The Brandon Chamber of Commerce hosted a three-panel discussion Thursday at its monthly chamber luncheon to explore incorporating economic reconciliation into everyday business practices.
The panel included speakers Boh Kubrakovich-Kiniw of First Nations in Treaty 2 Territory, Kris Desjarlais of Assiniboine Community College, and Noah Wilson, business development manager for Indigenous Young Entrepreneurs at Futurpreneur Canada.
"When you talk about economic reconciliation, it really comes down to making sure that Indigenous people have a seat at the economic table again," Wilson said. "We could grow and prosper together instead of at the expense of another person’s livelihood."
When talking about reconciliation, it is important to understand the process of acknowledging the truth of what led to the contemporary challenges Indigenous entrepreneurs face today, Wilson added.
A key part of this work is establishing mutually beneficial relationships that can be advantageous to the entire community. Wilson called on businesses to think about the community and Indigenous entrepreneurs who are looking to take their rightful seat at the economic table.
Desjarlais said the economic deck has been stacked against Indigenous people, but they remain a huge piece of the economic puzzle in Brandon. He added supporting these entrepreneurs stands to greatly benefit the economy as a whole.
Inviting Indigenous entrepreneurs to collaborate allows others to grow and learn how to engage in economic ventures in different ways. Desjarlais said it will be a challenging topic to unpack because it marks a major mind shift away from the results-driven western standard of thinking.
"Think about the process and the relationships that we’re going to have and how we can encourage and increase access for Indigenous, Métis and Inuits people in our communities," Desjarlais said.
Indigenous entrepreneurs face many challenges, including access to capital to launch new businesses.
Access to education, financing and other resources is also challenging because there is a discrepancy between Indigenous and non-Indigenous people in the country.
Wilson broke these factors down into three basic foundations: education on personal finance, credit education, and financial literacy. Together this trinity can be used to change the context of the traditional goals of profit-driven businesses.
These issues are often further exacerbated by the racism Indigenous entrepreneurs may face in the community.
It will require a systemic change to return to the ideals behind treaties and remove these economic barriers, Kubrakovich-Kiniw said.
Before contact with settlers, Indigenous communities were prosperous, Kubrakovich-Kiniw said, and Treaty 1 was established in the name of friendship with settlers.
What he described as "reconcili-action," means going back to the days before the treaty and teaching immigrants and settlers who come to Canada about the importance of land and the Indigenous ways of life.
Desjarlais added some people do not believe systemic racism exists and impacts Indigenous people. He hopes everyone can understand it exists and not take it personally.
"We need to move on through mutual, beneficial relationships and recognize that there have been harms in the past," Desjarlais said. "We inherited this together and we can move forward together."
Wilson called on people to focus on what is being provided to the community by businesses. The steps taken by business owners to help their community can in turn benefit their financial bottom line.
For those interested in learning more about economic reconciliation, Wilson recommended visiting the Truth and Reconciliation roadmap for businesses featured on the Winnipeg Chamber of Commerce website.
Every single business needs to have an internal and external engagement strategy for reconciliation, he said, and this includes how the government can support Indigenous entrepreneurship.
"What it really boils down to is how much can you provide for you and your family, and really what it comes down to [is] a wealthy person in an Indigenous context ... giving back to your community more than anyone else," Wilson said.
"That shows the community that you are more wealthy because you have the ability to give back. If we can build Indigenous wealth on a broader spectrum, then ultimately we all benefit because that investment will go right back into our community, our youth and our economy."
Wilson said if there is one thing to learn from economic reconciliation, whether it is or isn’t in a business context, it’s necessary to establish an internal and external Indigenous engagement strategy.
Looking at reconciliation, internal engagement means understanding your truth about local history and building a foundation for reconciliation, he said, and externally it means exploring how you give back to your community, Indigenous people and partnerships.
"When you look at economic development and Indigenous peoples’ way of contributing to our community, I think that with positions where we’re able to decide the governance structure and how the business are going to be run ... we can provide innovation to our economy," Wilson said. "We’re grounding our businesses within Indigenous ways of knowing."
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