes.

“The most globally well-known, and perhaps the most advanced well-being index work, is in New Zealand. New Zealand’s  . . . Well-being Budget, its associated Living Standards Framework and relevant Indigenous Maori well-being outcomes, offer valuable examples in how to build a more productive nation by incorporating Indigenous economic, environmental and governance knowledge into a modern economy.”

In a report co-authored by Podlasly, the BCAFN then called last November for a made-in-BC well-being index.

Podlasly on that proposal: “As other peoples and countries around the world start to appreciate what First Nations people know as Indigenous values in their revised GDP-alternative economic measurements, it is time that B.C. measured the overall well-being of the province using the timeless knowledge of this land that includes the understanding that a good life cannot be reduced to 1930s GDP-defined inputs of consumption, investment, government spending and net exports.”

We hope his analyses and arguments re being heard and heeded in Ottawa and Victoria.

Now look for such issues to be discussed in May and June at the Indigenous Partners Success Showcase, an online Resource Woreks event supported by our Alliance.

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Three guest columns by Podlasly in Business in Vancouver:

First Nations LNG Alliance Newsletter