Is the ‘secret’ of some First Nations’ economic success all that secret?

A recent Globe and Mail editorial approves of a “special” Indian and Northern Affairs Canada project looking at “why some [65 First Nations] reserves are doing well economically.” The study’s aim: to “pinpoint the causes of their success.”

The Globe then goes on to argue that a likely “common factor in these cases of prosperity” is their shared “openness to the normal range of commercial enterprises in broader Canadian society.”

In short, those 65 First Nations embrace degrees of private investment from companies based off-reserve. But then the editorialist remembered something else distinctive about these communities:

“This [openness to the private sector] is certainly not a panacea, because most of the 65 reserves are near urban areas, with which they have convenient economic relationships. Remote aboriginal communities, surrounded by boreal forest, would have enormous difficulties adapting models from southern Canada.”

This should prompt us to ask: how many First Nations are located near urban areas? According to the 1998 edition of Aboriginal Peoples in Canada: Contemporary Conflicts, reserves located in ‘urban’ areas made up only 9% of all First Nations, while ‘semi-urban’ reserves were 21% of the total. (That does not necessarily include the 120+ so-called ‘urban reserves,’ a special category of land set up near/within cities for business purposes only, i.e., non-residential). The other 71% were therefore located in ‘remote’ (29%) and ‘rural’ (42%) areas. (All percentages rounded.)

I apologize for the 12-year-old stats, but seeing as how reserves haven’t likely moved (or the likelihood that few have been added) in the interim, I am reasonably certain the urban/non-urban ratio among reserves has stayed more or less constant.

So if 7 out of 10 reserves will never enjoy the competitive advantage of closeness to a major market for their goods/services, why hold up the other 3 as exemplary? Just asking.

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