In October 2016, I had the privilege to speak on the Council for the Advancement of Native Development Officers Nation Youth Panel in Whitehorse, Yukon. The picture above is the six youth panelists. Below is the text of my speech.
Weyt-k xwexweytep ne7elye ne cplulkwten. Carl Archie ren skwewkst. Te Tsqescen te st7ekwen ell ne tkemlups re mumtwen. Le7 ren pupsmen es wikts xwexweyt ne7elye ne lleqmellcw. My name is Carl Archie. I’m from Canim Lake of the Secwepemc Nation. I currently live and work in Kamloops, BC. I'm excited to be here and glad to see everyone. Today I'm going to talk a bit about me, my past, my achievements, and then my vision for the future of our nations.
Canada's Aboriginal people were estimated to have up to a $32 billion economy in 2016. Economic Development Corporations's thought to have a big part in that. TD Economics estimates that Economic Development Corporations grew. And that's due in large per due to talented Economic Development Officers like yourselves. But it also estimated that individual incomes haven't grown by nearly as much. The same TD Economics report estimates that by 2016 the size of the Aboriginal market in Canada should have increased to $32 billion – driven by 7.4% growth in business income compared to a 4.0% growth in personal income. At the same time, TD Economics estimates that discretionary income for individual natives will have only increased by 1.5% over the same 2011-2016 period. That’s not even inflation for one year in Canada!
The wealth of First Nations hasn't yet reached our communities!
And it's the well being of our people at home who are at the back of my mind as I work - initially as a commercial account manager at the Bank of Montreal, and now as a consultant assisting First Nations with land development, business planning and more. Because like many of you here today, I grew up on the Rez.
And the challenges that are indicated by the numbers I just talked about – I lived those. The poverty – I just spent more in the last two weeks than I did in an entire year as an undergrad student. The alcoholism – many in my family were alcoholics in my younger years. As a result, my brothers and sister and I went from foster home to foster home for a brief period. The suicide – there were times when people in my family didn’t want to live anymore. I’ve had aunts and cousins whom I looked up to who are no longer with us.
However, I was raised up by my community, with all the care and purpose and patience in the world. Elders who said, "ta7us k sllepenc xetaqs re secwepemc-k" which translates to “don’t forget you are Secwepemc first.” and mentors who said "bankers, lawyers, consultants are a dime a dozen. It's the fact that you are Secwépemc that makes you unique in a world of 7 billion people."
And don't let anyone tell you that you're not Secwépemc. Or call you an apple. Or tell you that you're assimilated. Just because you studied business. Our ancestors suffered unimaginably for all of us to be here. You were put on this earth to help our people. So if they can't tell you who Tcyenmescen is, or where to find wild food in your territory, or what or where pellspecmic is, then don't let them tell you who you are. To quote Maya Angelou, I come here as one. But I stand before you as 10,000!
And so, it’s with this in mind, that I set out into the world back in 2007 to attend Thompson Rivers University to study business. I had no clue what I was doing. I only took business because I met the requirements for admission. Also because the title of the degree was Bachelors of Business Administration. I said to myself “hmm, it has the word administrator” in it. And I looked up to our Band Administrator. So why not? And in 2009, the world was going through a major recession and I said “hmm, economics sounds relevant.” I had never heard the term until someone said it in the news. But as I studied it, I realized that economics wasn’t meant for Indians. There was no mention of First Nations in any of our books. And slowly I became aware of the shortfalls of our education system. At the time I was extremely shy. But after saying “I told you so” to group mates so many times, I decided enough was enough.
And my advocacy didn’t stop at my class groups. We had a shortage of services on campus for Aboriginal students. I became President of the First Nations Student Society. We developed the Aboriginal mentorship program – as senior students we mentored new Aboriginal students. We revitalized Aboriginal Awareness Days and pow wow. There are elders in residence. And much more.
