Indigenous Chapter of NAFTA

Indigenous chapter in NAFTA “ignited” by IITIO

Wayne Garnons-Williams Conference

Wayne Garnons-Williams, president of the International Inter-tribal Trade and Investment Organization speaks at Cando National Conference in Fredericton in 2017.

By Shari Narine
Cando Contributor

Wayne Garnons-Williams, president of the International Inter-tribal Trade and Investment Organization, is not nervous about sitting on the sidelines as the United States and Mexico discuss Canada’s proposal to include an Indigenous chapter as part of the revised North American Free Trade Agreement.

“I have every faith in the government of Canada coming forward and really expressing the concepts that have been built,” said Garnons-Williams.

That confidence comes after working collaboratively for seven months with the federal department of Global Affairs and Minister Chrystia Freeland.

“We ignited the embers of Indigenous trade and commerce as part of an international agreement. We’ve helped lead the way in building this with the stakeholders and rights holders and Global Affairs, which has never been done before and the result, I think, is quite an impressive document,” he said.

The proposed Indigenous chapter has received support from the National Congress of American Indians, in the U.S., and the Traditional Authorities of the RioYaqui Pueblos of SonoraMexico, says Garnons-Williams, who will be discussing it with their respective government representatives.

Garnons-Williams describes the Indigenous chapter as “pro-active,” recognizing that Indigenous trade has a place within modern industrial commerce as, in fact, Indigenous peoples were the original traders in North America.

“The way my organization sees an end state is where the Indigenous chapter … allows for an infrastructure where nation-to-nation Indigenous right of trade and commerce can take place and is protected by the Indigenous chapter,” he said.

The future of an Indigenous chapter in NAFTA is now in the hands of the tri-national negotiation team, who will be negotiating, bartering, and discussing its different aspects. Because of the role Canada trade negotiators played in helping to develop the Indigenous chapter, Garnons-Williams says they are “highly educated” and can offer rationale and justification on any points that the U.S. or Mexico may need clarified. And while Garnons-Williams and his organization are “definitely an interested party on the sidelines watching with great intent,” they will also be available to offer assistance, feedback, analysis or commentary if asked.

Garnons-Williams says it’s important to understand that although the inclusion of an Indigenous chapter in NAFTA is significant, Indigenous issues and opportunities must also be reflected throughout the entire document, providing opportunity for Indigenous corporations as well.

“These issues affect Indigenous businesses, Indigenous prosperity so there’s naturally a need to have Indigenous people have their input,” he said.

The Indigenous chapter was discussed for the first time during Round 6 of NAFTA talks in Montreal. With the U.S. and Mexico needing to consult domestically, the chapter is scheduled for further discussion in Round 7, slated for Mexico from Feb. 26 to March 6.