Canadian Natives' Expertise Sought by Indigenous Groups (in South America)

Article excerpt

Indigenous groups from Central and South America are looking to the expertise of Canada's Aboriginals to help them develop their business know-how and post-secondary education.

This good-news story might surprise non-indigenous Canadians accustomed to hearing about Natives only in association with residential school lawsuits or in connection with high suicide rates, drug and alcohol addiction and high unemployment.

The Nisga'a, who live in British Columbia's Nass River Valley, have signed a partnership agreement with indigenous peoples living near the Amazon River in Peru. They will help the Confederation of Amazon Nationalities of Peru (representing 200,000 people) develop a post-secondary educational program so they can begin exploiting their own natural resources, rather than watch transnational corporations walk away with all the profits.

The Nuu-chah-nulth, who live near Nanaimo, B.C., have signed an agreement with a Mexican indigenous organization. The Nuu-chah-nulth Economic Development Corporation will share their expertise in economic development with the Indigenous Council of the Huastec Region of Veracruz. Indigenous groups there produce some high quality products but lack the markets or know-how to sell them.

Both these agreements have been made possible by the Anglican Church's Primate's World Relief and Development Fund. The Primate's Fund is probably best known for its international development work but it also has a Canadian program dealing with Aboriginals.

Jose Zarate was hired three years ago to co-ordinate the Canadian Development Program: Indigenous Communities. He was asked to forge partnerships with indigenous peoples in Canada and to promote links between Canadian aboriginals and indigenous peoples in other countries. Dr. Zarate is indigenous himself, hailing from Peru.

The Nisga'a told Dr. Zarate they wished to link up with indigenous peoples in other countries. He learned of their success over the last decade in developing post-secondary education which allows the Nisga'a to study in their own villages through the Wilp Wilxo' oskwhl Nisga'a (the Nisga'a House of Wisdom).

They have developed partnerships with the University of Northern British Columbia, Northwest Community College and Open Learning Agency. The bilingual, bicultural studies are wide ranging and include training for forest rangers and technicians, hospitality and tourism, fishery technicians, biologists and scientists, social services, trades and financial planning, and cultural services including Nisga'a language, contemporary Nisga'a arts and religious studies.

When Dr. Zarate received a request from a Peruvian indigenous group wanting help to exploit their own resources, it seemed a perfect fit for the Nisga'a. The Amazonians were frustrated to see transnational corporations exploiting their many natural resources -- forests and fisheries, oil and gas resources and ecotourism -- for their own gain. …