Written by Carol Anne Hilton | Published by the Vancouver Sun

March 02, 2018

Carol Anne Hilton: Time to Embrace Indigenomics and Indigenous Entrepreneurs

For a population segment systematically uninvited to the economic table of this country for the past 150 years- the future of work for the Indigenous population in Canada today is embedded in struggle and inter-generational poverty.

This struggle is deeply intertwined with the myths clinging to the social fabrics and consciousness of this country. It is from the margins an emerging concept re-defining this country. We, the Indigenous people, we are a powerful people. This is Indigenomics.  

Indigenomics is a process of claiming our place at the economic table of this country. This modern claim to our existence, facilitated as a right to an economy, a right to our modernity, a right to be consulted and is further interwoven with the establishment of legal pressure points for higher standards of stewardship and reciprocal prosperity.

As Indigenous recognition is shaped court case after court case it is forcing the hand of this country. This forced play is facilitated in the legal field and is expressed in the economic field, thus mandating a significant shift in the relationship between Canada, industry and Indigenous peoples. It is here that the need to address the changed requirement of the resource economy and corresponding industries and labour markets. Further, it is here that can be seen the beginning of addressing the limitations of the regulatory environment at the heart of Canada’s resource economy. It is these forces that are shaping the future of work for the Indigenous population in Canada. This is Indigenomics.

The pervading myth polluting this country’s consciousness is the idea that Indigenous peoples do not contribute to this country. With a currently valued economy at $16 billion and growing, this is in spite of the Indian Act. The future of work for Indigenous peoples is better facilitated through the death of this archaic dinosaur. The Indian Act is not only bad for ‘the Indians’ but bad for Canada. A Canada that embraces the future of work for Indigenous peoples is inclusive and built on solutions for today driven by recognition of our growing and collective economic strength.   

With a population of 1.4 million identifying as Indigenous, this translates to the potential of mobilizing a workforce as a momentous opportunity for Canada today. Further, with a growing wave of Indigenous entrepreneurship, these entrepreneurs strengthen Indigenous participation in the local and regional economies. This must play a central dialogue within the economic narrative of this country. Indigenous entrepreneurs can fuel Canadian economic growth. According to a 2016 Environics survey of Indigenous business owners commissioned by the Canadian Council for Aboriginal Business, the report identified that Indigenous owned and operated businesses also strengthen Canada’s economy with services and products, create jobs and develop local workforces.

Within this study, Sodexo Canada asked Canadians to weigh in on the importance of Indigenous businesses via a national Leger survey.

• 73 per cent of Canadians want the private sector to step up to help Indigenous entrepreneurs take their businesses to the next level.

• 81 per cent agree that corporations should include Indigenous businesses in their supplier networks whenever possible.

• And 71 per cent believe actions, such as training and mentoring to help Indigenous business owners, should be a long-term strategy for Canadian corporations.

These findings show broad recognition of the value created by Canada’s 43,000 Indigenous entrepreneurs and establishes strong support for concerted action by the private sector and by government to help these entrepreneurs reach their full potential — in spite of the Indian Act.

Indigenomics is a platform to facilitate the Indigenous relationship of this country to collectively re-imagine the future we want and redesign the systems to get us there.

This re-imagination can take several forms. As Canada has embarked on an innovation agenda for a more inclusive economy with middle class at the centre of this design agenda it leaves much room for the Indigenous population, workforce development and challenging the current social outcomes as unacceptable.

I identify four specific ways of framing and actualizing the potential of this Indigenous workforce. Implementation of United Nations Declaration of the Rights of Indigenous Peoples; Establish Tri level government Indigenous procurement systems; Establish industry specific hiring policy frameworks and address the Truth and Reconciliation Calls to Action.  

The pervading question in Canada today which is setting the stage for the next 150 years is ‘How do we collectively get ready for the emerging potential of a $100 billion dollar Indigenous economy?’ It is from out of the margins and out of the myths that the future of work in Canada must embrace this new reality- we are a powerful people, we are a workforce and we are growing in numbers and in economic strength.

It is true this country has embarked on a reconciliation journey, pushed into action through the Truth and Reconciliation Commission while at times wobbly, at times dismissive and at times feeble. There is an invisible hand shaping this country. It is indigenomics. This is the challenge of our of time. Inclusivity at the economic table. Let us work collectively to get out of the margins, to address the myths and let’s have the courage to do this together.

Carol Anne Hilton is the CEO and Founder of The Indigenomics Institute as well as the CEO of Transformation International, a First Nation Social and Economic Development company.

This op-ed series is a supporting part of SFU Public Square’s 2018 Community Summit: Brave New Work, running February 26 — March 7

This article was originally published on the Vancouver Sun on March 2, 2018.