With continued rhetoric on a nation-to-nation relationship between First Nations and the Federal government, I thought it would be timely to write down my thoughts on a nation based approach to Economic Development. Below is my vision for the Secwépemc Nation and a Secwépemc Economic Commission.
Vision: The Secwépemc Nation is the primary Economic Authority on Secwepemcul'ucw.
Mission: Attracting global investments into Secwépemcul'ucw, people, organizations, and resources. Coordinating economic resources within the Secwépemc Nation. Building capacity of our community for economic development including our people, land, and animals.
Purpose: Reviving the spirit of the Secwépemc people through Economic Prosperity and leaving a legacy for our future generations.
With 17 communities, over $179 million in annual revenue, and more than 10,200 citizens, the Secwépemc Nation is the largest Indigenous Nation in British Columbia. Secwépemcul'ucw, or the land of the Secwépemc, is over 180,000 kilometres squared, making it larger than half of the recognized countries in the world. The Secwépemc people are, and have always been, the primary Economic Authority over our territory.
The Secwépemc Economic Commission is committed to expanding and enhancing the Secwépemc Economy through enhancing relationships with the larger Canadian and International business community, expanding our internal capacity for economic development, and deploying our resources effectively and efficiently to meet the needs of our citizens.
Economic Development is a hot topic for many First Nations. It has certainly taken on political significance with more than $6 billion in Impact Benefit Agreements signed to date in British Columbia. However, many First Nations struggle to realize their Economic Development potential. In my experience, this is due to a low risk appetite on the First Nations’ part. This is compounded by the fact that most trusted advisors to First Nations are inherently risk-averse and look at business opportunities through mainly legal and accounting lenses. Below are five reasons why a First Nation, or any business, may want to consider specifically hiring a Business Advisor:
Broad Skillset: As someone who has graduated with a Bachelors of Business Administration, I can attest to the broad set of skills which are valuable to any business, and particularly to a First Nation with business and financial goals. Through various courses, I’ve had the opportunity to learn learn about all things business which include: technical writing, public presentations, statistics, accounting, decision-making, strategic planning, teamwork, human resources, supply chain management, and economics. Many business students have the opportunity to specialize in any one of these areas. I chose to specialize in Economics and had the opportunity to apply economic theory to develop business and economic policy solutions for First Nations.
Cultural Competency: As a consultant who has travelled to communities across Canada, I have seen many First Nations waste time and money trying to educate a revolving door of advisors on culture, community dynamics, and history. Not only do First Nations Business Advisors save you time and money, we often have a deep appreciation for culture and its importance to nation re-building. I am fluent in my language, Secwepemctsin, and it bothers me to see so many strategic documents sanitized of our language and culture. It’s time we utilize our own business people in our nation re-building efforts. As Aboriginal Business Advisors, we can skip the history lesson and get straight to business.
Values Alignment: As Aboriginal Business Advisors, our values are inherently linked to the First Nations’ whom we serve. After all, we were raised in our communities. We insist upon getting positive results because our reputations in the nascent Aboriginal business community depend on it. We are all here to stay and we have to do right by our communities. Many of us have friends and family throughout the province and when we attend community events, it’s probably because we want to catch up with them. It’s not just “business development” to us. And when we develop plans with First Nations, we recognize the importance of our indigenous values informing the plan going forward. I worked with Kanaka Bar Band on developing a Community Economic Development Plan that was as much an Economic Development strategy as it was a Sustainability strategy. Check it out here: http://www.kanakabarband.ca/downloads/community-economic-development-plan.pdf
Fresh Ideas: For 141 years First Nations have lived under the Indian Act. Not much has changed for our people living on reserves while the pace of business continues to rapidly evolve. As Aboriginal Business Advisors, we are deeply connected with both worlds. I personally have travelled to over 50 First Nation communities across Canada and have seen initiatives that work, and some that could use help. As a former business banker, I’ve had first hand insight into more than 100 businesses that were financially successful and the opportunity to interview each of the owners. With this type of insight, an Aboriginal Business Advisor can help you translate your Nation’s ancient knowledge into modern business innovation.
Networks: Relationships mean a lot to First Nations. They mean as much for business people. As Aboriginal Business Advisors, we have significant networks inside and outside of First Nations communities to assist you in everything you might require to achieve business success. The Ch’nook Scholars network alone has alumni who are experts in everything from real estate, personal finance, commercial finance, accounting, fisheries, forestry, technology, public service, human resources, project management, donuts, and so much more. As a former Board member on national organizations, and current Masters of Business Administration student, I can reach into a network that stretches from Membertou, Nova Scotia, to Kugluktuk, Nunavut, to Nuchatlaht, British Columbia – coast to coast to coast – for support in making things happen.
What are your Nations’ business aspirations? Hire an Aboriginal Business Advisor and experience first hand the value that can be created when we hire and trust our own people.
Learn more about the Ch'Nook Scholars network here: http://www.sauder.ubc.ca/Programs/Chnook/Students/Chnook_Scholars
“The only federal policy that has produced sustained improvement in the lives of Indigenous peoples is the policy of self-determination.” - Stephen Cornell
Can the Canadian government bring itself to get out of the way of Canada’s First Nations?
And when it does, are First Nations prepared to lead as Nations?
When Justin Trudeau issued mandate letters to his cabinet ministers, he stated that no relationship was more important than that with the Indigenous peoples. The relationship must be one of nation to nation. But after more than 150 years of deliberate attempts by successive Canadian governments to destroy us, the goals of the new government were bound to fall short. This is because there are no longer any nation apparatus’ to have a relationship with.
The Secwepemc Nation is a prime example of being a nation without any supporting structure. There are more than 10,000 Secwepemc “band members” who make up 17 Indian Act Bands. There is tremendous potential to exercise immense political and economic clout in the massive Secwepemc territory. However, the political environment is such that each First Nation believes that they are better off to go it alone.
There are communities who work together but even these communities still suffer from the effects of the colonial legacy. This is because after Indian Agents retreated, the government still needed to administer the Indian Act regime over Indians in Canada. They wanted to do so at the cheapest possible cost to the federal government. So, they amalgamated many bands into “Tribal Councils”. But, the Tribal Councils were not even close to resembling any sort of nation. The Cariboo Tribal Council, for example, was made up of Carrier, Chilcotin, and Secwepemc peoples. To nobody’s surprise, the Tribal Councils started to break up and reform along nation lines back in the 90’s. However, this left the Secwepemc Nation with two separate Tribal Councils and a number of “non-affiliated” First Nations. Current divisions within the Secwepemc Nation are a clear legacy of Canadian colonialism.
The benefits of acting as one Secwepemc Nation far outweigh the individual gains of each community working alone. But because of the colonial history and current INAC policies, First Nations feel better off going it alone. In Economic terms, we call this the prisoners dilemma. It will never work!
The divisions within the nation are still being perpetuated by current INAC policies. A simple but clear example is that funding is based on Indian Act Bands as defined by INAC. If the government wanted truly have nation to nation relationships, they would include funding that is nation-based as part of their formulas. Moreover, they would fund nation building efforts. Until Indigenous Nations are supporting in nation re-building efforts, the federal government efforts to have a nation to nation relationship will fail and any improvements in the day to day livelihoods of Indigenous peoples will be temporary.
Increases to program funding, and fiddling around the edges of the Indian Act will never work. It’s time for the Secwepemc Nation to roll up our sleeves and begin the task of nation re-building. As a nation, we must seek to: