Image Source: Assembly of First Nations

Building Blocks to Economic Reconciliation

May 08, 2020

How do we move from where we are economically in First Nation communities? From our current state of well-being to our desired state or future state of well-being? In this post I highlight important elements to consider and areas of action when working towards Economic Reconciliation. 

Our Cultural Framework

Culture and Identity play a key role in shaping economic development and systems.

-Carla Houkamau (Māori), Management and International Business, University of Auckland, The role of culture and identity for economic values: a quantitative study of Māori attitudes

What is your Nation’s cultural framework? This is about your language, songs, dances, stories, legends, ceremonies, protocols, values, practices, land use, hunting, trapping, gathering, fishing sites, and everything that makes you Haida, Squamish, Okanagan, Kwakwaka'wakw, Nisga’a, Tsimshian, Tahltan, etc. Your cultural identity is your cultural framework.

This cultural framework is the foundation of everything we need to be in our current and our future state.  If we don’t know or fully comprehend or understand the entirety of it, then we need to.  I know I don’t, as none of this was taught to me in schools and wasn’t outwardly shared with me in my childhood by my family, as they were residential school survivors and getting through life was about survival in every way imaginable.  Although our culture has not been wholly there for me, it doesn’t mean it was completely absent. It’s always been there, just in pieces from different people, places, etc.  So, in my mid-life, I am keen to learn more and more where I can, when I can. I know enough to know who I am, what is my role and responsibility, and how do I serve my people. I am grounded in this knowing; however, I am always open to knowing more.

This cultural knowing of ourselves, our language, our land, our people, is the foundation of our way forward. Creating space for this knowing is integral for each of our Nations to create its future state.  To do this, we need to comprehend:

  • How our stories define who we are, where we come from and how we understand the world around us.
  • What are some of the things that were amazing enough to be passed down through our families? Why is culture so important, and sometimes difficult, to pass on and to share?
  • How we get along; Teachings of our Nations calls for ‘collective’ observation, understanding and problem solving. It involves consideration for each other and learning about expectations so we can be present with respect.
  • How we share ideas with others through our language. Finding a deeper understanding of why our speakers don’t just put words on English grammar.
  • We have to become as wise as we possibly can: Your Nation’s ways of knowing. The inter-generational transmission of knowledge includes learning to find our hearts as we make decisions. We see the responsibility of learning as shared by both learner and mentor.
  • The need for decolonizing our mindset: Our networks help us to be resilient within the context of colonization. You wouldn’t judge a fish for not being able to climb a tree. Let’s not judge ourselves for ways we’re distinct from colonizers.
  • Becoming familiar with your traditional lands, knowledge, history, timeline, language, creation stories, if you don’t know it or only know some of it; and not to be ashamed if you don’t
  • Our wealth and well-being are defined and governed by our values system

Wealth Management and Good Governance

Image source: BCAFN, Governance Toolkit: A Guide to Nation Building

A good governance structure that is well defined, well implemented by a Nation and operating smoothly in any community is essential for the development of any economic or business operation.  This has been laid out by many institutions over the years, such as:

Finding your place in this space is key to knowing where you are at in it, identifying what is absent to determine how to fulfil your governance requirements as a Nation.  Community planning and engagement are the cornerstones to good governance.

Wealth Creation

Economic development cannot be prefabricated and delivered by any entity other than Indigenous People.

-Chief Leanne Joe

One of the greatest challenges facing First Nation communities is building sustainable thriving and inclusive economies. Developing new culturally grounded economic systems and approaches is a top priority and especially using models that inspire new thinking and build economic systems.  Indigenous economic development at all levels is the key to reconciliation. First Nations-owned businesses (i.e. the Nation owns the business), community member businesses and entrepreneurs are the key drivers in economic development, contributing to both sustainable employment and wealth creation, which are necessary for the self-determined Nations.

There are various kinds of wealth-creating activities being undertaken or considered within First Nation communities throughout BC.  Some activities may require more capacity or resources than others, and the road map in BCAFN’s Blackbooks can help Nations determine where they are situated and how to move forward on their own economic development path. First Nations can consider the following wealth creation opportunities that can support independence and sustainability of Indigenous communities. 


A return to economic independence is one of the primary objectives of Indigenous Peoples in Canada but the Indian Act, ongoing economic and social marginalization, lack of infrastructure, inequality in funding for equitable education, federally imposed restrictions on the ability of individuals to raise capital are some of the barriers to this goal.

-Indigenous Corporate Training, Why Canada Needs Indigenous Economic Reconciliation

Development Corporations and Economic Development Officers

The BCAFN Blackbook One: Economic Development Toolkit outlines the beginning of this economic development journey. In step 3 of the Roadmap, they ask the Community to consider the economic development structure they want and delve deep into the many considerations required for economic success. 

  • Development Corporations: Aboriginal economic development corporations are community-owned and managed, operated by their own board rather than falling under Chief and Council.  Amidst the limitations of the Indian Act, and other government policies, etc., Development Corporations facilitate community ownership over economic development activities while also enabling Nations to connect these activities back to social, environmental and cultural outcomes for their community.
  • Economic Development Officers: Whereas an Economic Development Corporation requires a certain level of capacity and resources, another option that communities can consider is having a distinct economic development officer. Having a dedicated person committed to working on Economic Development for their First Nation is paramount for growth. Not having this role can limit the community’s ability to financially prosper.

In some cases, Nations can work together and have one development corporation or Economic Development Officer for a group of Nations. Many already do this around the region.

In addition to Development Corporations and Econ. Dev. Officers, I mention corresponding areas that need to be considered in a holistic wealth and well-being strategy for First Nation communities.  Taking into account these considerations can support the decolonization of economic activities for Indigenous communities.

