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Energy, Mining and the Fur Trade

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Energy and mining are the new fur trade.

So said First Nations National Chief Shawn A-in-chut Atleo in a speech before the Congress of the Humanities and Social Sciences on May 31.

"There are about 120 different First Nations agreements with the mining sector; there's an explosion in the area of the green economy by First Nations with different forms of alternative energy,” he said, according to the New Brunswick Telegraph-Journal. “But First Nations are also involved in traditional, non-renewable resources as well in energy and mining."

There are indeed parallels. For one thing, the fur trade furnished First Nations with economic self-sufficiency and leverage with European settlers, at least in the beginning, according to the Archives of British Columbia.

“The fur trade was not exclusively controlled and exploited by the European fur traders,” the archives recount in the section on First Nations: European Contact. “To a certain extent, the native people exercised control over the trade, bargaining and bartering with great skill to obtain new goods and materials. The fur trade could not have existed and thrived without the active participation of First Nations people.”

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Atleo’s speech touched on similar themes, as reported in the Telegraph-Journal.

Citing figures from Natural Resources Canada, Atleo said that more than $300 billion in natural resource projects are connected to First Nations interests.

Moreover, First Nations concerns have gained much leverage lately in the wake of Canada’s ratification of the United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples (UNDRIP).

Atleo’s address was one in a series of “Big Thinking” speeches that are given at the annual Congress, put on by the Canadian Federation for the Humanities and Social Sciences and co-hosted by the University of New Brunswick and St. Thomas University. This year’s started on May 28 and runs through June 4.

Atleo said that Canada’s aboriginal peoples are poised to break through the barriers of poverty and lack of education into true prosperity, which would benefit all of Canada. The missing link at the moment is education, he noted.

"Economically, there would be about $400 billion in additional economic output if we can close the education and labour market gap between First Nations communities and the rest of Canadian society, and $115 billion in savings in government expenditures," the Telegraph-Journal quoted Atleo as saying. "We need to find a new way forward."