Indian Self-Government

Written By: Donna Allison
Hanson’s Wilderness Lodges,
Nestor Falls, ON
Originally Published in the May 1991
issue of The Outfitter Magazine.

 

We have all heard a lot of talk about Indian self-government negotiations and the goal of our provincial government to come to agreements with the Indian people of Ontario and improve their general situation. But what does that mean to you and I? That’s a big question, and the answer is far from clear.

In order for self-government to work the Indian communities need to develop a viable economic base upon which they can depend. All Northerners know the challenges which that entails. The three pillars of our economy in Northern Ontario - mining, forestry and tourism - are all resource dependent. While few people have difficulty recognizing the resource dependent nature of mining and forestry, tourism is not resource dependent by definition. Tourism in southern Ontario can rely on the theatre, the lights, the cultural mosaic and attractions like Niagara Falls; tourism in the North has a far different composition. It is the lakes and trees, the fish and wildlife which bring people to Northern Ontario and the reputation which has been established over the past seven decades is alive and well, with great potential for growth.

So what does all of this have to do with Native self-government? Not much, except to reinforce the dependency which ALL Northerners have on the natural resources of the region. And realistically, if the Indian people of the province are to find economic independence, one could expect that independence to be rooted in the natural resources of the North as well.

We’ve all heard an awful lot in the last few years about economic diversity and the problems of single industry towns and what happens when that industry shuts its doors. Where has the drive for the economic development sent many single-industry communities looking? To tourism. Why? Because it is versatile, it employs many people and is conservation minded. This is where many native communities could look too.

This brings us back to the dependence of Northern Tourism on fishing, hunting and the “wilderness experience”. In order for tourism in Northern Ontario to grow and prosper it requires a stable resource base to market, so we can tell people what great fishing there is to come and experience (not necessarily consume, but at least experience!). Many of us would like to be in a position where we would not have to depend upon fishing and hunting and could simply say: “come and watch the multitude of eagles soaring high in the clear blue skies”, “come and gaze at the millions of stars sparkling in the night sky and experience the wonders of the Northern Lights”. But we haven’t come that far yet. I’m sure the time will come, but it probably won’t be in my generation.

The dependency of Northern Tourism on fishing and hunting raises many questions when it comes to native self-government negotiations. We are all aware, or should be, that land and resources form the basis of those negotiations. The outcome is going to very much influence the ability of Northern Tourism not only to prosper and grow, but even to survive.

If Native communities choose to develop tourism opportunities in their effort to forge their economic base, they could learn valuable skills in the operation and management of tourism facilities from our members, from you. The Indian people must also be cognizant of the fact that in order to operate viable tourist operations in the North at this point in time, they must be careful not to restrict the opportunities for residents and non-residents to fish and hunt in Northern Ontario.

We arrive at the same issue of native fishing and hunting rights, treaty rights, and aboriginal rights. What are they and what do they mean in the context of today? I cannot begin to address those questions, but if all the people of Northern Ontario can come to an agreement recognizing that the treaties were signed as an indication of the willingness of two peoples to share the lands and resources of the territory, and that the future of the North depends upon our continued ability to share them, both the people and the resources will be in a better position to face the future. Then we can enter into discussion on how that sharing will take place today and in the future.

NOTO feels there is much that can be accomplished by communication and co-operation. Northern Ontario is a vast and magnificent area, rich in resources. There is still plenty to share for the benefit of all citizens of the North. NOTO supports the Indian people in their drive for self-determination. Many regions of the North feel that same need for less dependence on decisions made in Toronto, by people who have never even seen the North, never mind understand it. This is the legacy of past governments. Perhaps the NDP government is indeed committed to listening to the people it governs and can arrive at agreements acceptable to all segments of our society. That remains to be seen, and it is certainly no small task.

Those of us who have lived and worked side by side with the Indian people for the past four generations realize one thing for certain: the improvement of the situation of the Indian people of our province will not be accompanied by any decrees by any governments. There has to be a real commitment and determination on behalf of the Indian people to resolve their problems.

NOTO looks forward to participating in the upcoming self-government negotiations and to sharing our vision for the growth of tourism, the native communities and all Northern Ontario and its people.

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