The importance of economic independence for First Nations starts with a basic proposition: Individual band members must be provided an opportunity to provide for their families through self generated income, not be forever dependent on underfunded federal grant programs.

What good will it be if a First Nation receives wealth from oil and gas money, casino money or government transfer payments, or a one-time multimillion-dollar land claim settlement if a majority of their people remain on welfare?

A band does not owe its membership dependency on welfare programs but rather it owes them an opportunity to become economically independent through employment and business development.

The success of a First Nation community within the Canadian economic framework cannot be attained until there are equal chances for First Nations to be educated and provided with an opportunity to put their training to work. Nothing rips a nation state apart more and causes dependency than an unemployed population. The idleness of unemployment is a major sickness in most First Nation communities.

The enemy to First Nations truly participating in the Canadian economy is the perpetuation of the attitude that the First Nation problem can be solved through social expenditures.

The current 100-year-old failed government formula of 96 per cent social spending versus four per cent for business investment has left most First Nations with an unemployment rate that far exceeds the Great Depression.

An employment economy creates a healthier population than handouts. As one past national chief said, “A healthy person is a working person.” Many native youth are being slowly destroyed by the absence of real employment opportunities. Offering youth a welfare cheque leads to a sense of hopelessness and a lazy attitude.

When an individual gains economic independence, just as when a First Nation gains economic independence, then good health in a holistic lifestyle becomes possible.

The Assembly of First Nations is one of many venues in which we must present a united front to Canadians and the Canadian government to organize economic opportunities for First Nations. The AFN’s role should not be to “complain” about our situation, but to “proclaim” our intention to develop our resources, seek out joint ventures and strengthen our economy so we can manage our own future and reclaim our inherent right as First Nations to fully participate in the economic development of our traditional territories.

I have said it many times, “There is no dignity in a welfare line” and the very best social program is a decent self-supporting job.

We ask business leaders and entrepreneurs, corporate Canada and their bankers to work with us to ensure that a decade from now self generated income for First Nations in Canada has outpaced the welfare dollars sadly provided to First Nations.

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