Aboriginal Engagement and Economic Development

Blog, Aboriginal Futures, Josh Giesbrecht

Who would have known that this is a busy week on aboriginal policy in Canada with the sideshow going on in Toronto that has dominated the news headlines? This week has seen heightened aboriginal engagement not through the protests we typically see covered by the news but through lesser-known venues that the news tends to ignore.

The Aboriginal Affairs Working Group (AAWG) and the Assembly of First Nations (AFN) Youth Summit are taking place this week and these are proving to be positive signs of aboriginal engagement. Last night Rob Clarke, an aboriginal MP, private members bill took another crucial step to becoming reality of eliminating the paternalistic aspects of the Indian Act and creating a forum for its eventually replacement or elimination. The AFN Youth Summit has shown that aboriginal youth are engaged as close to 400 attended this conference to discuss solutions to issues that face young aboriginals of today. This youth engagement is crucial in forming aboriginal policy as the youth make up the largest portion of the aboriginal population in Canada.

At the Aboriginal Entrepreneurs Conference and Tradeshow that took place earlier this month aboriginal youth engagement in the business sector was evident in people like Lisa Charleyboy who took an active role at the conference as a young aboriginal entrepreneur. She was named one of Canada’s top fashion bloggers and has recently launched a new venture Urban Native Magazine aimed at creating positive change amongst aboriginal youth through Indigenous articles on news, lifestyle, and culture. While we often do not hear of the positive stories that are taking place amongst aboriginals in Canada the events that have taken place this month have shown that success is taking place.

This begs the question of what role the government plays in current aboriginal policy where engagement of aboriginals and aboriginal youth is on the rise and shows no signs of slowing down?

Aboriginals like Lisa Charleyboy, Chief Clarence Louie, CEO of the Osoyoos Indian Band Development Corporation and Chief Terrance Paul of the Membertou First Nation have shown success both on and off reserves is possible through aboriginals entrepreneurial spirit. This success has been gained under the current failed system of the Indian Act and the governments almost sole focus on social spending and little to no economic development spending.

Aboriginals historically were very entrepreneurial people as seen through the very fur trade that established Canada and clearly still are since they were slowly granted back rights lost by the Indian Act. Imagine what would be possible if the government removed elements, or eliminated, the Indian Act, and changed the failed policies of almost solely spending on social programming and directed more of those resources towards supporting economic development.

If this week and month has shown anything it is that many aboriginals, and notably aboriginal youth, are not waiting for the government to address the issues that face them rather they are facing them themselves. From Chiefs and aboriginal youths entrepreneurial spirit to an aboriginal MPs private members bill, not the governments, taking action on addressing the Indian Act aboriginal engagement is on the rise.  Government’s role should be to support this entrepreneurial spirit through supporting economic development and letting aboriginals and most importantly aboriginal youth take the lead.