First Nations seeking new economic partnerships with Quebec companies, investors


Business conference to look at ways for First Nations to have a stake in economic activity.

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Is it time to aim for economic reconciliation?

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Quebec’s First Nations are urging the province’s businesses and investors to craft economic projects that give Indigenous communities a true say in their future by making them shareholders.

A two-day business conference, called the Grand Economic Circle of Indigenous People , will take place at Montreal’s Centre Sheraton hotel Nov. 25 and 26 to discuss possible avenues for cooperation, Ghislain Picard, chief of the Assembly of First Nations Quebec-Labrador, said Tuesday.

A wide range of municipal and economic players, which could include investors such as the Caisse de dépôt et placement du Québec and Investissement Québec, will be invited to take part, Picard said. Representatives from the Fédération des chambres de commerce du Québec will attend, a spokesperson for the organization said.

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“Do we remain victims of the development that takes place on our territories, or do we find ways of moving forward sustainably by becoming stakeholders? This is what’s at stake here,” Picard said in an interview on the first day of the C2 Montreal conference, which is returning in 2021 with its first in-person events in two years. “The goal of this initiative is to sensitize the business world to the importance of developing partnerships that benefit our communities in the long run. We see this event as a launch pad.”

First Nations communities are no longer satisfied with companies employing Indigenous people when developing mining or other projects on ancestral lands, Picard said.

“Yes it’s good to have revenue sharing, it’s good to have jobs, but why wouldn’t it be possible for First Nations to be the owners of a mine? First Nations can play a much more important role in their development,” he said.

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Recent partnerships in the energy industry offer some hope. Picard cited wind-power projects by Boralex, in Quebec’s Côte-Nord region , and Innergex , in the Gaspé peninsula, as profit-sharing models that other investors could replicate. Innergex’s project was developed by a 50-50 partnership between three Mi’gmaq communities and the company, while Boralex joined forces with Innu communities near Port-Cartier.

Picard said he’s hopeful of seeing Hydro-Québec adopt a similar mindset in planning future power-generation projects.

“Hydro-Québec’s approach today is not what we used to see before,” he said. “With (new chief executive Sophie) Brochu at the helm, there’s more openness. I find this promising.”

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One industry that would benefit from new partnerships between First Nations communities and Quebec companies is tourism, Picard added.

“I’m thinking especially about adventure tourism, which until recently was inaccessible due to its cost,” he said. “Maybe that isn’t the case anymore.”

First Nations groups are focused on the long-term picture, Picard insists.

“These partnerships could require some months, or even some years to surface,” he said. “The goal is to make sure they last.”

And while the November conference is part of a joint effort between the Assembly of First Nations Quebec-Labrador and Quebec government, Picard isn’t entirely sold on Premier François Legault’s attitude toward longstanding land claims.

“The political context isn’t always favourable,” Picard said. “We’ve been trying to find ways of engaging the Legault government in a political process for about a year, and we’re somewhat disappointed. It’s a very slow process. The reality is that the government isn’t recognizing our autonomy.”

ftomesco@postmedia.com

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