Indigenous inclusion in NAFTA negotiations

September 1, 2017

National Chief Perry Bellegarde Speaks on NAFTA and Balance Between Environment and Economy

I commend Assembly of First Nations National Chief Perry Bellegarde for advocating for an Indigenous chapter in a renegotiated North American Free Trade Agreement. The inclusion of Indigenous peoples from the three countries involved in its development is the right thing to do to honour nation to nation relationships while making NAFTA a better deal for all. I agree this would increase economic certainty and was pleased to read Chief Bellegarde’s comment about “making sure we find that strong balance between the environment and the economy.”

Canada is one of the few countries in the world that still has the opportunity to protect our ecosystems, native wildlife populations, and the health of the environment for people while building economic prosperity. Across the globe, irreparable damage to the environment (on which people rely on for essentials such as clean water and unpolluted air) was never a goal of any plan. It has simply happened one piece at a time when jurisdictions failed to consider the well-being of their lands and waters when progressing with landscape altering developments. In Europe, for example, many nations are now looking at expensive restoration projects, unproven in their ability to fully recreate natural systems and services. Canada has the luxury of learning from the mistakes of others as we still have many healthy intact natural regions.

Planning for the right balance of conservation and sustainable development in Canada will only be a success if Indigenous people are fully involved. Canada has been a nation for 150 years but Indigenous knowledge through presence and experience on this great landscape has developed over thousands of years. Ancestral connections and understandings are essential to protecting the environment and establishing sustainable developments.

The Manitoba government has long overdue commitments to work with and support resource management boards to create land use plans for designated areas, some of which are thousands of square kilometers in size. With the leaderships of Indigenous nations and involvement of regional bodies and stakeholders, launching these planning initiatives would be a great place to start for creating economic prosperity in the context of a healthy environment in a large part of the landscape in Manitoba.

Ron Thiessen
Executive Director
Canadian Parks and Wilderness Society – Manitoba chapter

This letter was written in response to ”A NAFTA chapter focused on Indigenous rights will be crucial, Bellegarde says’, by Kristy Kirkup, published in the Winnipeg Free press, Aug. 21, 2017.

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