Business and Economic Contributions Made by Indigenous Businesses to Canada’s Economy—Inquiry

By: The Hon. Pierre Dalphond

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Hon. Pierre J. Dalphond: Honourable senators, I am pleased to speak to Senator Klyne’s inquiry, which seeks to recognize the contribution of Indigenous businesses to the Canadian economy and more particularly to that of Quebec. Despite how late it is, I hope everyone will enjoy my remarks.

I will address three points: first, the context of economic reconciliation; second, Indigenous Economic Development Corporations; and third, examples of Quebec-based companies that are a model for others.

I will begin by talking about the global context. Within the boundaries defined by the colonial governments of what is now our country, where Indigenous peoples were well established long before Jacques Cartier’s arrival, Indigenous groups had their own economic relationships. However, colonial regimes, with their concepts and their laws, imposed different visions on these peoples and deprived them of full economic participation.

Moreover, the colonizers set up a system of land and wealth appropriation built on low compensation and under conditions that did not respect the rights of Indigenous peoples. When our system of governance was established in 1867, it was accompanied by racist policies and laws based on the principle of the supremacy of the white man and his religious, cultural and economic beliefs, which led notably to the residential school system, prohibition of the use of Indigenous languages and practices, and other forms of assimilation.

It’s time to talk about reconciliation, especially economic reconciliation, as called for by the Truth and Reconciliation Commission of Canada’s Call to Action 92.

Canada has received strategic directions and made progress on these goals in recent years. In 2021, Senator Klyne and others addressed economic reconciliation in our debate on Bill C-15 respecting the United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples, or UNDRIP. Senator Klyne spoke about the importance of involving Indigenous business organizations in the UNDRIP action plan. We are looking forward to the government plan that will hopefully deliver on that commitment.

We also heard from Senator Klyne today about the importance of Bill C-45.

Senators, Indigenous entrepreneurs and business owners are key to self-determination and increasing Indigenous participation in the Canadian economy. This participation must be a priority for Canada. The Canadian Council for Aboriginal Business reported in its Business Reconciliation in Canada Guidebook of 2019 that the national Indigenous economy is growing exponentially, contributing over $30 billion to Canada’s GDP in 2019. As the Senate Prosperity Action Group noted in its 2021 report, Indigenous business leaders have set a $100 billion performance target.

This brings me to my second point, which relates to Indigenous Economic Development Corporations. These companies are owned and operated by Indigenous communities. They invest money from the community in community-owned projects, such as holding companies and social purpose parent companies. The Canadian Council for Aboriginal Business estimates that there were nearly 500 Indigenous Economic Development Corporations in Canada in 2020, 79% of which had generated profits in the previous year. In addition, 70% had business partners who hired workers from Indigenous communities, and more than 85% offered support services to community members.

With these statistics in mind, I move to my third topic: some successful Indigenous businesses in Quebec. The Listuguj Mi’kmaq fishery on the Restigouche River and Chaleur Bay is a multi-million dollar industry. It was the focus of a recent APTN documentary series. In 2021, the Listuguj government signed the rights reconciliation agreement on fisheries, acknowledging its Aboriginal and treaty rights to fish. We hope that, one day, we’ll see the same in Nova Scotia. The agreement further acknowledged that the Listuguj First Nation has a sacred and inherent responsibility for the stewardship of the land, waters and living things in their traditional territory.

According to a CBC article, with the agreement in place, the Listuguj Mi’gmaq Rangers, empowered by Indigenous law, meet fishing boats at the wharf and count lobsters every day during the lobster season. They collect 10% of the total catch to distribute it among the Mi’kmaq community of about 4,000 people. Community members cook the lobsters and deliver them to elders or are picked up by their families. The remaining 90% of the catch is sold commercially.

This is a success story of a community operating a prosperous industry based on its inherent and constitutional rights.

The second Indigenous business working in Quebec that I want to highlight is Avataa Explorations & Logistics Inc. AEL is a family-owned Inuit consulting firm in Nunavik that specializes in site assessments and remediation and sells fishing and hunting permits. The company’s Inuit family founders are outdoor enthusiasts who have lived all their lives in the North and are raising their family there.

