MKO action plan seeks to grow northern First Nations’ economies

Manitoba Keewatinowi Okimakanak (MKO) Grand Chief Sheila North Wilson wants the federal and provincial governments to work with Northern Manitoba First Nations to create the conditions to allow health local economies to flourish, as outlined in a 10-point economic action plan announced May 26.

The plan includes six recommendations aimed at the federal government and four at the provincial government which North Wilson says will improve the lives of people in the 30 First Nations MKO represents.

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“It is a myth that there are no economic opportunities in our nations,” North Wilson said in a press release. “But we do need to create the conditions to create and grow successful ventures. I’m confident our people will step up. We are ready.”

The six points involving the federal government touch upon jobs, food, energy and home construction. 

MKO wants the federal government to conduct an inventory of existing jobs within MKO communities and identify how many are filled by non-First Nations people, with a focus on the airline industry, justice, health care, education, administration and social services. Once the inventory is complete, a process MKO feels can be accomplished within six months to a year, the First Nations and federal government can work together on a community-based training strategy to help members of the First Nations receive the training and education necessary to fill those jobs.

The plan also calls upon the federal government to subsidize locally grown or raised healthy food that is ineligible for Nutrition North subsidies and to work with social enterprises to increase their capacity for producing healthy food.Another one of the points suggests that, since most MKO First Nations have no garbage pickup, recycling or hazardous waste disposal, a program that exchanges healthy food for electronics, recycling and garbage can kill two birds with one stone. MKO also wants the federal government to work with MKO First Nations to get derelict cars shipped south and recycled.

Other points addressed to the federal government include helping First Nations set up heating utilities taking advantage of biomass and geothermal heat generation methods instead of costly and environmentally unfriendly diesel, and making new and existing homes on First Nations more energy-efficient, which costs money up front but saves their occupants money down the road.

“Produce grown in our communities receives no incentives while outside retailers are supported, social assistance won’t pay low utility bills in energy-efficient homes but will pay high bills that create no local jobs, and it’s illegal in Manitoba for First Nations to sell electricity, even to ourselves,” said North Wilson. “We’re asking for a nation-to-nation relationship so our people can succeed.”

The plan also asks the provincial government to deliver driver training to all communities, including First Nations, to allow First Nations to operate solar and wind-generating projects with feed-in tariffs paid for excess electricity that can be used by Manitoba Hydro, and to support the growth of more social enterprises in MKO First Nations.

“There is a new economy emerging and it is based on our traditional values,” North Wilson says. “These calls to action are modern realization of these values - putting family and community first, focusing on self-reliance and independence, and taking care of mother Earth. The 10-point strategy includes ideas firmly rooted in what the elders have taught us.”

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