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New Indigenous-led economic reconciliation framework to guide the way forward

June 21, 2022

A path to economic reconciliation is outlined in a new report released this week by Sxwpilemaát Siyám, Hereditary Chief Leanne Joe, of the Squamish Nation, in partnership with SFU’s Community Economic Development (CED) program. Sxwpilemaát Siyám, an alumnus of the program and current CED transformative storyteller and instructor, says Step Into the River: The Economic Reconciliation Framework, tells a story of hope for the future and invites people to “step into the river and be agents of change.”

“Broadly speaking for Indigenous Peoples, storytelling is the foundation of articulating lived values that form the basis for Indigenous governance and regeneration,” says Sxwpilemaát Siyám.  

Sxwpilemaát Siyám, Hereditary Chief Leanne Joe, of the Squamish Nation.

Economic reconciliation builds on and addresses the Truth and Reconciliation Commission of Canada’s Call to Action #92 that focuses on Business and Reconciliation.

“Economic Reconciliation is not just about our 'own source revenue', it is so much more than that. The foundation of well-being is a child/family centred approach to wellness,” she says. “It means bringing balance back into our lives, spiritually, mentally, physically, emotionally through healing and forgiveness, acceptance, and grounded in our cultural values.”

Intended to inform municipalities, institutions and industry partners, the Framework describes the current state of economic reconciliation and how we might envision a future economy centred on well-being and rooted in Indigenous values and knowledge. It offers a set of values, mind shifts and practices to support how practitioners, local governments, organizations, institutions and industry partners can engage in reconciliation to meet that desired outcome.

The document invites readers to open their hearts and minds to an Indigenous worldview and provides stepping stones through the journey of economic transformation. “From building meaningful relationships, to building capacity and skills and supporting Indigenous self-determination, there is no one size fits all approach,” says Sxwpilemaát Siyám.

“The extent to which economic reconciliation can be transformative in nature depends on whether we are willing to transform.”

Committed to confronting colonial history and affecting transformative change, SFU’s CED program partnered with Sxwpilemaát Siyám in 2019 to host a series of dialogues with Indigenous thought leaders and representatives of Indigenous-led organizations across B.C. to explore economic reconciliation, and how it might transform the current economy to a sustainable one for “our collective well-being.”

“Community economic development (CED) is an inclusive and participatory process by which communities initiate and generate their own multiple bottom-line solutions to economic challenges—with a focus on collective well-being, resilience and sustainability,” says CED program director Ryan Watmough.

“Community economic developers have been longing for a framework, like this, that can help us to truly incorporate Indigenous Peoples, communities and nations into these processes to support engaged, meaningful and transformative economic reconciliation.”

Watmough says Sxwpilemaát Siyám's river analogy confronts traditional economic development thinking of bridge building, separation, and implementing solutions above or around the challenges faced by communities. “We need to build better, more immersive, just and resilient, reciprocal connections with the world, our organizations and each other, to truly create sustainable prosperity,” he says.

The Framework explores ways in which our relationship to wealth needs changing, the authors note. “The current colonial economic model is built on the myth of perpetual material growth which creates waste, degrades nature, disregards justice and fails to ensure equity. It is structured around dependency rather than well-being and the impacts are plainly visible and felt across different scales. For our economy to shift, we need to rethink what we value, how we relate to one another and how we make decisions.”

The Framework shares Indigenous worldviews about wealth and sustainability that are a source of wisdom for economic transformation. A key component of this wisdom is the Community Wealth Ripple, a model envisioned by Sxwpilemaát Siyám, that intentionally centres children and families when creating, managing and distributing wealth. 

“When this happens, wealth moves through communities supporting strategic priorities, building capacity and self-determination and benefitting individuals, Mother Earth, all living creatures and so much more,” she says.

Watmough suggests that as the implications of this economic reconciliation framework are understood more broadly, “they will provoke curiosity and re-form the foundation of our CED thinking, our knowing, our practices and our program, guiding us on an enlightening journey.”