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This article was published 10/1/2019 (738 days ago), so information in it may no longer be current.

A massive report details, for the first time, the contribution Indigenous peoples make to Manitoba’s economy — and it’s a lot.

The Indigenous economy is 3.9 per cent of Manitoba’s gross domestic product. That falls squarely in between agriculture’s 5.3 per cent and the manufacturing sector’s 2.7 per cent.

The study used census data from 2016, individual First Nations government records and standard research estimates and assumptions. It found the 223,000 Indigenous people in Manitoba (including First Nations, Métis and Inuit), their governments and the businesses they own, spent close to $9.3 billion in Manitoba in 2016.

It’s believed to be the first time comprehensive data about the economic footprint of Manitoba’s Indigenous people has been assembled.

"There is a lot to chew on," said Garrison Settee, grand chief of MKO, the organization that represents First Nation communities in northern Manitoba. "This is a very significant piece of work. Now that we realize the impact we have on Manitoba’s economy, it will open up a lot of discussion and dialogue about how we can move forward as Indigenous people."

The federal and provincial governments paid for the 252-page report, which is called Indigenous Contributions to the Manitoba Economy. The report was spearheaded by the Southern Chiefs’ Organization (SCO), the Manitoba Keewatinowi Okimakanak (MKO), and the Rural Development Institute at Brandon University. The Free Press obtained a copy of the report in advance of its release today.

Using federal business registries for on-reserve business, and conservative estimates of off-reserve business counts and business spending, it shows there are 706 Indigenous business in the province. Using numbers generated by an economic input-output model, it estimates those businesses spent $6 billion in 2016.

As well, First Nations governments spent $1.45 billion; $420 million was spent on First Nations infrastructure; and Indigenous people paid $231 million in provincial and federal taxes.

Bill Ashton, of Brandon University, one of the lead researchers along with Clyde Flett of MKO and Gabriela Jimenez of SCO, said because such a study had not ever been done, the economic impact of Indigenous people in the province was an uncounted resource.

"And not just in dollars," he said, "But in creating and maintaining jobs, the money that goes into the infrastructure (on their communities), the spending of households... you really begin to see what is happening in this province from that particular lens."

A large portion of the report includes descriptions and strategies of the province’s eight urban reserves. It makes the forceful point that urban reserves will be a significant part of own-source revenue for First Nations in the future.

Jerry Daniels, grand chief of SCO, said, "It is a pretty conservative report. I think people have always had a sense that Indigenous people are a big part of the economy. Now we have research that specifically identifies that. (It) makes it clear in the mind of regular Manitobans that the labour force and participation of Indigenous businesses and urban reserves will continue to grow and continue to be a vibrant part of the provincial economy."

As a macro study, other than detailed breakdowns of the urban reserves, it does not cite examples or specifics of Indigenous businesses. However, the economic development models used show that the $6 billion spent by those businesses contributed $1.12 billion to Manitoba’s GDP, generated 13,688 Manitoba jobs and a labour income of $566.4 million.

In its conclusion, the report looks 10 years into the future. In 2016, Indigenous people made up 17.3 per cent of the provincial population, and the report estimates that by 2026, that will rise to 19.7 per cent.

Current levels of Indigenous income, employment and education are well behind Manitoba averages. The report estimates that the population of working-age First Nations peoples is expected to grow by 22,254 by 2026, but the labour force participation rate is "likely to decline."

The report states, "Moving further toward full employment of Indigenous people is not expected to be easy, nor is it a given. Many are already speaking about the considerable effort needed to offset the falling labour force projections."

The report makes a distinction between the way the mainstream economy thinks about economic development and the community-based rationale that Indigenous communities take, especially when it comes to urban reserves. The report notes that mainstream development is framed in purely economic terms such as more jobs, higher educational attainment and increased income levels.

"For many Indigenous leaders and communities, a more holistic approach is preferred — an approach in which the primary value of economic development is in providing a means to reinvest in the cultural life and social services of the community for the benefit of all," the report says.

Grand chief Settee said, "When we invest in businesses, we try to find ways to re-invest back into the communities... so the people who live there can benefit from that revenue, so that we can strengthen the economies and the overall well-being of the people."

It is a distinction that is likely not always understood.

Brandon University’s Ashton said, "The Indigenous model of economic development — communal in nature and community-building in nature — which is phenomenal in and of itself, in some ways it epitomizes the social corporate responsibility argument. Many corporations, large and small, say they do it. The Indigenous model starts with that assumption, not that we are adapting something. That is what we do."


Martin Cash

Martin Cash

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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