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– by Susanna Cloff-Clyburne

Over the spring and summer of 2019, the Canadian Chamber of Commerce hosted three “Reconciliation Roundtables” across Canada – one in each of Western, Central and Atlantic Canada. The Atlantic Canada session was held in Fredericton on June 25.

Businesses and Indigenous peoples are neither waiting nor need to be led by government in moving forward with reconciliation and the actions that make it meaningful. Despite repeated requests of the federal government to be part of the reconciliation discussion, business has been by-and-large excluded.  This is unfortunate and why the Canadian Chamber of Commerce sought to demonstrate to the federal government that business and Indigenous peoples are often way ahead of it in reconciliation. Working together, business and Indigenous peoples are demonstrating how reconciliation can be accomplished by straightforward business decisions and respectful actions, not necessarily grandiose strategies that can come across as tokenism.
 
The Canadian chamber sat down with business and Indigenous leaders in Fredericton to hear what they had to say regarding reconciliation, what it means to them, their communities and their businesses.  Below is a summary of what was heard.

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Real progress in reconciliation is between business and Indigenous peoples

The dynamic in Indigenous-business relationships is shifting. The long-held view of Indigenous-business relationships being that of non-Indigenous businesses as employers of Indigenous peoples either because they were mandated to or they were the most readily-available workforce is, quite rightly, mostly a relic of the past. A seismic shift is underway in the current and potential heft of Indigenous peoples in our society and economy. 

Indigenous peoples contribute billions of dollars to our economy annually and they are creating new businesses at 5 times the rate of non-Indigenous peoples. When combined with the fact that Indigenous peoples are the youngest, fastest growing demographic in Canada, ensuring they have the same opportunities to contribute to our economy is imperative.  It is the only way Canada is going to be able to hold its own competing globally.

There is only one economy

Roundtable participants agreed that if we’re going to succeed in the global economy, we have to regard our economy as one in which everyone has the same opportunities to contribute.

The St. Mary’s First Nation sits across the Saint John River from Fredericton and is the largest employer on the north shore of the river.  There is an economic interdependency between the two communities.  The First Nation’s people need employment outside of the community, it needs clients from outside the community for its businesses and it employs people living outside the community.

The City of Fredericton recognizes the importance of leveraging its proximity to the St. Mary’s First Nation and the integration of their workforces.  The City and the First Nation submitted a joint bid for funding from Infrastructure Canada’s Smart Cities Challenge.  While they were not one of the winners, their submission was shortlisted and they were able to advance some key digital initiatives to create a safer, more inclusive environments for their most vulnerable citizens.

There is no “getting there” in reconciliation

Reconciliation, said one Indigenous leader, is fostered by working day-to-day with Indigenous peoples. While reconciliation is a continuous journey, the twists and turns of which will vary depending upon who’s involved, roundtable participants agreed that there is a need for consistent frameworks within which to pursue it that will transcend changes in government. 

However, the journey to reconciliation holds many benefits for all

While the road to reconciliation is long, winding and often bumpy – the journey itself holds the promise of many benefits including:

  • More economic stimulus for Indigenous communities
  • Indigenous peoples speaking their truths and feeling empowered
  • Meaningful opportunities for Indigenous peoples to participate in the economy
  • Indigenous involvement in government
  • Non-Indigenous and Indigenous peoples working together
  • More businesses wanting to engage with Indigenous peoples
  • Less public support required for Indigenous peoples and communities
  • Canada’s economy becoming stronger and our country becoming more competitive globally

The full report from the Canadian Chamber of Commerce will be available in late summer. You will be able to find it on our website at www.frederictonchamber.ca.

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