There is an economic proposition to engaging with Indigenous communities, peoples and businesses, but the big picture is about the process of truth and reconciliation of Canada’s historical wrongs against its first peoples, according to a panel discussion hosted by the Winnipeg Chamber of Commerce.
Some $9.3 billion moves through the economy created by Indigenous families, businesses and individuals in Canada, Jessica Dumas told the August 31 webinar called Reconciliation in Action: Understanding Call to Action 92. Dumas, an Indigenous advisor and facilitator, is the past Chair of the Winnipeg Chamber.
Dumas noted that the provincial economy needs work and partnerships with the Indigenous population have to be central to the solution.
The business community must be intentional in seeking out and including Indigenous people and businesses, she noted, because colonialist and racist laws and policies in Canada were, by intention, exclusionary to the Indigenous population. Canadians continue to live with the legacy of those laws and policies, she said.
Whelan Sutherland, chief executive officer at Peguis First Nation, told the participants that trade – doing business – was embedded in First Nations culture before European contact, given the relationships that were long established between original peoples trading and sharing the wealth.
Treaties, Sutherland stressed, were nation-to-nation agreements in which signatories, the First Nations and the Crown, sought to continue the relationship of mutual benefit.
The panelists also spoke to the need for all Canadians, including within the workplace and business organizations, to come to terms with a history too few are fully aware of, including that of the Indian Act and Indian Residential Schools.
The revelation this year of unmarked graves at multiple sites where Indian Residential Schools formerly operated illustrated the general lack of awareness Canadians have about their nation’s history, and of the trauma visited upon Indigenous people that keeps surfacing.
Those on the spectrum of learning “need to come face to face with uncomfortable truths” like this, said Noah Wilson, moderator of the session.
“Indigenous awareness is emotional,” added Dumas. “If it isn’t emotional, you’re not doing it right.”
The Winnipeg Chamber of Commerce has posted for members a free trial of the Four Seasons of Reconciliation course, provided in partnership with Red River College and the Indigenous Chamber of Commerce in celebration of the 150th Anniversary of Treaty No. 1. The course is offered as a way to “build a foundation of knowledge on the history of colonization in Canada and how it impacts current issues and Indigenous Peoples today.”
Jamie Dumont, co-chair of the Indigenous Chamber of Commerce, said such learning is a life-long journey.
Businesses, to continue the work of reconciliation, should look at their structures, the policies and practices – such as with human resources — internally and externally. Most institutional structures, including in commerce, were built on exclusionary policies, Dumont noted.
One thing that businesses can do immediately review their procurement policies and practices and seek out Indigenous businesses that could be invited to participate.