Tuesday, February 19, 2013

Open Letter: A regional revenue-sharing plan for Canadian First-Nations Special Economic Zones (FNSEZ) & “the granting of a resource monopoly from the Crown to First Nations”.

A proposal to bridge “the rez and nearest town”; fueled by #idlenomore.

updates: feb.21- removed "simplified" from title

Part 1---
So. I propose something bold... the Canadian First-Nations Special Economic Zone(FNSEZ): Places that can become “New Hong Kongs”; but with a First Nation flavour and less of an unbridled industrial free-for-all. Culturally, economically and technologically-vibrant new economic entities developed outside of the existing regimes of the day. I propose the creation of an economic engine for regionally-derived revenue controlled by First Nations, rather than other, existing levels of government. Most First Nations are regionally-based, rural and invested in the other local peoples of their region as well as the land.

Most Canadians may see #idlenomore on the news and think they have “an Indian Problem”, when in truth, most of Canada has a “rural problem”. The money spent by First Nations in the businesses and contractors of “nearest towns”, our labour in the seasonal industries and purchase of consumeables contribute much to Canada's rural base. Healthy, thriving First Nations peoples, governments and economies would be a radical stimulant for regional Canadian development, in the face of an uncertain future filled with challenges. Issues of climate-change and environmental degradation should inform long-term regional planning with regard to clean, productive water, farmland conditioning, clearcut/forest-reclamation and town infrastructure.

The new FNSEZ's will share revenues collected from the businesses operating within the FNSEZ, with:
local and regional First Nations Peoples,
local and regional township's peoples and
local and regional municipalities' peoples.
All of an FNSEZ's neighbours are to be considered in revenue sharing and development planning; including social program spending and hard infrastructure investment, based on actual discussions of need by “the people on the ground” of a given region. We may choose to pool funds for large-scale regional projects.

Okay, the difficult parts:
a) We need the federal and provincial governments to agree that regional revenues can be generated and spent regionally by First Nations on the region's behalf, without going through Ottawa or Toronto. Trust and dickering will ensue, locally.
b) We need the federal government and Governor-General to grant a new, legitimised “Crown-Monopoly” to First Nations; to fuel and jumpstart the FNSEZ, Medical marijuana supply and research. And to do that that they begin by legalising cannabis agriculture, medicinal research and recreational use at the old Pither's Point Park.
c) Local, regional and provincial persons, businesses and political entities show the resolve and good sense necessary to endorse such a radical notion in the face of legal inertia and slow, economic starvation in the hinterland. And that means the cessation of legal claims against the property currently known as Pither's Point Park and public endorsement of the FNSEZ concept.

Part 2 (below): Why should Fort Frances, Couchiching, other local towns and First Nations (as well as Ontario and the citizens of Canada) endorse this idea?

"Chickenosaurus, Etcetera", Acrylic painting on canvas; flower detail.

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Part 2---
Why should Fort Frances, Couchiching, other local towns and First Nations (as well as Ontario and the citizens of Canada) endorse this idea?
The Canadian federal government just got out of the supply-end of medical marijuana. There is a future for medical cannabis research as more jurisdictions allow it and an uncertain supply of consistent, affordable medication for existing medical marijuana patients in Canada. By supporting a First Nation monopoly of Medical Cannabis production and research, a robust medical cannabis industry can emerge, based in regional FNSEZ's. This is an actual economic demand and an emerging public healthcare opportunity and we need new, different jobs out here in the boonies. Eventually, other jurisdictions will may accept “legitimate delivery” of medical cannabis and build demand for export.

Having a new jurisdiction on the local doorstep (in my case the town of Fort Frances and Couchiching First Nation), with legalised recreational cannabis use will bring thousands of extra visitors to the region. However, this is a tourism opportunity that is toppling slowly, as more states vote to allow medical marijuana use and outright legalisation. How many potential visitors to Northwestern Ontario are heading to Washington state and Colorado, instead? If all use, sale, possession, growing, transport, sharing and eating-of Cannabis (within the area of a Special Economic Zone) is legal and hassle-free, I foresee a rise in the sale of minnows, low vacancy rates in town and more fries served at local restaurants every week of the summer.... many, many people will want to visit there, stay for a while, spend a bunch of money locally, return often, immigrate and invest. Especially if there is no more sulphorous smog from upwind.
(A local digression) These pulpmills are dying. Let's close them, honour the existing pensions and make sure they get properly shut down and cleaned up. We can quit overlooking the spills into the river, the choking of the air and the devaluation of our tax base, then. These are tourism towns that people hate to visit because it stinks. Strip the buildings, get rid of the old superstructure, seal up the brick and turn the mills into shops, art galleries and condos overlooking the falls and spawning sturgeon (which are just hanging on as a species). A great view, waiting, under the accumulated steel.