In my final summer, I attended a round table on Aboriginal Business studies in Edmonton hosted by the Purdy Crawford Chair in Aboriginal Business. At the time one of my comments was that I wanted an Aboriginal Business textbook written by Aboriginal business people. So the Chair asked me what I was doing for the summer. I said, well, I’m going fishing. He said how about you come fishing in Nova Scotia? I did. I didn’t have a job to do, but when I showed up, they said “you wanted a textbook, here’s your chance to write one.” I had never written a textbook in my life and I was clueless. But by the end of the summer I had written a table of contents based on my experience and knowledge. The textbook is now published.
I was also elected to TRU’s Board of Governors as only the second Aboriginal student to sit on the Board. I was elected to CANDO’s Board of Directors. 3 days after I walked across the stage as one of only half a dozen native people in the country to study economics, I started my first job as a Commercial Account Manager at the Bank of Montreal. I didn’t even know what a mortgage was until my boss asked me to secure an $800,000 loan with a mortgage over the clients property. Mortgages aren’t part of on-reserve culture.
I can talk about these achievements casually now because I lived it. But at the time it was a tough slog. I was called a stupid Indian. I lived off of $900 a month. I was told my achievements were only filling quotas – and that I was just a token. 24 people in my community passed away while I was attending school including my grandpa – the semester he passed away was the first time I ever failed a course. One of the things that helped me through was my passion for photography. I was paid $500 per day to do events, my photos are on the walls of prominent lawyers’ offices, they were published in magazines, Justin Trudeau even used my photo in his leadership campaign. And now, I stand before you. A proud Secwepemc person. Fluent in my language, understanding of our medicines, having travelled to every corner of our vast territory and fished in every major river. And having worked from coast to coast to coast in every major Canadian city. For the past year and a bit, I’ve been doing consulting in Economic Development. I’ve travelled to dozens of communities, and met with their people, managers, and leadership. And I’m fortunate enough to be able to see the greatness and visions of our people and leaders and am thankful that they’ve shared their knowledge with me.
We know that we can be great. Because we were great. We are. The Secwepemc Nation is made up of 17 communities. We have 10,200 citizens that we know of. We’re accustomed to thinking of ourselves as poor, but collectively we have $179 million in revenue, with $22 million in surplus revenues. Our territory is 180,000 km squared, making it larger than half of the recognized nations in the world. The Secwepemc Nation is the largest Indigenous Nation in BC. I believe in the greatness that we can be. I see this. I know you see this. But now it is up to us to help Indian country embrace this vision of nation building through economic development. Because there are people back home who are counting on us all to succeed. Who can’t afford the status quo. We need to find a path forward.
And so, I have proposed to my nation, the development of a Secwepemc Economic Commission. It’s a nation-based approach to economic development in our territory. The commission’s goals would be to coordinate internal resources. We have 17 economic development officers, each in charge of a suite of nearly identical businesses, competing against each other. That doesn’t make sense to me. Building capacity. How much information do we actually have on activities in our own territory? Nearly none. Gathering statistics which enable our officers to make meaningful, informed decisions is something needed. And lastly, attracting and influencing investments to our territory. Knowing we have unextinguished Aboriginal Rights in our territory, why are municipalities and regional districts left to do land use planning for our land? Why can’t we stake our own mineral claims, and partner with global mining companies to extract them on our terms?
So to my fellow youth, keep going. If you told me back in 2007 that I would be advising First Nations throughout the province, or that my first job would be to manage a $40 million portfolio, I would have never believed you. Trust me when I say this - it's only the beginning. We are a modern, highly educated generation, fluent in our languages and comfortable in board rooms. It is time for current leaders to either step-up, or let us lead! To my fellow economic development officers, I trust you will stand with me, in unity, for the economic prosperity of our people, our communities, and our nations.
You can nominate a 2017 National Youth Panelist here: http://www.edo.ca/conference/2017/national-youth-panel