Listen to the extended interview:
- There needs to be an education strategy in place for Indigenous youth to prepare them to fill talent gaps and eventually lead companies.
- With increased public expectations of sustainability, companies will benefit from having Indigenous partners on their projects.
- If the Government of Canada meets their promised target of 5% procurement from Indigenous businesses, that will bring a billion dollars into the Indigenous economy every year.
The Government of Canada must resolve pending land claims as unresolved land claims mean wealth and economy that Indigenous communities cannot access. In addition, every corporation in Canada must think about what they are doing for Reconciliation and act on those commitments.
What are the main areas of focus for the National Indigenous Economic Strategy? Why was it important for Canada to have a strategy like this?
It is really important that we have this conversation even though the strategy has been out for some time now. We want to ensure that the conversation continues and that we keep talking about the strategy and the calls for prosperity within the strategy.
We narrowed down the strategy to four different pathways. Each pathway has a vision that describes what the desired outcome is in terms of where we want the strategic statements and actions to be. Those pathways are people, lands, infrastructure and finance. Within each of those pathways are strategic statements. Under the strategic statements, there are economic calls to prosperity.
The work going forward will be to encourage Canadians and government institutions to pick a call to prosperity to move forward with and continue to choose calls as time goes on.
What are the challenges indigenous populations and youth face that hinder their full participation in the economy? What are the actions needed – and from WHO – to empower those individuals?
In terms of an inclusive workplace, we need to across organizations and institutions, including academic institutions, to ensure that we are not just increasing the numbers of Indigenous employees, but that Indigenous employees feel included. We need to be starting this process from kindergarten to eighth grade. It will be much too late to wait till post-secondary to talk to students about becoming an engineer, doctor, banker or entrepreneur. Youth have to make decisions early in their high school years so they can choose their high school credits.
“We need to ensure that we have Indigenous leaders who are board-ready and who can lead corporations.”
There is a lot of discussion happening right now about having Indigenous leaders in executive roles and on boards. We need to ensure that we have Indigenous leaders who are board-ready and who can lead corporations to ensure those corporations are prioritizing an inclusive workspace, but also so that we can continue to celebrate and see leaders in those spaces as well.
I see corporations looking for more Indigenous talent all the time. There is a gap in the ecosystem of how we are connecting Indigenous talent to opportunities in corporate Canada. We also need to be looking at how we can make that connection between academic institutions and corporations as well.
How would you describe the importance of Indigenous people having control over the land? What kind of economic opportunities will come from this?
There are a few opportunities that stick out to me with respect to the land vision, and one is definitely towards the implementation of the United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples (UNDRIP) across Canada. As we move forward to implementation, we need to ensure that we have indigenous people and indigenous leaders included in that implementation plan. But, we also need to make sure that it moves forward. Respecting Indigenous land rights provides economic certainty for investors. This will be good for the Canadian economy in general, not just the indigenous economy.
“If Canada uses and respects traditional knowledge when it comes to land development, we will be better from an environmental and climate change perspective.”
The other part of the land pathway is environmental stewardship. As Indigenous people, we are the stewards of the land and the water here on Turtle Island. There is a benefit there to both Indigenous people and to the Canadian economy as well as to corporations, infrastructure and development as we move forward. If Canada uses and respects traditional knowledge when it comes to land development, we will be better from an environmental and climate change perspective. If we listened to the knowledge of people who have been here long before the settlers came, we will be able to ensure that our development projects are moving within the international climate change commitments that have been made.
“When it comes to sustainability reporting, companies will benefit from having Indigenous partners on their projects.”
Some of the benefits we are going to see become even more important is with respect to corporations and their environmental, social and governance (ESG) reporting and goals. There are a lot of conversations happening with regard to where Indigenous people fit into this. When it comes to sustainability reporting, companies will benefit from having Indigenous partners on their projects. These partners will be thinking seven generations ahead about what the impact is going to be. As we see more and more of that reporting becoming a requirement, investors and shareholders will be very interested in how corporations can properly execute that. So, there is definitely a business benefit as well that corporations are starting to understand.
What are the most critical infrastructure gaps Canada’s Indigenous communities face today?
One thing that was really important about this strategy is that it was Indigenous-led. It was written collectively by a group of indigenous leaders and then reviewed by an additional large group of indigenous leaders and organizations. For me and my colleagues who I shared the pen with on this document, this was something that we were really clear about and that came out a lot in our conversations, especially around Indigenous-led institutions. This is partially from the viewpoint of data sovereignty, in terms of figuring out how we can ensure that we own the data about our communities and the infrastructure in our communities.
“It is incredibly important for us to ensure that Indigenous communities and youth have the basic human rights everyone else has, such as clean water, food sovereignty and fast, high-speed internet.”
As we think about infrastructure, it is incredibly important for us to ensure that Indigenous communities and youth have the basic human rights everyone else has, such as clean water, food sovereignty and fast, high-speed internet. We definitely saw that during the pandemic, high-speed internet had a tremendous impact on communities.
There are a lot of adults who may not have gone to academic institutions when they were younger or did not feel safe in them or in the big city and thus did not complete their degree. With high-speed internet, these people can stay home and complete their degrees while still being in the workforce. We must ensure that we are also meeting our labour force and labour market goals within the strategy.
How must Canada’s financial and investment systems evolve to stimulate Indigenous economic growth? How will procurement tie into this strategy?
Access to finance and investment systems continue to be the number one barrier for Indigenous businesses. However, we are making changes here and I am optimistic about people having a better understanding that there is a need for change.
“We do not want to limit an Indigenous business’ success, because once they succeed, they are often no longer considered Indigenous.”
We need to have conversations about how we can better invest in Indigenous businesses so that they can grow and scale up while continuing to hold their Indigenous identities. What must we do to be able to see businesses that are Indigenous-led and Indigenous-owned but that get investment to be able to scale to the next tier? We need to continue having this conversation as we do not want to limit an Indigenous business’ success, because once they succeed, they are often no longer considered Indigenous. We need to ensure that we help these businesses keep those values within them through the right investment vehicles.
Procurement is also a priority of CCAB because we see that there is an incredible opportunity, both in corporate procurement commitments to Indigenous business as well as procurements from federal, provincial and municipal governments.
The majority of Indigenous businesses are really focused on their values, both from an environmental perspective and also from the perspective of giving back to their community. There is a strong social perspective of ensuring that their organization has some arm that is supporting Indigenous education, Indigenous youth or the environment. Companies should know that bringing Indigenous businesses into their supply chain will improve their ESG values.
There are over 60,000 Indigenous businesses in Canada and they are growing at nine times the rate of non-Indigenous businesses. Part of that is due to the fast-growing population of Indigenous youth in this country. We are seeing more and more entrepreneurs come up, so if other companies are not focusing on including Indigenous businesses in their supply chain, then they are missing out on an incredible swath of business within the country.
If the Government of Canada meets their promised target of 5% procurement from Indigenous businesses, that will bring a billion dollars into the Indigenous economy every year. That will have an incredible ripple effect on the health of communities.
What must be done to accelerate the NIES’ implementation?
The Government of Canada needs to ensure that they are resolving land claims. Unresolved land claims means wealth and economy that Indigenous communities cannot access right now that really is rightfully theirs.
“Every corporation in this country needs to be thinking about what they are doing for Reconciliation.”
Every corporation in this country needs to be thinking about what they are doing for Reconciliation. They need to figure out what they are doing to support Indigenous people, communities and businesses. That starts with educating themselves and then their employees. Every corporation needs to make a commitment, go public about it and take action.