First Nations look to China for economic opportunities

VANCOUVER — Canada’s First Nations want a piece of the economic pie and they are now turning to China for a better and more prosperous future.

VANCOUVER — Canada’s First Nations want a piece of the economic pie and they are now turning to China for a better and more prosperous future.

Shawn Atleo, national chief of the Assembly of First Nations, and Clement Chartier, president of the Metis National Council, said Wednesday their organizations are preparing for trips to China to discuss economic development.

The announcements followed a Council of the Federation meeting between provincial, territorial and First Nations’ leaders. Participants agreed to focus on aboriginal education, economic development, emergency preparedness and missing women.

Also on Wednesday, Foreign Affairs Minister John Baird finished a four-day trip to China after meetings with government officials and business leaders.

Atleo said his organization made Chinese contacts during a mining and energy summit in Niagara, Ont., about three weeks ago, and he will now lead a trade and political mission to China later this year.

“China expressed an interest in working on trade projects with First Nations directly,” said Atleo, before adding that aboriginals are involved in natural-resource programs worth $300 billion across Canada.

Atleo said First Nations do not oppose development, they just don’t support development at all costs.

Chartier said his organization, too, is planning a trade mission to China and Taiwan.

“It’s an area that we are definitely engaging in and have an interest in,” he said.

British Columbia Premier Christy Clark said while provincial, territorial and First Nations leaders didn’t talk about trade with Asia specifically on Wednesday, they did talk about economic development for aboriginal communities.

Clark said the Asia-Pacific boasts the fastest growing middle class and the fastest rate of urbanization and as a result, has huge employment potential.

In a conference call from Shanghai, Baird said Canada-China relations are warming and can be further improved by face-to-face dialogue.

He said relations between the two countries have entered a new era in recent years and he wants to build on that.