AEL has a strong corporate social responsibility policy, which includes organizing community, social, educational and cultural activities for youth. In addition to this community impact, AEL has a large economic impact. It partnered with Sanexen Environmental Services Inc. to incorporate Avataani Environmental, which provides logistics, remote workforce camp and catering and environmental services to the mining and exploration industries. The partnership balances local traditional knowledge with technical expertise and provides holistic solutions to a wide range of environmental issues.

The third organization I would like to mention is CREED, the Cree Real Estate Entrepreneurship Development Program of the Eeyou Istchee Cree government. North of the village of Nemaska, near James Bay, but far southwest of AEL in Nunavik, the Grand Council of the Crees allocates a significant amount of funding to local Cree entrepreneurs.

The CREED program grants up to $100,000 to James Bay and Northern Quebec Agreement beneficiaries whose businesses are based and operated in Eeyou Istchee as long as they work in private home construction, renovations, home materials, financial services, landscaping and design and commercial real estate.

As Grand Chief Abel Bosum said at the Senate committee pre-study on UNDRIP in 2021:

It has been precisely because our rights have been acknowledged and because we are recognized to be fully legitimate participants in the economy and in the political life of our region that we have contributed to the journey toward peaceful coexistence and social harmony.

Before concluding, I’ll quickly tell four stories of smaller Indigenous businesses of note operating in Quebec: a restaurant, a bookstore, a beauty brand and an internationally renowned designer.

The next time you are near Quebec City, make a reservation at Sagamité, an Indigenous-owned restaurant. The original location is in Wendake — a well-known place to our colleague Senator Audette — an urban reserve 25 minutes northwest of downtown Quebec City, and the second restaurant is in a stone-walled building in Old Quebec. The restaurants use food to introduce guests to the culture of the Huron-Wendat, with a menu highlighting the First Nation’s traditional diet of wild game, including deer, caribou, moose, along with fish, native plants, herbs and berries.

Before a fire destroyed the original Wendake location in 2018, the business had seen its profits increasing by 20% to 35% per year. Owner Steeve Wadohandik turned the fire into an opportunity to expand the space. He doubled the number of his employees and recruited from the Wendake community. He and his partner now also own two nearby boutique hotels in Old Quebec.

A second smaller business is Sequoia, an Indigenous beauty brand founded by Michaelee Lazore in 2002. The company is 100% owned and operated by Indigenous women. Their products are scented with sweetgrass, cedar, red clover, blackberry and sage. The design, production and packaging are all done locally. The production is sustainable, and the ingredients are ethically sourced. She now has a shop in Kahnawake and also sells online throughout North America.

The third business is Librairie Hannenorak, which is also located in Wendake. It is the only bookstore located in an Indigenous community in Quebec.

The bookshop has a special section for Indigenous books, some of which have won the Governor General’s Award.

Finally, you may have heard of Mohawk designer Tammy Beauvais. She is a fourth-generation artisan and designer based in Kahnawake. Sophie Grégoire Trudeau owns one of her capes. In 2016, she gifted another one of Ms. Beauvais’ beaded capes to Michelle Obama, featuring three glass beads that belonged to Ms. Beauvais’ great-grandmother. Ms. Beauvais’ website features bespoke feather dresses, bags, ties, blankets and jewellery and includes her own designs and those of other Indigenous designers.

In conclusion, the examples I just spoke about represent only a fraction of the contributions of Indigenous businesses and also represent the hope that they will serve as examples for other Indigenous entrepreneurs.

Thank you, Senator Klyne, for initiating this inquiry. We must recognize the economic achievements of Indigenous peoples and work together to make economic reconciliation a reality. When Indigenous businesses prosper, all Canadians prosper.

I also support Bill C-45, which was introduced today and which seeks to provide Indigenous communities with more modern and effective instruments to create Indigenous wealth. Thank you. Meegwetch.

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