First Nations elders are revered for keeping their spirituality, traditions, history and lifestyle alive. The role elders play in leading their people into the future has not been as well-recognized.
A new organization called the National Indigenous Council of Elders (NICE) is changing that.
It is taking a radically new approach that examines innovative ways to resolve social and economic concerns using futuristic business models to create the wealth and employment that will free First Nations from dependence on outside sources of funding.
The idea for NICE sprang from the ever-fertile mind of Winnipeg's Marion Ironquill Meadmore, the first aboriginal woman to be called to the bar in Canada, a founder of the first Indian and Métis Friendship Centre in Winnipeg (which led to a national "friendship centre" movement) and an organizer of the National Indian Brotherhood (the forerunner of the Assembly of First Nations).
More than 500 families who live in native-owned and-managed Kinew Housing in this city can thank Elder Meadmore for creating and managing the original idea.
NICE is dedicated to the creation of wealth by indigenous people for indigenous people -- wealth that is sustainable for generations to come. NICE does this by sponsoring forums that bring together the best and brightest minds to discuss and analyze innovative ways to achieve economic equality and independence for indigenous people.
Forums on Indian trusts, eco-tourism, international inter-tribal trading, urban reserves and many more unique yet feasible ways to create wealth together are on the NICE agenda.
Mainstream Canadians will want to support NICE because a major key to their success is independence from government funding. In addition to developing independent business models, they are looking to the private sector to make up shortfalls in funding for education, health and other social programs.
For example, NICE has noticed how foundations have been widely used by native American tribes in the United States as a major source of funding, while First Nations in Canada that depend on government funding have not attempted to access the huge amounts of funding available from the private sector. This is because they have not been provided with information about the foundations, but also because many of the foundations, despite listing "aboriginal peoples" as a priority, have proven difficult to deal with and are irrelevant to the real needs of First Nations.
The latest NICE forum, held at the Keeshkeemaquah Conference Centre at Long Plain First Nation earlier this week, examined every type of foundation; local, regional, national and international.
The forum provided information about how to access the enormous amounts of money foundations worldwide have earmarked for First Nations but is rarely obtained, how they can develop their own foundations and how to work with indigenous people and foundations worldwide to create a wealthy future with true financial independence for First Nations here in Canada.
NICE is seeking to close the gap between the standard of living of First Nations and the rest of Canadians. The NICE forum is looking at billions of dollars here. When they say they believe in sovereignty that is initiated and controlled by indigenous people to sustain their own independence without government funding, these elders are serious.
There has never been more wealth in the world than there is today. Indigenous people have not been able to gain their rightful share, yet there are so many ways they can all join together to create wealth for their communities and to benefit future generations. The NICE Creation of Wealth forums brought native people together in a common effort to share ideas to do that.
The NICE steering committee prefers to speak as one, saying only, "All of our elders who apply their experience and capabilities to directing NICE are highly respected business and political leaders who are dedicated and focused on creating wealth that is independent of outside governments. We believe in sovereignty and the economic development that is initiated and controlled by indigenous people to sustain our own governance."
Elder Meadmore is well past retirement age, and though she tries to shun the spotlight, she recently accepted a prestigious Indspire Award because it might further the aims of NICE. After all, this is a woman who only accepted induction to the Order of Canada because it provided an opportunity for her to meet Anne Murray, her favourite singer, who was being inducted at the same time.
The new generation of First Nations can thank their elders for keeping their culture alive and making sure they know who they are and where they came from. They can also thank NICE for letting them know where they are going.
Don Marks is the editor of Grassroots News.