New Grand Chief will set tone of future development
It is still much too early to judge Nishnawbe Aski Nation (NAN) Grand Chief Harvey Yesno’s performance in the top job.
But the former Eabametoong chief earned his spot on the Wawatay honourable mention list by not only winning the grand chief election, but for immediately implementing his own tone to the work that NAN is doing.
Yesno took on six other candidates, including two sitting deputy grand chiefs, in a race that was pegged by many as being completely up in the air. When the Kashechewan dust finally settled, Yesno had a narrow victory over a Terry Waboose and a three-year term as grand chief.
In his first media conference, Yesno emphasized that protection of the lands will come “at any cost.”
“One thing is for sure, on the lands, its going to be all about protection,” Yesno said. “We’re not going to protest over our own lands. But people will protect their own lands.”
Despite those strong words, Yesno’s first few months on the job have been pretty quiet.
A number of themes have emerged during these first few months. Yesno is not against resource development. He regularly cites his economic development experience and the need to get communities involved in business. But he wants to make sure First Nations benefit, be it through resource-revenue sharing or improved economic benefit agreements.
In an open letter in October, Yesno laid out his vision of what First Nations are looking for in terms of resource development.
He focused on “fair and equitable” treatment of First Nations, including an opportunity to invest, develop partnerships and ownership of business development opportunities.
“The desire for our communities to succeed in business and provide a better future for our people is one of the most urgent pressures facing most chiefs today,” Yesno wrote.
He has also noted the importance of reestablishing the treaty relationships – taking consultation out of the hands of industry and giving it back to government.
He called it “implementation of the treaty,” noting that Canada and Ontario have to level the playing field by investing in First Nations in order to help the communities get involved in development opportunities.
Whether Yesno’s approach will work in getting the desired benefits remains to be seen. But one thing is certain – the operations of NAN will be under his lead for the next three years, crucial years for the development of the Ring of Fire and other resource industries in the territory. How successful Yesno is in creating a legacy may well shape how the entire NAN territory develops long after he has stepped aside.
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