Editorial: First Nations face capital crunch

03/04/2016

Cultivating business enterprise in First Nations communities is fundamental to more than their future development. It’s fundamental to the future economic well-being of the country.In B.C., pretty much all major resource extraction and energy proposals involve First Nations communities in some way. Uncertainty over land claims and aboriginal involvement continues to stall potential development and deter investment.

But more than merely unlocking that development by becoming partners in major projects, more First Nations need to become initiators of major business ventures.

Business in Vancouver
March 1, 2016

That requires access to capital, and for native bands in Canada, that presents unique challenges. As pointed out in a new Public Policy Forum (PPF) report, unlike other enterprises in Canada, First Nations can’t use their property as collateral to raise capital because reservation land is held as a collective tribal asset. 

The report also points out that First Nations governance needs to be more transparent and fiscally accountable if bands hope to attract significant outside investment.The new federal Liberal government’s promise to repeal the First Nations Financial Transparency Act, which requires native band administration accounting books to be open to band members, runs counter to that accountability imperative.

PPF report recommendations include investing in First Nations training and education, especially in financial literacy, and strengthening aboriginal financial institutions so they can provide bands and reservations with affordable capital options.

However, the real key to cultivating native business enterprise starts with overhauling Canada’s Indian Act to allow for such fundamental business building blocks as private property rights on native reserves and expanding initiatives like the First Nations Land Management Act, which allows bands to wrest reservation land-use control from Ottawa.

Federal government hand-holding continues to shield native bands from business failures and success and, in the process, continues to suffocate aboriginal entrepreneurship.