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Paving the way

Economic blueprint may eradicate poverty in Anishinabek Nation

TORONTO - A 20-year economic blueprint will pave the way to eradicating poverty in the Anishinabek Nation, Grand Council Chief John Beaucage believes.

The ambitious goal was part of a manifesto that Beaucage put forward in 2006 when he was acclaimed for a second term as leader of the organization of 42 Ontario First Nations, in an area stretching from Thunder Bay in the north to Sarnia in the south and the Ottawa Valley in the east.

After 10 months; work, the blueprint was rolled out in April, with two cabinet ministers in attendance - federal Health Minister Tony Clement, who is also responsible for federal economic initiatives in northern Ontario, and Ontario Aboriginal Affairs Minister Michael Bryant.

''Today is a historic occasion,'' Beaucage said at the launch. The blueprint charts a course towards a strong nation, he said. ''The Anishinabek understand that building an economy is critical to the self-government process.''

The committee that developed the blueprint - chaired by Dawn Madahbee, general manager of Wabautek Business Development Corp. on Birch Island, and Ray Martin, of the Indian Hills Golf Club in Forest, Ontario - turned to aboriginal leaders in a variety of fields for advice, many of whom attended a brainstorming session in Vancouver.

Some were front-line workers in building economic development in their own communities, like Chief Clarence Louie of the Osoyoos Indian Band in British Columbia and Bernd Christmas, a Mi'kmaq lawyer who heads the Membertou Development Corp. in Nova Scotia.

Others were as diverse as John Burrows of the Chippewas of Nawash, an eminent legal scholar and author based at the University of Victoria, and David Tuccaro, Mikisew Cree First Nation and the CEO of the Tuccaro Inc. group of companies, which provides services to the oil sands industry in the Wood Buffalo region of Alberta.

''The caliber of people we brought together for two separate days in Vancouver was exceptional,'' said Greg Plain, executive director of the Anishinabek Nation Management Group Inc., who will oversee implementation of the blueprint.

''It is a 20-year plan that really has to be stuck to and we're going to keep at it, looking at it year to year to see where we're making big strides and where we have to achieve more,'' he continued.

ANMGI is the economic arm of the Union of Ontario Indians, the secretariat of the Anishinabek Nation.

Much of the work will be to help the communities prioritize what they want to do, he said: ''Lots of them don't see their own opportunities.'' In the North, partnership agreements in the forestry and mining sectors could be the way to go, while in the Southwest, industrial parks provide jobs, as is the case with the Sarnia-area Aamjiwnaang First Nation, Plain's home community.

The vision expressed in the blueprint is one that mixes entrepreneurship with traditional values. ''You need to have a real balance, or your community won't buy into it.''

It suggests that First Nations seek out business opportunities in sectors that are consistent with First Nation objectives, namely tourism, renewable energy, housing, natural resource development, green industries and new and emerging trends in technology.

It outlines a variety of ways in which communities can position themselves to attract investment and create jobs.

Some are basic. Only 25 of the 42 member communities have Web sites, so it's recommended that four regional sites be developed, with the expectation that each First Nation will have its own site in time.

And it's important to establish a positive working relationship with nearby communities.

''The Anishinabek Nation should consider business opportunities in major market centers as a means to generate revenues,'' the report notes. ''Do not limit business development to within the First Nation.''

Others are creative. First Nations should undertake land use planning and develop taxation policies with respect to leased lands, tobacco sales, non-aboriginal commercial operations on-reserve, and sales tax rebates.

The report also suggests that the Anishinabek Nation advocate for legislative change that would allow the income taxes of members working off-reserve to be redirected to their home community.

As a way of speeding up the land claim settlement process, the report says the Anishinabek Nation should consider the possibility of setting aside current land claims in exchange for a comprehensive economic development package. This is suggested where small parcels of land are being negotiated.

Reaction has been favorable, Plain said.

''We've opened a lot of doors,'' he added. ''Back before we launched, we made a presentation to the minister of Indian Affairs, Chuck Strahl. I think the minister liked our ideas; he directed his staff to help with implementation.''

The blueprint is focused on results, setting a timetable for a number of tasks that the central organization and the individual First Nations should accomplish by the end of the 2008 - 09 financial year.

''What we're saying is, let's take a look at it reserve by reserve,'' Plain said. ''Not everybody is going to buy into this. ... We're not driving this; we're saying: here's your options.''

A 22-page summary of the blueprint can be downloaded from www.anishinabek.ca.