Dawn Madahbee Leach

Interim Chair

National Economic Development Board

Canada is facing severe economic challenges and, in order to deal with the immediate and longer-term economic situation, all parts of Canada must be either enabled or unfettered to contribute to sustainability for Canada and themselves. First Nations recognize challenges and have been putting out the message that Indigenous prosperity is essential to Canada’s overall prosperity. There is great potential that remains to be realized in the people, in their land, and in their spirit. With a concerted effort, Corporate Canada, small businesses, education institutions, health institutions, and all levels of government, Canada’s Economic Strategy can include economic reconciliation as well.

Think about it. If all of the above entities recognized their roles in achieving reconciliation in Canada in accordance with the recommendations listed in the Truth and Reconciliation Commission’s final report, they could engage Canadians in understanding the true history of this land and the impact that colonization has had, and continues to have, with respect to Indigenous people. From that understanding, all parties could further that engagement by utilizing that understanding within their own circles of work through the development of “Reconciliation Action Plans” (RAPs). The concept of RAPs is not new. Reconciliation Australia has hundreds of RAPs from many entities there. Some of these groups have established very creative ways to better include Indigenous people in their circles of work through: training and employment of Indigenous people; procuring goods and services from indigenous companies; ongoing training of their respective Boards and staff on Indigenous culture and history; recognizing the traditional territories of the tribal groups; welcoming diversity on their Boards through the inclusion of Indigenous peoples; sending their staff expertise to work with Indigenous communities and organizations on specific projects, and with welcome signs to recognize the local tribal/treaty group. The result of this kind of engagement in Canada would be the inclusion, with understanding, of the human, natural, and financial resources of First Nations along with respect for the environment and planet.

The National Aboriginal Economic Development Board released a report in November 2016 entitled “Reconciliation: Growing Canada’s Economy by $27.7 Billion” that outlines how, if all Indigenous people had employment, income, education and yes, poverty rates comparable to that of all Canadians, Canada’s GDP would grow by 1.5{62de5bde3b84fd7379fc2f8072f5b18478a14609f05a190db0183dce83778ef7} or $27.7 Billion…. that is bigger than any other economic plan in Canada today. And realistically, this target is attainable within existing means and systems.

For example, 1.4 million people in Canada (or 4{62de5bde3b84fd7379fc2f8072f5b18478a14609f05a190db0183dce83778ef7} of the Canadian population) identify themselves as Aboriginal. It is estimated that $32 billion a year is generated by this group in combined income across households, business and governments. This is as much as two small provinces. The employment targets are not unreachable if scaled across various provinces, territories, industries and entities across Canada. To achieve employment parity, there are 135,210 new Indigenous jobs required. In Atlantic Canada, they would need 4,751 jobs for Indigenous people. That could be spread out amongst large and small businesses; universities, colleges, and schools; hospitals and health organizations; government agencies; and through the promotion of self-employment by establishing new business services.

Each member of the small business community would have a very significant role by taking it upon itself to hire, train and employ an Indigenous employee. It would be particularly effective if a point was made to learn more about the local Indigenous history, culture and the impact that colonization had on Indigenous people. That would enhance the success of the hiring through better understanding of the challenges that Indigenous employees (and families) might have faced and they would make cooperative workplace adjustments. This would be part of their Reconciliation Action Plan.

In Canada, there are already progressive steps being made towards reconciliation such as the University of Manitoba having made Aboriginal History and Contemporary Issues a part of every student’s studies. In North-East Ontario, the regional health authority established its own Aboriginal Health Care Reconciliation Action Plan that outlines how health services will be improved by better engaging Aboriginal people. These ideas and efforts are starting to take shape. With everyone making a true effort, economic reconciliation and recovery in Canada can, and will, become a reality.