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Indian Economic Development For The ’90s

SASKATCHEWAN INDIAN      JUNE 1991      v20 n02 p08  
A disproportionally large number of Treaty Indians have always found a lack of employment and business opportunities. As we move into the 21st century, our population will grow in comparison to the non-Indian population, and it is vital that we begin to take aim at those sectors of the economy in which we have been traditionally under represented.

The long term answer is, of course, education. And we have made significant strides in this area. The majority of elementary and secondary schools are now band controlled, and the success rate of Indian students is improving year after year. The Saskatchewan Indian Federated College has grown from initial enrolment of 13 students in 1976 to well over 1,150 in 1991. The Saskatchewan Indian Institute of Technologies provides technical training for those wishing to pursue a more practical avocation.

While education is still the ultimate solution, however, there needs to a concentrated effort now, as well as in the future to secure Indian participation in the mainstream economy.

Small Indian businesses have received a much needed boost from FSIN institutions such as the Saskatchewan Indian Equity Foundation (SIEF) and the Saskatchewan Indian Loan Company (SILCO). SIEF makes business loans to Indian entrepreneurs, while SILCO makes loans to Indian farmers. These Institutions have been involved in the start up of hundred small businesses that become viable, and are supporting literally thousands of Indian jobs in the province of Saskatchewan.

Providing loans, however, is only one cornerstone in the creation of a viable Indian economy. It is also necessary to create institutions which will provide equity training and carry on research and development activities.

The Federation of Saskatchewan Indian Nations has recently revitalized its Indian Economic Commission. It is the function of this Commission to oversee all aspects of Indian economic development in this Province. The Commission provides the policy trust for determining the types of economic development activities which are necessary to create long lasting benefits. In addition, the Commission is the body to whom all FSIN economic institutions will be accountable for their progress and expenditures.

It is necessary, of course, for the Indian Economic Commission for forge strong links with the Indian Education Commission, the Indian Housing Commission and the institutions in charge of labour force development strategies. By so doing a coordinated approach to economic and educational development can be pursued. In order to assist in the overall strategy for economic development, the FSIN and the Indian Economic Commission have created a new institution called the National Indian Financial Corporation (NIFC).

One of the first tasks of the NIFC is to rationalize the consumption of pension and insurance products by Indian Bands, Tribal Councils and FSIN institutions. There is much strength in numbers, and it is hoped that by involving the majority of Bands, Tribal Councils and institutions in pensions and insurance underwritten by a common company,that there will be significant benefits derived. Low premiums and enhanced coverage is the goal.

In order to facilitate the provision of pension, group health and general insurance services, NIFC is acquiring First Nations Insurance Services Ltd. and a majority interest in First Nations General Insurance Ltd. Both of these companies were formerly owned by the La Ronge Band, and have been in operation since 1986.

Vice-Chief Roy Bird
Vice-Chief Roy Bird

One of the benefits of province wide participation in the First Nations Insurance Services pension plan is that we will , for the first time, be able to enter into reciprocal transfer agreements with other pensions such as the Teachers' Superannuation Commission. The Teachers' Superannuation Commission has been reluctant, in the past, to enter into a reciprocal transfer agreement with a number of other pension plans due to the administrative cost and headaches this would entail.

However, the Teacher's Superannuation Commission will deal with a pension group which covers a large number of Indian teachers. Reciprocal transfer agreements are necessary because then teachers will be able to move freely between both the Indian and non-Indian school systems without suffering any loss in pension benefits.

The number of available teachers to fill vacant positions in Indian schools should rise dramatically once the reciprocal transfer agreement is put in place.

NIFC, in conjunction with the Indian Housing Commission, is involved in creating an inventory of reserve based and off reserve Indian housing in the Province. Once this inventory is completed, it will be possible to approach insurance companies for quotes to cover all Indian housing in the Province under one policy. Again, there is strength in numbers, and it is expected that the cost of insurance coverage should decrease significantly while, at the same time, ensuring that benefits are maintained.

In these days of restrained government spending, Indian individuals, Bands and institutions must become prudent consumers of necessary goods and services. By acting as a community, we will be able to obtain significant benefits.

When the Bands took control of Indian schooling, Indian students began to succeed in much greater numbers. The FSIN is similarly taking control of Indian economic development.

Recently the FSIN began negotiation with Indian Affairs to take control through the Indian Economic Commission, of INAC's regional economic development budget. The Indian Economic Commission will now make decisions as to which regional projects should be funded.

The Indian Economic Commission is also negotiating with the Aboriginal Economic Program (AEP) to take control of program delivery in the Province. Once this is done, Indian people will be directly in charge of Indian economic programming. They will then set the agenda, and they will begin the process of taking control of their own economic destiny.