Who are Indigenous Entrepreneurs? What is Effective Engagement?
On June 8 and 9, the Canadian Chamber of Commerce in Japan (CCCJ) hosted an informative series of webinars on Indigenous entrepreneurship.
Japanese investors, Canadian expatriates, CCCJ members and non-members, were able to attend free of charge to learn more about the exciting innovations and dynamism generated by Indigenous peoples.
The first day focused on the theme, Who Are Indigenous Entrepreneurs? Attendees heard from Lana Eagle, a member of the Whitecap Dakota First Nation in Saskatchewan; Patrick Watson from the Canadian Council for Aboriginal Business and Dr. Ken Coates from the University of Saskatchewan’s Johnson Shoyama Graduate School of Public Policy.
As Coates noted, Indigenous peoples are among Canada’s fastest growing demographic. Between 2011 and 2016, the number of Canadians identifying as Indigenous grew 19.5 per cent, almost five times the rate of the non-Indigenous population. Therefore, he added, the success of Indigenous entrepreneurs is integral to the future of the Canadian economy.
In addition, those attending the webinar were familiarized with the distinction between First Nation, Métis and Inuit peoples. Future events will allow for an even deeper discussion of linguistic and cultural diversity.
Eagle highlighted the importance of relationships in cultivating business ties. Responding to a question about how to cultivate strong ties with an Indigenous-led organization when visiting Canada on a tight timetable, she replied that there is no specific resource to leverage, or connection to make; it is best to consult with or engage individuals in the organization or community of choice, and to build a relationship organically, founded on trust and mutual respect.
The webinars in June made complex topics understandable to attendees without oversimplification.
The second day explored the question, What is Effective Engagement? The panel comprised Mark Podlasly from the First Nations Major Projects Coalition; Kelly J. Lendsay from Indigenous Works; and Glen Pratt, CEO of George Gordon Developments, which facilitates economic development for the George Gordon First Nation in Saskatchewan.
Elaborating on some of the ideas about building relationships, the panel delved into ways to ensure that relations are mutually beneficial. Podlasly explained the value of equity stakes for both project proponents and Indigenous communities. Lendsay expanded on workforce development, underlining the importance of ensuring employment opportunities for Indigenous peoples in major projects.
Pratt shared how the George Gordon First Nation has articulated its own vision for future economic development that drives projects, while also highlighting its collaboration with K+S, a German company that operates the nearby Bethune potash mine.
Riyo Whitney and Dr. Jackie Steele from the CCCJ Board of Governors expertly moderated the discussion, ensuring that the Q&A sessions following the valuable presentations leveraged the expertise and perspectives of the speakers. Questions explored the importance of Indigenous representation on Canadian corporate boards, as well as the timely topic of the election for National Chief of the Assembly of First Nations (AFN).
As Eagle pointed out, at the time of the event, no woman had yet served as national chief. However, in a historic first just four weeks later, the AFN elected RoseAnne Archibald of the Taykwa Tagamou Nation as national chief.
Indigenous women are taking on important leadership roles elsewhere in Canadian society, too. On July 26, Mary Simon — who was born in Nunavik, Québec, and is of Inuit descent — became the 30th governor general of Canada.
The conversations that began through the CCCJ in June are important. We recognize that residential schools continue to be a shameful mark on Canada’s history, with harmful intergenerational impacts on Indigenous people and communities throughout the country, and we must be committed to advancing reconciliation among First Nation and Métis people and communities, and all other Canadian citizens.
As we also seek ways to prosper together in the future, and writing as a CCCJ member, I am excited about the role the chamber is seeking to play. The webinars in June made complex topics understandable to attendees without oversimplification. I understand that future events may be held that relate to international indigeneity, such as the similarities and differences between the Ainu and the Indigenous peoples who reside in what is now Canada. I wish for the success of those events, and encourage all CCCJ members to take the time to attend.