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‘The social horse has been pulling the economic cart’

Indigenous economic inclusion in the 2019 federal budget: an Indigenomics perspective
The Native Education College, seen in Vancouver, BC on August 6, 2017, helps Indigenous people with careers in health care, counselling, tourism, and administration (Eric Buermeyer /

On March 19, federal finance minister Morneau tabled his fourth budget. It’s received a lot of attention, but one under-reported and underappreciated aspect of it was the long-overdue prioritization of Indigenous economic activity.

This budget focuses on the need for investment in relationships and further acknowledges “with the most important relationship our country will ever have – the one with Indigenous Peoples.”

This budget includes specific measures that support the growth of the Indigenous economy. Some of these highlights include:

  • $78.9 million over five years, starting in 2019-20, with $15.8 million per year to support Indigenous entrepreneurs and economic development, help launch Indigenous-led startups and expand existing Indigenous businesses.
  • $17 million over three years, starting in 2020-21, to expand the Aboriginal Entrepreneurship Program (AEP) and support the growing Indigenous economy.
  • $50 million over five years to the Métis Capital Corporations to support Métis small- and medium-sized businesses.
  • $100 million to establish an Indigenous Growth Fund. This fund will allow the network of Aboriginal Financial Institutions to better invest into Indigenous businesses.
  • $3 million over five years for Indigenous entrepreneurs, part of a total $38 million funded through Futurepreneur.
  • $12.8 million in 2019–20 for Natural Resources Canada to build capacity to conduct meaningful consultations with Indigenous communities on major energy projects and to support Indigenous economic participation in the natural resource sectors.
  • Up to $12.6 million over three years for the Indigenous Forestry Initiative, to support forestry-based economic development and inclusion for Indigenous communities.

These measures will be instrumental in assisting the sustained growth of Indigenous business and economic development.

Historically, federal budgets with Indigenous peoples components have had a much stronger social investment focus. While that is important, the continued growth of the Indigenous economy requires focused design.

This alarming trend of out of balance social and economic Indigenous focused budgets is demonstrated in the 2016 federal budget. Of all Indigenous expenditures and Indigenous focused funds, 95% were socially focused, 3% for reconciliation activities – and only 2% for economic development.

This is a classic example of the social cart pulling the economic horse.

In a recent Future Economy article, National Aboriginal Capital Corporations CEO Shannin Metatawabin elaborated on that thought:

“To date, the federal government has been providing less than 2% of the Indigenous budget towards Aboriginal economic programs through Indigenous and Northern Affairs Canada. That has been reduced in the last 30 years by about 50%. So we are actually going in the wrong direction. No society in the world has ever been successful without access to capital – unless you have access to capital, you cannot take advantage of opportunities.

“The government really needs to reverse its position on Aboriginal economic development and make a concerted effort to provide access to capital for Indigenous communities.”

The 92nd Truth and Reconciliation Call to Action focuses on the business relationship with Indigenous peoples. In part, this is a call to action to commit to meaningful consultation, building respectful relationships, and obtaining the free, prior, and informed consent of Indigenous peoples before proceeding with economic development projects.

That aspect was much-discussed, but there’s more to it. It’s also about forming actions to ensure Indigenous peoples have equitable access to jobs, training, and education opportunities in the corporate sector, and that Indigenous communities gain long-term sustainable benefits from economic development projects.

This budget is a good start.

While the Indigenous economy is growing consistently, the gap between Canadian and Indigenous communities in quality of life and economic development remains. TD Economics estimated Indigenous contributions to the Canadian economy to be $15 billion in 2006, and over $30 billion by 2016. It’s a start, but I believe Indigenous communities have the potential to generate a $100 billion in economic activity.

The continued growth of the Indigenous economy requires focused modern Indigenous economic design: Indigenomics. With the inception of a $100 billion Indigenous economic agenda, the growth of the Indigenous economy must establish new actions.

The Indigenous economy must not and cannot exist solely within federal funding programs. To create a new economic space rich in partnerships and investments with Indigenous peoples and businesses, Canada needs to unlock areas that Indigenous peoples have been excluded from in the past.

This country requires a balanced approach between Indigenous social and the economic development. For too long, the social cart has been pulling the economic horse.

It’s time for a balanced approach – and investment into the Indigenous economy. It’s time for Indigenomics.

Carol Anne Hilton, MBA is the CEO and Founder of The Indigenomics Institute. Carol Anne is a recognized national Indigenous business leader and senior adviser with an international Masters Degree in Business Management (MBA) from the University of Hertfordshire, England. Carol Anne is of Nuu chah nulth descent from the Hesquiaht Nation on Vancouver Island.