- The size of the Canadian Aboriginal economy is estimated at $30 billion, but with the right investment and growth, it has the potential to reach $100 billion.
- Positive Aboriginal engagement, positive Aboriginal relationships, and money flow are becoming more aligned, specifically with regards to clean growth initiatives.
- The new requirement of collaborative consent is addressing both the risk and reward in engaging with First Nations for business. Having multiple points of consent is essential to having large infrastructure or resource projects move ahead.
Until there is an increased focus on investment rather than social programs, we will see the continued perception of Indigenous people as an economic burden on Canada’s system.
How would you define ‘economic growth’ from a First Nation perspective?
I draw my definition from a 2016 TD Economics report that estimated the size of the Canadian Aboriginal economy at $30 billion. I see economic growth from an Indigenous perspective as decreasing dependency on the Canadian Government and moving exponentially to the potential of a $100 billion Aboriginal economy. Growth means an investment environment that is supported through clear actions by the Canadian Government. As Indigenous people continue to have this winning streak in the Supreme Court, we are witnessing a levelling of the Canadian economic and political playing field. There is a greater visibility and inclusion of Indigenous people that is unprecedented. However, there are still many who do not understand and are resisting this change. There is a recent report by Inclusion Works that estimated 85% of Canadian companies do not currently engage Indigenous people in any way, shape or form. This neglect speaks to the potential of reconciliation through business and how that can drive economic growth in Canada.
“I see economic growth from an Indigenous perspective as decreasing dependency on the Canadian Government and moving exponentially to the potential of a $100 billion Aboriginal economy.”
As the CEO of Transformation International, I have been working extensively over the past couple of years on a collaborative approach that balances economic development and Indigenous interest. It is based on clear principles of inclusion, protection and development from an Indigenous perspective. Unfortunately, Canadian Government and industry are struggling to keep up with the pace of change created by the Aboriginal Supreme Court victories. This new requirement of economic inclusion will require a re-examination of the relationship between Canada and the First Nations. It will need to address the perception of the Aboriginal burden in the Canadian system. This new understanding also means having First Nations at the economic table. It is a strategic advantage that is good for Canada and Indigenous communities.
How would you define an Aboriginal worldview and its application to economic participation and wellbeing?
I would specifically reference the United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples (UNDRIP). This declaration provides a worldview of requirements for the inclusion of Indigenous people’s rights. The requirements that really stand out for me are the Indigenous right to an economy and the Indigenous right to continue as a people. This conflict is playing out in the courts where Indigenous people are fighting for the right to a modern economy and the right to continue to exist. It is a struggle that speaks directly to land preservation, hunting and fishing, wildlife, and all the cultural realities of Indigenous people. Indigenous worldview inclusion means participation at the economic table and the acknowledgment that we are in a changed environment.
“85% of Canadian companies do not currently engage Indigenous people in any way, shape or form.”
The other aspect of an Aboriginal worldview is the stories that play out within the Canadian media. The Canadian media narrative is focused on the economic outcomes or the economic pressures of a project’s development. But if the same article were written from an Indigenous worldview, it would be focused on our creation story. That is the idea that our stories, dances and culture play into another worldview. There are two different worldviews playing out in this conflict narrative and the western worldview takes priority. The goal of my work in indigenomics has been to increase the voice of Indigenous people’s worldview and role within the modern economy. Solutions need to be created within Indigenous communities rather than the top-down processes utilized by organization like the National Energy Board.
You have done a lot of work for companies in the resource industry. What do these companies consider the risks and rewards of engaging with First Nations?
I see a new emerging context where Indigenous people are raising the bar of protection and stewardship. The new requirement of collaborative consent is addressing both the risk and reward in engaging with First Nations for business. Having multiple points of consent is essential to having large infrastructure or resource projects move ahead. Still, the risks from a First Nations perspective are early exclusion and a top-down approach to engagement. What is emerging now, within the development of any resource-based project, are environmental assessment systems being driven from an Indigenous perspective. This establishes best practices that push entities such as the National Energy Board to higher standards of protection and stewardship.
“In today’s business environment, First Nations are driving inclusion and participation, while improving on existing environmental standards. That is the role of Indigenous people in Canada’s future economy.”
In regards to sustainability reporting in the resource industry, there are national standards being created as a framework. For example, through the Canadian Council for Aboriginal Business’ (CCAB) Progressive Aboriginal Relations program, a company is held accountable for its performance in First Nation business dealings. Sustainability reporting can also include specific actions for how we create positive relationships with Indigenous people within Canadian companies.
How is the rise of ethical investment shaping companies’ relationships with First Nations in Canada and what future opportunities do you see in clean growth initiatives?
There is increased pressure on companies to pay attention to the quality of their Indigenous relationships. Positive Aboriginal engagement, positive Aboriginal relationships, and money flow are becoming more aligned, specifically with regards to clean growth initiatives. A recent figure suggested that out of over 600 First Nation governments in Canada, well over 60% are in or in the process of developing a clean energy initiative. This speaks to how this particular industry resonates with Indigenous values and creates opportunities for participation and development. New solar technology, for example, is creating real social and economic change within communities. The Sioux Nation on Vancouver Island and British Columbia have built large-scale solar farms in their communities, which are now generating excess energy that supports the local region. This kind of clean energy investment is a very smart move for the social and economic development of Indigenous communities.
“What is emerging now, within the development of any resource-based project, are environmental assessment systems being driven from an Indigenous perspective.”
That pressure is coming from within the cleantech industry as well. Government has been slow in its response to industry demands for a new approach to economic projects with First Nations. That new approach is driven by the negative statistics of Indigenous existence, where we see higher numbers of suicide and welfare recipients. The government’s ability to acknowledge these negative numbers while balancing them with the simple principle of Indigenous inclusion in all projects creates positive results for community development as well as the regional and national economy.
What is your involvement on the Canadian Advisory Council on Economic Growth and how do you foresee the role of First Nations in Canada’s future economy?
There were 14 members that were selected for the Growth Council. Out of the entire 14, I am the only Indigenous person selected. Within that role, I have been urging the government to shift from funding social programs to investing into the economic structures of Indigenous people in Canada. Currently, the national funding is 95% social programming, 2% national economic development and 3% reconciliation. Until there is an increased focus on investment rather than social programs, we will see the continued perception of Indigenous people as an economic burden on Canada’s system. When we commit to economic investment in Indigenous communities, it will benefit the entire Canadian economy.
“Until there is an increased focus on investment rather than social programs, we will see the continued perception of Indigenous people as an economic burden on Canada’s system.”
My book, ‘Indigenomics – A Global Power Shift’ is about the rise of Indigenous people as a global economic powerhouse. Indigenomics is a response to 150 years of purposeful exclusion of the Indigenous people in Canada. Now we are seeing that Aboriginal people have established a place for themselves at the economic table through legal channels. What we are experiencing today is Canada’s consciousness recognizing we are powerful people in this country. In today’s business environment, First Nations are driving inclusion and participation, while improving on existing environmental standards. That is the role of Indigenous people in Canada’s future economy. It is about the creation of space for the modern emergence of Indigenous economic success. Our worldview is essential to the ongoing emergence of the new economy – Indigenous business success is Canada’s success.