The public healthcare dividend for the regions and Canada, nationally, is potentially large, for the following reason: Many health claims are made for the medical benefits of cannabis medications; but two benefits, alone, can provide great savings to the Canadian public healthcare system: reduced tobacco and alcohol use, or harm-reduction. A structured “maintenance and transition strategy” to the less physically harmful and more affordable cannabis can facilitate the quitting/reduction of tobacco and alcohol abuse.
The benefits of transitioning from smoking tobacco to smoking cannabis is, at base, assumed to be the elimination of nicotine and inhaled industrial adulterants to the tobacco. Different health issues caused by the inhalation of burning plant material can be addressed by the eventual transition to vapour inhalation (vaping) or the eating of cannabis (oral ingestion). These last two methods of cannabis use are less harmful to the body than the act of smoking. (Indeed, they are claimed to be beneficial.)
The greatest public healthcare winfall may be had in isolated First-Nations communities. Limited personal resources spent on alcohol and tobacco can be saved for more productive use. If the cannabis treatment is grown and sourced locally, then employment is created and fewer dollars leave the First Nation's economic sphere, while still circulating. If a FNSEZ is declared in our hypothetical, isolated FN community, then people will pay to fly-in, camp, fish and partake of the regional harvest.

Cannabis opponents basing their opposition on an overall morality position, should acknowledge that community harm-reduction strategies are more morally sound than our current, profit-driven, prison-filling, corporate alcohol and cigarette drug culture. The immoral feedback loop of advertising, legal history and destructive habits is well-documented in our literary fiction, pulpits, soapboxes and cultural criticism essays.

Harm-reduction acknowledges that cannabis-use can cause the need for mental and spiritual healthcare, as well. Alcohol is a depressant; the issues that alcohol-use tend to suppress are often made unavoidable by cannabis-induced awareness. The revenue of the First Nation Medical Cannabis Monopoly will support mental-health treatment instead of allowing the market to mask it with alcohol.

I am going to suggest regional profit-sharing of 90% of profits, after overhead, wages and pensions, administration and losses, 10 % of profits to the FNSEZ's development and discretionary funds. This, in lieu of taxation upon FNSEZ income, either to the provinces or the federal government of Canada, similar to “gaming compacts” in USA tribal casino development. Municipal services to be negotiated, locally.

Instead of multinational corporations operating businesses within the FNSEZ, corporations will be considered non-persons unable to conduct business within the special economic zones. New “cultural economic-development entities” will conduct business within the FNSEZ based on First-Nations principals; to be determined, locally, but based on “best practices” developed over time. Local First Nations Bands and regional business partners may conduct business within the SEZ as “sole proprietors/partners” (hotel, convenience, residential, food, tourism, etc.) participating in the same revenue sharing obligations as FNSEZ Medical Cannabis Growers, Research and Distributors. Some First Nations may not wish to participate in the Cannabis resource development, but still have a business plan for the FNSEZ.

In short, the revenues collected within the special economic zone are administered and spent regionally, not sent to Toronto and Ottawa, first. In this way, First-Nations of Canada can drive regional economic growth, even in the most rural and isolated parts of Canada. Administrative cycling of existing primary-resource revenues (mining, paper, oil, fish, etc.) removes the revenue from the regions and concentrates it, without much return for rural Canada. Which is unfortunate, because that is where your wood, fish, corn, steak, bacon, oil, gold and tourism is located, Canada.

