Panel on capitalization of the Indigenous economy encourages taking time to get it right

Monday, November 27th, 2023 9:46am


Image Caption

From left to right: Justin Bourque, Bernd Christmas, Cadmus Delorme and Shaun Soonias on a panel discussion held at the Indigenomics Bay Street conference in Toronto.


“Our shareholders are our people. And so, we don’t always get the opportunity to take an investment opportunity and multiply that back into the market, because we need to take care of the needs of today for our shareholders and our people.” — Justin Bourque, president of Athabasca Indigenous Investments
By Sam Laskaris
Local Journalism Initiative Reporter

There’s no denying that the Indigenous economy is growing and contributing to the Canada’s fortunes as well.

But Cadmus Delorme, the former chief of Cowesses First Nation in Saskatchewan, advised participants to take things slow. He said there is a rush to tackle the work of economic reconciliation, but it’s coming at the cost of skipping over the truth of Indigenous people’s history with Canada and the governmental mechanisms that loom large over Indigenous progress.

Delorme made his comments during the Capitalization of the Indigenous Economy panel that was included as part of the Indigenomics Bay Street conference, which concluded on Nov. 23 in Toronto. The conference attracted Indigenous leaders in the corporate and private sector, as well as government officials.

The panel topic was to explore the value of the Indigenous economy and how that worth is best determined.

Delorme is president and CEO of OneHoop, a consulting company that aims to build relationships between the corporate sector, governments and Indigenous communities.

“As Indigenous governing bodies, we’ve only been truly welcomed into this economy since the 1990s,” Delorme said.

“We’ve only been a part of the economic growth for the last three decades in a full, respectable capacity. But even at that time, it has been restricted.”

Delorme said the Indian Act, a law that enables federal government administration over everything from Indian status to reserve lands and communal monies, is not economically friendly.

“And it’s because the Bank Act of Canada and the Indian Act, they clash,” he said. “And that is why Indigenous governing bodies are looking at that as a high risk from an Indigenous mindset.”

He said a lot of decision makers in Canada are eager to partner with Indigenous peoples to tackle the calls to action from the Truth and Reconciliation Commission, but Delorme said there is a ceiling to reconciliation without doing the work to understand the truth that’s at its foundation.

He said representatives from corporations and governments have not been told the truth about the history of Indigenous peoples and Canada.

“So sometimes we move too quickly to reconciliation and our partnerships,” he said. “We don’t spend enough time on the truth.”

And Delorme said Indigenous people have their own reconciliation work to do.

“It’s not the 94 Calls To Action,” he said. “But we inherited our pain. We are responsible for our own healing journey now.” He said that inherited pain from the history of colonization had led to suspicion and mistrust in Indigenous communities.

“Sometimes when you try to talk economics and capitalization growth in an Indigenous mindset only with your Nations, we tend to block it because of mistrust.”

Besides truth, the word confidence should also be included when discussing capitalization of the Indigenous economy, said Bernd Christmas, a partner with Longhouse Capital Partners.

“We have to have confidence in the boardrooms, confidence in making these deals,” said the member of Membertou First Nation in Nova Scotia.

“You need to have confidence to say these are our deals. This is our Creator-given right to be involved with these things.”

Christmas said Indigenous businesses have to be able to think beyond the country’s borders if suitable deals are not available here.

“If it’s not in Canada, then you go global,” he said. “And in the global market, they’re looking for the deals. They are looking for really good deals. Resource extraction is a big thing for Canada. Power and, obviously, infrastructure as well.”

Justin Bourque, the president of Athabasca Indigenous Investments (AII), said Indigenous investors have to deal with a different approach than non-Indigenous ones.

“In the western world, their investments are made to create returns and value to the shareholders,” said Bourque, who oversees AII, a partnership featuring 23 Indigenous communities in Alberta that purchased seven pipelines.

“The shareholders then re-invest. In the Indigenous phase, we don’t get that opportunity all of the time because that value that we are creating in these investments is going into replacing homes and critical infrastructure and developing our communities.

“Our shareholders are our people. And so, we don’t always get the opportunity to take an investment opportunity and multiply that back into the market, because we need to take care of the needs of today for our shareholders and our people.”

The panel also included Shaun Soonias, the director of Indigenous relations for Farm Credit Canada.

Soonias said everyone involved needs to take the necessary steps to ensure the Indigenous economy succeeds across the country.

“If we don’t get this right, those kids won’t have anything when they graduate high school,” he said. “They’ll stay in their community without a lot that could be offered in terms of jobs and economic development. This isn’t just about Indigenous communities getting better jobs or having employment or business. This really is about Canada… If we don’t get it right, those kids are going to be angry.”



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