- Rights for Indigenous people must be upheld in order for the full participation of Indigenous communities in a prosperous economy.
- Indigenous people need ownership and control of assets in their economies.
- Investors should turn their money towards Indigenous entrepreneurs, who are focused on building a strong social and impact-oriented economy in their communities.
Canadians need to hold governments to account and use their spheres of influence to empower Indigenous communities, businesses and entrepreneurs. To strengthen the Indigenous economy, investors should support young Indigenous entrepreneurs by giving them the knowledge and skills they need to become future leaders in the Indigenous economy.
What is the state of the Indigenous economy and what are the forces shaping it?
There have been improvements in the strength of the Indigenous economy. We are seeing examples of success and new opportunities for funding and business development. We are also seeing individuals who are equipped with information, education and experiences that will help bring others up. But we have to look at it through a social lens. My parents’ and grandparents’ generations lived during the height of residential schools, and we still carry many intergenerational effects from that system. There are some who have broken the cycle of violence and chains of abuse, but others who have not. So what I worry about most is the gap between the haves and the have-nots. There are large segments of the Indigenous population and communities that are still struggling with the effects of colonialism. Although we have made efforts to improve things, we have not been able to get down to the deepest levels of these struggles. If we want to improve the Indigenous economy we have to get resources to those who need them most.
What are the priorities in our efforts to achieve economic reconciliation and how must we measure progress?
Economic reconciliation has two components. There is the reconciliation part, which I look at as upholding rights: human rights, Indigenous rights, the rights of women, of children, and of people with disabilities. What has happened to our people and the economic disparity in our society is a result of a violation of these rights. Indigenous people have the right to live free of violence, have access to justice, access to culture and language, access to community, and to positive representations. We cannot have people participating in an economy until they have access to health and rights, and these are the markers I look at in achieving economic reconciliation.
“We cannot have people participating in an economy until they have access to health and rights, and these are the markers I look at in achieving economic reconciliation.”
The second part is the economy—what we produce, what we consume, and the flow of money, goods and services. But this cannot only be about profits and returns. There has to be a social economy, where there is service to communities, and Indigenous control of production and consumption. Is the economy by and for Indigenous people? Do they have ownership and control of assets? Are the returns being reinvested into the community? This is how we will measure economic success. If we can close the economic disparity in our communities, they will be better places. Whether they are on reserve, off reserve, in the North or the South, there must be agency among Indigenous people to control their future. They need to be the players and decision makers in the economies they operate in, and they must come from a place of strength so their rights are upheld.
Governments have the responsibility to mobilize their networks and resources for economic reconciliation. They can redistribute wealth and transform public policy through laws and regulations. All governments—federal, provincial, First Nations, Inuit and Métis—have a responsibility to the Indigenous economy. Civil society—organizations, social enterprises, and businesses—need to offer wraparound support, like childcare and transportation. Together we need to focus on the advancement of people, services and support to achieve economic reconciliation.
How must Indigenous youth be supported in order to develop the Indigenous economy?
Indigenous young people are smart, resourceful, and truly quite incredible. They are committed to making things better in their communities. We need to think about how we best invest in Indigenous young people to further develop the skills, opportunities and knowledge they need to become drivers of their local economies. These skills must be transferable, so they can best take advantage of whatever opportunities they undertake. Young people also need to know what resources are available to them, from funding for a startup to a youth leadership development camp. Unfortunately, for some young people the choice to engage with these resources is taken away from them. For example, if they have been in child welfare or legal systems, or have financial barriers, they may not know about, or be able to capitalize on, these opportunities.
“It is also critical that we view Indigenous youth as more than a labour force. We have to look at them as job creators and leaders of the economy.”
It is also critical that we view Indigenous youth as more than a labour force. We have to look at them as job creators and leaders of the economy.They are the ones that will own and control assets for the betterment of their community. Young people talk about what they will accomplish for the benefit of the communities that they belong to or create. For some, that’s an arts community, an urban community or an intersectional community like 2SLGBTQQIA. So Indigenous youth are crucial to their communities, the wider Canadian community, the Canadian economy, and the world economy as a whole.
What role does education play in the future of the Indigenous economy and how can non-Indigenous Canadians support its development?
We need to start educating non-Indigenous Canadians as soon as possible. Those who have been educated in Canada have been deprived of the rich history of this country. In primary and secondary school, we learn about Egypt, Europe and the Americas, without learning about what existed here in Canada at the same time. Our history is comparable to the great histories of the great civilizations of the world, and we have missed out as a society due to gaps in our basic education.
We are not a country that is 200 years old. Canada is thousands of years old. Non-Indigenous Canadians need to learn about the treaties and the role that Indigenous people played in creating the nation we have today.Most non-Indigenous Canadians have to self-educate to learn about the strong partnerships that were created between settlers and Indigenous people, and the history of rights violations. Historically, there was knowledge among European settlers of Indigenous ways of knowing, but somehow that was lost along the way. If non-Indigenous Canadians do their part to learn these histories, they will see that the patterns are repeating themselves today. We owe it to ourselves to learn this history so we can prevent it from becoming our future.
“The Canadian public also has the power to hold governments to account, and empower communities, organizations and businesses through their spheres of influence.”
The Canadian public also has the power to hold governments to account, and empower communities, organizations and businesses through their spheres of influence. To strengthen the Indigenous economy, the Canadian public should invest in young Indigenous entrepreneurs who are giving their best effort to develop businesses and ideas. People can also make a statement with their money and support Indigenous young people who are working on building the social economy.
How are Indigenous worldviews aligned with social finance and impact investing?
In many ways, social finance is catching up to how Indigenous communities have operated for a very long time. A good example is Head-Smashed-In Buffalo Jump, a UNESCO World Heritage site in Alberta. Five thousand years ago, multiple Indigenous communities came together to drive a herd of buffalo off the cliff, killing them. These communities came together for the benefit of all. If that’s not an example of a social economy, I’m not sure what is. Today, we have Indigenous people who hunt in the fall and winter, not to make themselves richer, but to enrich their communities, for example, and to make sure their Elders’ freezers are full.
“This Indigenous concept of not taking more than you need and using your resources to benefit the community, is similar to social finance.”
This Indigenous concept of not taking more than you need and using your resources to benefit the community, is similar to social finance.It is also similar to how we operate within the Friendship Centres network. We pool our resources and redistribute them to the community. Investing in environmentally sustainable business practices is also aligned with the Indigenous perspective. In some First Nations there is the Seventh Generation Principle, a concept meaning you have to think about your impact on the unknown future. This is very similar to modern principles of sustainability, which resonates among Indigenous communities. These are Indigenous principles that have been practiced for a long time, but we never called it a social or impact economy.