I suggest that “Treaty Boundaries” be used to provide the greater cannabis-jurisdiction boundaries of Canada, a new way to visualise Canadian geography, all First Nations within the greater treaty area participating in the governance. (If you have a tiny treaty area inside a large population density, do not be an asshole about hoarding revenues. We've seen it in the USA native casino boom and its ugly. Group up with the less affluent neighbouring treaty jurisdictions.) #idlenomore volunteers can draw up egalitarian divisions of potential “Canadian cannabis jurisdictions” following treaty area boundaries and rural populations. Cities will fall under treaty-area's jurisdiction for Cannabis distribution, not provincial or federal taxation regimes. Should the Federal and/or Provincial Governments change their mind in the future and “legalise Cannabis” throughout Canada, the “Crown Monopoly” on medical cannabis should be respected.

Under this regime, the FNSEZ formerly known as PPP, would fall in the jurisdictional boundaries of GCT#3 and the immediate influence of the Rainy Lake Bands and Rainy River District towns, especially Couchiching First Nation and Fort Frances. It is for benefit and growth of all my relations and neighbours that I propose to build a cultural centre, myself, in the new FNSEZ. A showcase for local artistry, a place for world-class education/research, economic engine, a tourist destination and rural-development thinktank. I want to clean up the environment, build new responsible housing, recondition clearcuts into farmable prairie, paint when I have the time and install monumental sculpture across the street. You will drive for days to see it.

The provincial and federal governments are loathe to share existing resource revenue streams and are incentivised to relax active industrial environmental regulation in the rural “backyard”; our back yard. We need new economic resources, “green” industry and technology to replace the current paradigm of resource extraction.

I ask the neighbouring and encompassing jurisdictions to agree to honour the declared legal status of the FNSEZ's, abroad, and not arrest, persecute, threaten or harass their citizens simply for visiting us. If cannabis is unlawfully transported from FNSEZ's into jurisdictions where it is still “illegal”, then local law should apply to crime occurring outside the Special Economic Zone. This would be a basic recognition of FNSEZ cannabis legalisation; not an overly broad demand, I would think.

If the mills are closed, here, and the FNSEZ allowed to develop, then the sale of houses on both sides of the river will take off, as we reap the environmental and economic dividends of a changing economy, making things better on both sides of the river. I think that the jobs lost to both mills shutting down could be replaced by cultural development, fueled by the FNSEZ.

We may need to import and pen megafauna in huge enclosures the size of European states, so they eat garbage trees and help turn clearcuts and bare ground into terra preta prairie by adding broken pottery fired from our large clay beds and charcoal pellets of quick growth cellulose (hemp?) to create farmland, where the boreal forest used to be. That's a different open letter, however.

My immediate plans are to continue to create a discussion around my ideas, then hopefully a groundswell of voices to convince the Canadian People and the Canadian Federal Government, specifically the conservative party in power, that this is a great idea. They should endorse it to legitimise their demands for new, independent economic development from First Nations and to facilitate rural development.

While it is a bit presumptive to place an #idlenomore hashtag on this piece, I believe it falls into the realm of community-driven ideas and spirit of political independence that is emerging from the #INM consciousness. Thanks to Ryan McMahon, Wab Kinew, Pam Palmater, Christi Belcourt and others for keeping me informed. Their names, here, do not indicate endorsement of my ideas.

I am -however- calling for the endorsement and spreading of this idea at all levels of Canadian society, public-health mensches, ivory towers, social media and government representatives. The peoples of Canada can surmount the inertia of our collective received wisdoms, histories, biases and other well-padded preconceptions to make real, effective change and take a leadership role in the world, again... with respect to Indigenous relations, rural economic development and “green” innovation.

The territory that I propose for an experimental First-Nation Special Economic Zone, is a piece of Grand Council Treaty #3 land, that the Town of Fort Frances leased, on the site of what would later become Couchiching Agency #1 reservation. It has lapsed from the original 99 year span of the lease and was supposed to “revert” back to GCT#3. Currently known as Pither's Point Park; it is currently in a state of legal greyness.

This is a starting point, only... please comment below.
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The FineLine Art Gallery spring show in Fort Frances is themed "Brown and earth tones". My recent painting "Brown Eye" will be my entry for the show. The unstretched canvas will be available through the show, for $900; rolled and shipped, unframed.

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