Written By Laurie Wright, Sharon Singh, Radha Curpen and Serge Dupont
On June 6, 2022, a coalition made up of more than 25 Indigenous organizations from across Canada released a National Indigenous Economic Strategy designed exclusively by Indigenous leaders, institutions and organizations. The Strategy is intended to guide governments, industry and institutions in their work on reconciliation and collaboration in rebuilding Indigenous economies.
Why a National Indigenous Economic Strategy?
Improving Socioeconomic Outcomes for Indigenous Peoples
The Strategy notes that disparity between Indigenous people and the non-Indigenous population in areas such as income, education, housing and labour market participation. Poverty, inadequate housing and lack of access to clean water and other public services such as health care and education continue to be significant barriers to Indigenous Peoples being able to full participate in Canada's economy.
As the Strategy says, "[A]chieving reconciliation will not be possible without vibrant Indigenous economies, characterized by economic self-sufficiency and socioeconomic equality with the rest of Canada."
Enhancing Economic Development for all Canadians
The Strategy's other ambition is to contribute more generally to economic benefits for all Canadians by recouping the loss to the Canadian economy that results from economic marginalization of Indigenous Peoples. As the press release accompanying the Strategy says:
"Research has found that if the gap in opportunities for Indigenous communities was closed, it would result in a boost of more than $30 billion to Canada's GDP. Further, if Indigenous peoples had equitable access to economic opportunities, 135,000 more First Nations, Métis and Inuit individuals would be employed, bringing in $6.9 billion per year in employment income. At the same time, reducing poverty among Indigenous peoples would save federal and provincial/territorial governments more than $8 billion a year."
Institutions and businesses in Canada are hearing this message. Last month, Lawrence L. Schembri, then Deputy Governor of the Bank of Canada, in a speech to the National Aboriginal Capital Corporations Association, echoed the message that "[a]ll of Canada would also gain from an Indigenous economy that is more empowered to realize its full potential."
Ensuring a Measurable Plan to Bring About Action
The Strategy builds on the Truth and Reconciliation Calls to Action, the United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples and the Royal Commission on Aboriginal Peoples, among others, in developing its Calls for Economic Prosperity.
The Strategy notes that it is also an Indigenous-led response to a 2020 recommendation of the Organization for Economic Co-operation and Development to develop a national policy framework for Indigenous economic development in Canada in order to support better economic development outcomes for Indigenous peoples including through empowerment of Indigenous communities and organizations.
In order to turn recommendations into action, the Strategy is clear that critical next steps include governance and management of the Strategy, including monitoring implementation. The First Nations University of Canada will house the institute for work related to the Strategy, including tracking implementation. The Strategy also envisages that it will be costed, as business cases around implementation are developed.
What is the National Indigenous Economic Strategy?
The Strategy has four Strategic Pathways: People, Lands, Infrastructure and Finance. Each Pathway is supported by Calls for Economic Prosperity. Totaling 107, the Calls range from measures that can be implemented by business now through to major structural and transformational change requiring legislation as well as cooperation between all levels of government.
People Vision: The capacity of Indigenous Peoples is strengthened. Indigenous people are empowered to choose how they define, generate and redistribute wealth.
The People pathway speaks to Indigenous entrepreneurship, leadership and governance, labour force/labour markets, social capital and the workplace. The Calls include access to capital, participation on Canadian corporate boards, developing programs to enable Indigenous Peoples to expand their networks and ensuring workplaces are inclusive, among many others.
Lands Vision: Indigenous jurisdiction. Recognition and validation of court decisions, international law and United Nations’ declarations. Resolution of all land claims.
The Lands pathway includes Calls related to land sovereignty (including immediately settling all unresolved Indigenous jurisdiction and land issues), land management (including creating an Indigenous environmental oversight body with powers equal to the Canadian Energy Regulator) and environmental stewardship (including establishing a policy that representatives of First Nations, Metis and Inuit are included on all federal, provincial, territorial and municipal regulatory bodies).
Infrastructure Vision: Leading edge physical and institutional infrastructure and services are in place to ensure a prosperous Indigenous economy today and for future generations.
The Infrastructure pathway covers physical infrastructure, institutional infrastructure and financial resources for infrastructure. Among the many Calls are prioritizing government funding to infrastructure projects with Indigenous equity participation, and devolving Indigenous economic development away from federal, provincial and territorial governments.
Finance Vision: Indigenous Peoples and communities have the financial capital to achieve economic and social prosperity on their own terms.
The Finance pathway of the Strategy speaks to revenue sources, stimulus funds, procurement and trade. Here the Calls include having Indigenous Peoples participate in resource revenue sharing, implementing tax incentives for private sector investors, creating an Indigenous Investment Bank and reforming government and corporate procurement to enhance Indigenous participation.
The Strategy is understandably ambitious given that the socioeconomic gaps between Indigenous Peoples and the Canadian population more generally are significant and persistent. The Strategy is a framework for continuing to advance fundamental goals of Indigenous self-governance and self-determination through an economic development lens. While it remains to be seen what influence the specific Calls in the Strategy will have with business and with governments, the need for inclusive measures to support Indigenous Peoples' capacity to benefit from and contribute to the economy is undeniable.
Certainly at the federal level there is alignment with Cabinet Ministers' mandates that include closing the infrastructure gap for Indigenous Peoples; accelerating the resolution of outstanding land claims; enhancing opportunities for economic recovery for Indigenous Peoples; advancing self-determination through strong economic recovery and growth, including ensuring accessibility of Indigenous business supports; and continuing to develop a new national benefits-sharing framework for Indigenous Peoples. These highlight the need for substantial capacity-building in order for Indigenous Peoples to have a seat at the table when it comes to Canada's future growth.
Economic prosperity for and with Indigenous Peoples could also be advanced by the private sector as part of good business practices, including when working to achieve environmental, social and governance (ESG) objectives. These could include working with Indigenous Peoples on traditional knowledge and land use in the context of resource development, investing in the supports needed for more labour market participation by Indigenous Peoples and increasing the number of Indigenous members on boards.
The Strategy will stimulate a lively discussion on paths to reconciliation and economic development, on opportunities for improvement of the lives of Indigenous Peoples, as well as on concrete steps to advance projects today in a manner consistent with aspirational pursuits that will involve efforts over a longer period.