House essay: resource revenue sharing
Evan Solomon, host of CBC Radio's The House, reflects on the decision by Prime Minister Stephen Harper to meet with First Nations leaders on Jan. 11 in the wake of Attawapiskat Chief Theresa Spence's hunger strike and Idle No More nationwide protests in his weekly radio essay, as heard on Jan.5, 2013.
"To all the supporters and the helpers, I'm really grateful today. I'm just really overjoyed .... to hear that the Crown and the prime minister and the governments, that they're going to meet with us Jan. 11.," said Attawapiskat Chief Theresa Spence on Friday.
This was the first sign of a possible end to her hunger strike.
Today is Day 26 for her but she says she won't end it until she sees the outcome of the Jan. 11 meeting with the prime minister and other First Nations chiefs.
But just what concrete commitments does she and Assembly of First Nations National Chief Shawn Atleo actually need to see from the prime minister?
Well, that remains somewhat unclear.
Why did the prime minister suddenly agree to the meeting?
That's also unclear.
The prime minister says it's simply a follow-up on the Crown-First Nations meeting that took place a year ago but it's now clear that this meeting was scheduled at the very last minute.
So was it in response to Chief Spence's protest?
The prime minister has been careful not to mention her name but if that's the driving force, then her hunger strike has accomplished its political goal.
Many may see this as the prime minister blinking first.
It might also be to try to stop the growing grassroots movement known as Idle No More from blocking railroads and taking direct action across the country.
But perhaps what's really at the root of the change is natural resources.
Some First Nations leaders know this.
Grand Chief Stan Louttit on Friday said, "we want to be able to share in the economy, share in the wealth of our lands. And it means revenue sharing so that our communities can prosper, so that we can grow, so there could be things for the young people, or there could be things for the youth, so we can have nice housing too — just like you do. And we can't do that the way things are right now."
Revenue sharing from natural resources. Louttit knows that economic opportunity and prosperity lie in natural resources. It's the same across the country for everyone but do First Nations really have a fair stake in them?
Not according to the 2006 Royal Commission on Aboriginal Peoples.
That report found that the land allocated for use by Aboriginal people south of the 60th parallel makes up less than half of one per cent of the Canadian land mass.
In the U.S., where aboriginals are a much smaller percentage of the population, they hold 3 per cent of the land excluding Alaska.
The Royal Commission offered many solutions to this issue and to others including negotiating fair distribution of lands and resources, and the establishment of a land and treaties tribunal.
But will those be on the table on Jan. 11?
The report is seven years old and hardly ever mentioned. Why commission these reports if they just get ignored?
Well, resources may also be the driver behind the prime minister's motive for the meeting.
The government has made a large bet on building pipelines from Alberta to B.C. and to the U.S., and support from First Nations communities will be critical.
But if the situation deteriorates, if Chief Spence were to die from her hunger strike, all bets are off. The chance of co-operation from any First Nations on any big resource project would become much more remote.
So clearly both sides have a lot at stake at this meeting. Which may mean that something significant will come out of the Jan. 11 gathering.
Atleo has called what's happening now cross the country "a tipping point."
Will they make some progress on Jan. 11, or what? What could happen? We don't know.
But Chief Spence's hunger strike and the Idle No More movement may just be the beginning.