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This article was published 30/10/2019 (286 days ago), so information in it may no longer be current.
It was fitting that the first major Winnipeg Chamber of Commerce event with its new chairwoman, Jessica Dumas — who is the first Indigenous person to hold that position in the chamber’s 100-plus-year history — was about Indigenous economic development.
Carol Anne Hilton, a Vancouver-based Indigenous policy expert, spoke in Winnipeg on Wednesday about how the concept of Indigenomics took off on social media and has led her to set up a think tank and write a book to be released early next year called Indigenomics.
She defined the term as "the collective economic response to the lasting legacy of systemic exclusion of Indigenous people in the economic development of this country."
She said it is an uncomfortable space because in order to build from it, we need to understand that during the first 150-plus years of this country’s history, a system of economic exclusion of Indigenous people was established.
"The next 150 years is really about economic inclusion of Indigenous people," she said.
Hilton spoke about how she was not a fan of descriptions of the socio-economic gap that currently exists for Indigenous people in Canada.
She said what we should be measuring is the fundamental structure of Indigenous economic inclusion. She did allow that virtually every one of the 630 First Nations in Canada have somehow, over time, been negatively effected by the Indian Act.
"The Indian Act established a foundation of Indigenous economic regression," she said. "The core message is that Canada deserves better."
If the crowd of more than 500 people was any indication, one would assume there is a lot of interest in the subject in Winnipeg.
Hilton, who has been a senior adviser to Finance Minister Bill Morneau, cited reports dating back to 2001 that said the Indigenous economy in Canada was worth $12 billion and subsequent reports up to 2016 that said it was worth $32 billion.
Hilton said it is not unreasonable to expect that to hit $100 billion by 2024.
For instance, a study — spearheaded by the Southern Chiefs’ Organization (SCO), the Manitoba Keewatinowi Okimakanak (MKO), and the Rural Development Institute at Brandon University and funded by federal and provincial governments — released at the beginning of this year showed how the Indigenous economy in Manitoba accounts for more than $9 billion in provincial GDP.
"I think it is entirely reasonable (that the Indigenous economy hits $100 billion) because I do not believe that all community assets are included in that calculation," she said in an interview.
Hilton’s work has identified 12 levers to support growth of the Indigenous economy, including equity inclusion in resource projects, more Indigenous involvement in government procurement, supporting the growth of Indigenous entrepreneurship and better support from the capital markets for Indigenous economic activity.
One of Hilton’s main messages was that for the Indigenous economy to grow to its potential, there has to be a new narrative in talking about Indigenous involvement in the economy — away from the narrative that Indigenous people are a burden to one where the success of Indigenous communities will be beneficial, if not essential, to the future success of this country.
"Indigenomics by design is essentially shifting the narrative away from negative statistics to positive statistics that actually demonstrate what our economic strength is, why that’s important and how that economic strength is fundamental to our regional, provincial and national economic success," she said.
Martin Cash has been writing a column and business news at the Free Press since 1989. Over those years he’s written through a number of business cycles and the rise and fall (and rise) in fortunes of many local businesses.
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