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Key Takeaways from the 2023 BCAFN Economic Sustainability Forum

By February 8, 2023March 2nd, 2023No Comments
BCAFN Economic Development Forum 2023 Keynote Speaker Chief Leanne Joe providing a presentation on a "Framework for Economic Reconciliation." Photo: BCAFN Facebook.
BCAFN Economic Development Forum 2023 Keynote Speaker Chief Leanne Joe providing a presentation on a “Framework for Economic Reconciliation.” Photo: BCAFN Facebook.

The B.C. Assembly of First Nations Economic Development Forum was held in hybrid format January 31, 2022 and February 1, 2023. I wasn’t able to travel the first day but I was glad to be in person on day two. 

In person conferences can’t be beat for making connections and learning what people are working on. It’s always more impactful to hear a speaker in person. 

I was sorry to miss Carol Anne Hilton’s keynote on day one, speaking of impactful speakers. The Indigenomics Institute has been scaling up, engaging new talent such as Partnership Development Manager Trevor Cootes. The Institute holds up the work of others, and, like their annual 10 to Watch, I’d say the Indigenomics Institute itself is one to watch!

Deputy Minister of Indigenous Relations and Reconciliation Tom McCarthy was on screen for his presentation. One of his topics was Guardian programs such as B.C.’s Guardian Shared Compliance and Enforcement Pilot Project. He shared that First Nations guardian programs are an opportunity for economic development. 

A delegate stood to eloquently and assertively challenge the Province. If Guardian programs are a priority for both First Nations and the Province, and healthy land and water is a priority for everyone, then why do the Nations have to compete with one another for funding? Do better, he said, to hearty applause. I couldn’t hear his name, but his strong quiet voice stuck with me.

Keynote speaker Chief Leanne Joe provides wise counsel for reconciliation work

Speaker Sxwpilemaát Siyám (Chief Leanne Joe), Hereditary Chief of the Squamish Nation, shared her work Step Into the River: A Framework for Economic Reconciliation, co-authored with Lily Raphael in partnership with Simon Fraser University’s Faculty of Environment.

I was inspired by Chief Leanne’s words. “What if economic reconciliation were a means of transforming our collective economy from the current state to a desired future state? So in this sense, economic reconciliation is more than just normalizing relations with First Nations, it’s about transforming the economy for all of our collective wellbeing.” 

I was also humbled and reminded not to stop challenging the layers of implicit bias that informed my upbringing and education. I’ve been embedded in Indigenous economic and community development for nearly 30 years but I am not done dismantling and unlearning. 

I understand the work of economic reconciliation to be grounded by place. These lands and the Indigenous People who are tied to them by birthright must be met with humility, respect and openness. 

Deep harm has been done by the same systems used by settlers to  build their own economic prosperity. There is a need for healing and truth-telling. This truth telling is hard and uncomfortable but entirely necessary. “The economic sector cannot be exempt from truth-telling.” 

As Non-Indigenous business and industry and communities embark on journeys of economic reconciliation, Chief Leanne asks them to approach the work with deep listening. “Rather than coming into a conversation with your own agenda,” she says “deep listening involves being open to hearing what the person speaking has experienced to be true. You are listening not only with your ears and mind, but with your heart.”

Chief Leanne reminds us “to see economic reconciliation as a practice, not a final product. Meaningful relationships do not occur without hesitations, learning, setbacks and roadblocks.”

“We need to move beyond token acts of reconciliation. What makes for meaningful economic reconciliation is contextual and determined by Indigenous partners. Actions taken without engaging in deeper relationship building to understand this result in token, superficial and incremental outcomes,” says the Chief.

“Etuaptmumk, or Two-Eyed Seeing, enables us to hold western and Indigenous spaces and perspectives simultaneously. In simple terms, Two-Eyed Seeing means that with one eye, we view the world through Indigenous ways of knowing and with the other eye, we view the world through Western, or Eurocentric, ways of knowing.”

A different way to measure economic development

Mark Podlasly is a delightful presenter; he finds economics fun and it shows. He presented his work, Centering First Nations Concepts of Wellbeing: Toward a GDP-Alternative Index in British Columbia at the conference.

“This discussion paper explores the ways in which our official B.C. measures of economic value are inadequate and fail to reflect the values of First Nations governments and individuals to the overall wellbeing of the province. There is a growing global movement in GDP-alternatives now becoming substitute indices for measuring human wellbeing,” notes the report.

“Within this global movement, there is a lack of Indigenous values in the current GDP-based valuation of the B.C. economy. Indigenous values – which are showing up in other countries in their re-examination of their economies – can be incorporated into a re-imagined B.C.,” says Mark.

“Indigenous values and knowledge have the potential to strengthen GDP alternative indices worldwide. The province now has an opportunity to take the lead in defining a made-in-B.C. wellbeing index.”

What I learned is that GDP is consumption based – and as an example, under that metric, an oil spill has a positive impact. The premise of Mark’s work is that Prosperity should be measured as Wellbeing. 

The best example they could find was in New Zealand. Its population is about 17% Indigenous, whereas B.C.’s population is 6% Indigenous. The New Zealand approach to measuring wellbeing is based on a range of indicators such as subjective wellbeing, access to natural spaces, housing affordability, spiritual health, biodiversity, income equality and drinking water quality. New Zealand’s system incorporates aspects of Māori wellbeing indicators. Mark’s next research phase is to look at how New Zealand implemented its new framework and how B.C. might learn from their experience. 

This makes a lot of sense to me. South Island Prosperity Partnership has the right idea with the South Island Prosperity Index, which includes indicators for Economic Vibrancy, Equity and Inclusion and Environmental Prosperity. 

As my key takeaways from the BCAFN Forum confirm, true prosperity should be measured with a quadruple bottom line: cultural, economic, environmental and social.

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