Three important themes from “Indigenous Leaders Building an Inclusive Economy”

With Canada’s vaccination program making strides, economic recovery for the nation is on the horizon, and Indigenous communities must play a critical part. Last Thursday, VCIB hosted a webinar on ‘Indigenous Leaders Building an Inclusive Economy’, to discuss the role of business leaders, governments, and policy makers as we work to build a greener, fairer, and more inclusive economy. In this webinar, VCIB’s Jay-Ann Gilfoy moderated a discussion between Carol Anne Hilton (CEO, Indigenomics Institute), Clint Davis (CEO, Nunasi Corporation), and Leonard Rickard (CEO, Mississaugas of the Credit Business Corporation), through which three key themes emerged:

1. Partnerships and Recognition

Businesses have a responsibility to cultivate a system that fosters Indigenous participation. It is a collective responsibility to support the Indigenous economy. In addition to federal and provincial government initiatives, the business community must create a seat at the table for Indigenous voices. There must be a willingness to step up and play an impactful role.

In the words of Leonard,

“To truly make an impact, businesses must do something outside of the ordinary. Rather than asking, what government programs do you have access to, or establishing a dollar prerequisite, businesses must see Indigenous peoples as partners and be open to creative discussions and solutions”.

To achieve this, the business community must challenge all untrue, outdated and limited perceptions about what Indigenous businesses can do.

This also means fostering and empowering youth and entrepreneurs in Indigenous communities. As Indigenous economies grow, Canada must keep up with this growth and provide opportunities for Indigenous leadership to emerge. Leonard wants the youth in Indigenous communities to know that the sky’s the limit, “Be bold and celebrate your Indigenous heritage. It’s not an obstacle in the way I [was meant to feel] when I was young”. Carol Anne noted that there is a huge uprising of Indigenous entrepreneurs, within both urban centres and within reserves. To Carol Anne, it’s about building confidence and capacity for Indigenous entrepreneurs to participate in industries and markets.

2. Creating Access

Access to Land

To Clint, Indigenous rights are synonymous with land. Greater access to land can lead to opportunities for economic prosperity. “The goal for all Canadians is to build back the economy in a way that is more responsible and conscientious. If you look at the missions and values of Indigenous corporations, the protection of the land is a fundamental component”. Thus, access to land is a critical aspect of achieving Indigenous sovereignty.

Access to Funding

In the last year, we’ve seen the federal government introduce new initiatives, like the $150M Indigenous Growth Fund, and the government target to have 5% of federal contracts awarded to businesses managed and led by Indigenous peoples. While these are positive steps forward, there is also a role to be played by the business community. Businesses must start seeing partnerships with Indigenous development corporations as an investment opportunity. There is an opportunity to explore underserved areas and pitch capital holders on the value of Indigenous partnerships.

Access to Opportunities

As Carol Anne explained, there are five pillars of economic freedom: the ability to buy and sell, to choose an occupation, to compete, to own property, and to make profit. For economic inclusion to occur, opportunities must be created to bring the five pillars of economic freedom to fruition. As Indigenous communities overcome colonialism and the structures of limitation, Carol Anne challenged everyone to think about the topic in a way that centres and celebrates Indigenous economic success.

“We all need to ask ourselves ‘How does Canada keep up with Indigenous economic growth?'”.

3. The Power of Procurement

Procurement is a lifeline to the Canadian economy, and the spending power of medium and large size companies can have a profound impact on Indigenous communities. Clint believes the same stands true for Indigenous-led organizations, and draws the comparison of Alaska, “The largest businesses that exist there are Tribal Corporations. They’ve positioned themselves and taken advantage of federal procurement policies and programs. Through these relationships, they are able to do very good things for their communities”.

Companies can create opportunities for Indigenous businesses by examining their procurement activities and being intentional with their approach. This means bringing Indigenous businesses on board, and supporting them to be part of the supply chain to ultimately strengthen the economy.

Interested in hearing more? Watch the full discussion on Indigenous Leaders Building an Inclusive Economy here:

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