Over 300 delegates attended the Ontario First Nation Economic Forum (OFNEF) held in Toronto, Ontario on October 12-13, 2016. Participants included First Nation leaders, economic and employment officers, business, industry and provincial and federal officials.

The three main areas of discussion were on infrastructure, wealth creation, and resource revenue (RRS) sharing. Below are some of the immediate outcomes from OFNEF.

In terms of Resource Revenue Sharing the regions are ready to talk. There are several successful models that could be used as a framework for moving forward with the regions. In terms of infrastructure there is a need for a collaborative long-term plan and sustained investment. Communities need the capacity to be shovel- ready.

It seems as though there is a difference of opinion in terms of accessing capital and financing. The lending agencies and financial institutes believe that there is a lot of opportunity to access capital funding, but communities do not believe that this is the case. There is a need to build business capacity, not in terms of “business education” but more of personal skills like confidence, sales and board governance.

When we as First Nation peoples have more control of our lives and our lands, our relationships with other governments we will see a transformation that our ancestors expected as a result of making treaties. It may seem to be getting closer to reality. But we must re-double our efforts to reach that goal of socio-economic parity and to eradicate the grinding poverty that is killing our people!!

As you know, it’s been a year since Prime Minister Trudeau made a number of serious commitments to our Peoples. In fact, every single Cabinet Minister’s mandate letter refers to the importance of improving the relationship with Indigenous peoples.

The federal government has committed to major investments in health, child welfare, infrastructure, and ending boil water advisories within five years. Most importantly, there was the commitment to end two decades of a 2 per cent funding cap, which has resulted in an estimated $30 billion in lost funding.

As both Ontario and Canada continue to work to include us as equal partners — and as we seek to secure our rightful place in this country — we are still looking for the immediate investments that will lift our peoples out of poverty.

The federal government must re-profile some of that new $8.4 billion as soon as possible. We must concentrate on basic infrastructure investments – clean water and housing – so we can move forward on wealth creation for all.

About 93 per cent of Ontario’s population lives on just 13 per cent of the landmass here in the south. The other 87 per cent of the land – classified as Northern Ontario – has only 730,000 people—which includes an increasingly larger number of First Nations the further north you travel.

From green energy to environmental protection, our Peoples are the best placed to combat the very real threat of climate change. From carbon credits to coffee franchises, there is an almost unlimited potential for our peoples to fully participate in all sectors of the economy.

Both First Nations and northern Ontarians need major investments in order to stimulate and sustain our economies. It’s time to stop imagining what can be done to involve First Nations. It’s time to include First Nations as equal partners.

By investing in our Peoples, from socio- economic programs to major infrastructure projects, not only will we finally secure our rightful place, we will become major contributors to a revived provincial and Canadian economy.

I look forward to advancing this dialogue further and to keep this marker as the first step toward economic action for all First Nations in Ontario.