Community Business Development

This approach is a holistic form of Economic Development that considers the well-being of the Community and all of its members, rather than focusing solely on growth of the business itself, as conventional non-indigenous entities. Community Business Development will include supports for entrepreneurship, Small Office/Home Office, Social Innovation, Social Finance, medium to large business development, Cooperatives, Tourism, etc. Given our current state of economics, new innovative ways of supporting Community Economic Development have to be considered and there are many social enterprise practices around globally that can be drawn for implementation here in BC and Canada.


Some First Nation communities already have established trusts within their individual communities.  They have derived from settlement, agreements, etc. Some Nations have worked together and created one Trust for all the Nations surrounding their language groups, lands, resources, etc. Examples of this include: All Nations Trusts, New Relationship, Coast Funds, Citxw Nlaka'pamux Assembly, St’át’imc (PC) 2011 Trust and many more around the region. Collaboration between First Nation Trusts with their Communities, for the benefit of their benefactors is the next step forward, which would include things like joint planning, aligning timeframes, shared resources, common objectives, and potentially shared Governance.

Indigenous Financial institutions

The lack of our own financial Institutions hinders our ability to move forward in a meaningful way. I believe the potential to create our own financial institutions is something that needs to be seriously considered for development because many traditional banking institutions can limit our ability to raise capital for Economic Development projects and businesses.

Nation-to-Nation Collaboration

Knowing, accepting and acknowledging the strength of working together. Through Nation-Nation partnerships, we can build local economic, political and sovereign systems together, enabling us to leverage our power, empower our people, build capacity, and work towards the collective well-being of our people.

Title and Rights

Indigenous peoples all over Canada have fought and continue to fight whole heartedly for the clarification of their rights under Section 35 of the Constitution Act, 1982. As each is determined in our favour, we continue to embrace our power in our ability to build a new narrative of our well-being.  As we continue to fight for our title and rights, decisions will influence each Nation’s ability to create prosperity and well-being, whether it be economic, cultural or other.

Food Sovereignty

Since the time of colonization, Indigenous communities have witnessed a drastic decline in the health and integrity of Indigenous cultures, ecosystems, social structures and knowledge systems which are integral to our ability to respond to our own needs for adequate amounts of healthy Indigenous foods. Indigenous food sovereignty provides a restorative framework for health and community development and reconciling past social and environmental injustices in an approach that people of all cultures can relate to.

-Indigenous Food Systems Network

Food sovereignty within Indigenous communities needs to become a priority today, if it is not currently, so that they can derive healthier well-being outcomes for their communities.  Being in control of what we grow, eat, gather, trade, share, etc. provides us with stable localized economies within our own families.  These systems already exist informally, and there is a strong opportunity to increase knowledge, capacity and opportunities for making it more viable and sustainable.  Urban Communities have limited capacity for food development opportunities due to lack of access to land, yet there are still opportunities for  community gardens, home based gardens, gathering of medicines, traditional foods, etc. In most cases, rural and remote First Nation Communities have a great opportunity to engage in all of these food sovereignty opportunities at a larger scale. Hunting, gathering, picking medicines, etc. is generally abundant within their territories.  Food sovereignty and security should inform economic development priorities and opportunities for Nations and their entrepreneurs.

Wealth Distribution

All of the above relate to wealth creation and management.  We need to explore the idea of wealth distribution and how that works within our cultural framework.  Given the current economic systems in our society, we will need to balance this with this colonial way of distribution.  This gives us the opportunity to embrace new solutions to what this can be. What do you envision for wealth and well-being for your Community and its members? Would creating well-being outcomes and well-being plans for the Community make room for equitable wealth distribution?  Could these plans include commitments, actions and deliverables around enhancing such things as environmental conservation, prosperity, cultural revival, and social empowerment? Could the well-being plans also encompass conflict to collaboration processes, ecosystem-based management, guardianship, rites of passage revitalization, and re-matriation?

All of these the above-mentioned endeavors commit each of our Nations to uplifting our membership in their responsibilities to be a Community Member through developing their own capacities through such programming, projects, etc.  They allow us to embrace our spiritual connectedness to ourselves, each other, the land, and all beings, here and in all other dimensions.  They allow women to regain and step into their rightful power as leaders in our communities. They give more weight to the young and their contributions to the Community and future state of our Communities.  These endeavours are all based in our core cultural values in each of Nations.

Comprehensive Community Plans & Community Strategic Plans are good tools to lay out this vision of wealth creation and management.  They can help you and your Community to:

  • Step into our responsibilities for self-development and self-determination efforts;
  • Hold ourselves and each other accountable;
  • Rediscover who we are, our strength, and belief in ourselves and each other;
  • Live our values more consciously;
  • Be more proactive; and create opportunities for others to do the same;
  • Connect our vision, values, and goals with detailed plans that guide staff activities;
  • Empower ourselves to become self-governing again.


Concept of a Community Wealth Council - a future state of planning, working collaboratively and equitable distribution for a Nation’s Community members. This somewhat embodies a vision of a child centered approach to a new Economic Reconciliation Framework. From Michael Bonshor (Ki’mola Indigenous Capital) presented at the 2019 NATOA conference.

An Economic Reconciliation Framework would reflect the inspiration and new models that come from a group of visionary people and organizations working together to strategically build equitable, sustainable economic systems. It is rooted in the cultural and historical context of First Nation communities and connects the elements necessary to build thriving local economies. The opportunities coming from these efforts—which support small business and enterprise development, job training, financial education, access to capital, and policies that help grow local Indigenous economies—are mutually reinforcing and will build greater economic security and reduce the economic disparities in First Nation communities.


For more definitions of Economic Reconciliation, I invite you to review the following resources: