Dawn Madahbee Leach is an Anishinabe-kwe and member of the Aundeck Omni Kaning First Nation. She is general manager for the Waubetek Business Development Corporation and current chairperson of the National Indigenous Economic Development Board.
A pair of Indigenous economic leaders met with Prince Charles during his recent visit to Algonquin territory. The occasion was a high-level round table to discuss sustainable financing of the net-zero economy.
Two of my colleagues – from the National Aboriginal Capital Corporations Association and First Nations Financial Management Board – sat with 30 stakeholders in the Canadian banking and energy sectors. They presented Indigenous perspectives on potential ways to finance an emerging carbon-neutral economy, seeking to ensure that our peoples will be included in this future.
It was fitting that my colleagues were present at that gathering. Indigenous peoples have always envisioned a direct relationship with the Crown on matters relating to our lands and collective rights. This was the spirit underlying the Royal Proclamation of 1763.
The same spirit also animates our understanding of the treaties, Section 35 of the Constitution Act of 1982, and – most recently – the United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples (UNDRIP). Our peoples have sought direct, constructive, action-oriented relationships with settler societies since contact.
In this spirit, we launch the National Indigenous Economic Strategy for Canada. Developed by more than 20 Indigenous organizations, our strategy is the first of its kind: a momentous step in a shared direction.
The strategy is intended for use by Indigenous communities and entities, governments, corporate Canada and non-Indigenous organizations. It presents a road map to realizing socioeconomic parity for Indigenous peoples in Canada.
Why socioeconomic parity? Most First Nations, Métis and Inuit people continue to live in poverty. According to 2016 data from the Canada census, four out of five First Nations reserves have median incomes below the poverty line. Likewise, a recent study by the Canadian Centre for Policy Alternatives found that Indigenous children are more than twice as likely to live in poverty as non-Indigenous children.
The trend has worsened over the past decade. In its most recent economic progress report, the National Indigenous Economic Development Board found an increase in dependency on government transfers among Indigenous people aged 15 and over – from 33.8 per cent in 2010 to 36.5 per cent in 2015.
Certainly, the past few years have seen positive steps. The federal government has made long-overdue investments in such basic needs as housing, water and education. Yet nothing short of transformational change is needed to break the poverty remaining in far too many of our communities.
Through long experience working in our Nations, our coalition of Indigenous organizations has learned that transformational change requires vibrant Indigenous economies – self-sufficiency, not dependence. The same colonial laws that impoverished us by removing us from our lands, languages, traditions and livelihoods need to be repudiated so that our peoples can share in this country’s prosperity as rights-holders, not wards: as the original, self-determining peoples of our lands.
The National Indigenous Economic Strategy builds on the Calls to Action of the 2015 Truth and Reconciliation Commission Final Report – in particular, Call to Action #92 to corporate Canada. Adopting UNDRIP as its framework for reconciliation, the work also fulfills a recommendation by the Organization for Economic Co-operation and Development. In a 2019 report, this pre-eminent international policy forum called for an Indigenous economic strategy to align policy objectives and responsibilities across levels of government.
People. Lands. Infrastructure. Finance. Our strategy offers four pathways to achieving socioeconomic parity. All of its Calls to Economic Prosperity are interconnected, and none takes precedence over the others.
The strategy has been reviewed by First Nation, Métis and Inuit leaders who are experienced in economic development. It is also a living document: as we move toward its implementation, we invite Indigenous organizations and communities to offer their comments and suggestions to improve it.
Once again, Indigenous representatives are attending forums we always should have – as valued partners in high-level economic discussions such as the one with the Prince of Wales. To help guide our work with all levels of government, this national Indigenous strategy offers a shared vision of our economic future.
Our peoples deserve much more than poverty managed by governments. Moving in a shared direction, we can attain socioeconomic parity – and ultimately, prosperity.
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