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First Nations Pursuing Business with China

British Columbia First Nations are working directly with the Chinese to promote trade rather than letting Canadian and provincial authorities do the talking.
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Lumber is just one of many products that First Nations in British Columbia are selling to China as Canada’s aboriginals create their own trade relationship with the Asian powerhouse.

Flush from a successful trade mission to China in May—coincidentally the month that China surpassed the U.S. as the top importer of softwood lumber from British Columbia, according to the news agency Xinhua—several First Nations will return to that country for a follow-up trade mission from October 23 through November 5. Afterward they will attend the China Mining Conference & Expo 2011 from November 6–8, according to a press release from the Native Investment and Trade Association (NITA).

The B.C. First Nations Leadership Council has also announced a strategy, according to the Canadian Press, creating a seven-point action plan with, among other initiatives, a China trade desk to coordinate First Nations response to an increasing number of requests from that country. The strategy is not only to promote First Nations economic development but also to impress upon the Chinese early on that aboriginal groups are partners in every endeavor.

As Union of B.C. Indian Chiefs (UBCIC) Grand Chief Stewart Phillip put it to reporters at a press conference announcing the seven-point plan, First Nations are simply tired of being overlooked by the federal and provincial governments, and are taking their own initiative.

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"We have to move beyond this very parochial notions of the government of Canada and British Columbia when it comes to indigenous land rights,” he said, according to CBC News.

The Asia Pacific Foundation is partnering with the aboriginal groups. Foundation President Yuen Pau Woo told reporters that the agreements will enable trade in energy, fisheries and forestry. University of British Columbia professor George Hoberg called the strategy brilliant, CBC News reported.

"First Nations want to make sure that they benefit from those economic opportunities, but also they want Chinese investors to be aware of the First Nations legal position in that they need to be dealt with directly by investors,” said Hoberg, a professor of forest resources management at the University of British Columbia, to the network. "What they're essentially doing is asserting their status as a government, on par with the government of British Columbia."

Tl'azt'en Nation Grand Chief Ed John, who helped create the plan and is a member of the First Nations Summit Task Group charged with carrying out treaty-negotiation tasks, said that the direct interaction fills a gap.

"What we've seen in the past in our trips to China ... is that industry groups do present in China, but they present their views and we've seen governments present their views, but there was no one out their telling our stories," he said. "Chinese authorities as well as the Chinese peoples are largely unaware of indigenous peoples, much less the rights of indigenous peoples."