Northern Urban Reserves and Municipalities: Economic Development

By Aimee Coueslan

April 25, 2019

Celebrating the release of the Look North Indigenous Economy report

There were a few surprising takeaways from a two-day forum I had the opportunity to attend April 9 and 10, 2019.

  • Canadians should prepare for a $100 billion Indigenous economy in this country.
  • Indigenous spending of almost $2 billion in Northern Manitoba contributes 18% of Northern Manitoba’s GDP.
  • Additions to Reserve hold the greatest promise for the Province of Manitoba to boost its economy

The Northern Urban Reserve, Municipality & Economic Development Forum in Thompson, Manitoba, was presented by Manitoba Keewatinowi Okimakanak Inc. (MKO), the Thompson Urban Aboriginal Strategy (TUAS), and Look North (a northern economic development initiative now falling under the jurisdiction of the Communities Economic Development Fund [CEDF]).

This forum brought together First Nations and municipal leaders, among others, to discuss economic development and First Nations-Municipal partnerships in northern Manitoba. For me, the forum had three main themes:

  • Indigenous people are an economic power and on the rise
  • Additions to Reserve (eg. urban reserves) are key to Manitoba’s future
  • The importance of relationship building

I’m going to examine these three themes in a 3-part blog post, with each post focusing on a separate theme.

Indigenous people are an economic power

Carol Ann Hilton, CEO of the Indigenomics Institute, presented the Forum’s keynote address. She introduced the crowd to the concept of Indigenomics, which is modern economic design from an Indigenous world-view. Indigenomics is about changing perceptions to acknowledge the already hugely significant place Indigenous people hold in Canada’s economy and building a path forward for even more growth. In 2011, a TD Special Report estimated that the Indigenous economy would grow to $32 billion by 2016.

Indigenomics is modern economic design from an Indigenous world-view. Indigenomics is about changing perceptions to acknowledge the already hugely significant place Indigenous people hold in Canada’s economy. It is about building a path forward for even more growth.

According to Hilton, the release of the Indigenous Contributions to the Manitoba Economy report demonstrated the province of Manitoba’s leadership within Canada in acknowledging Indigenous economic power. This report, produced by the Rural Development Institute (RDI) at Brandon University in partnership with the Southern Chief’s Organization (SCO) and MKO, states that Indigenous people in Manitoba contributed $9.3 billion in spending in 2016. Similarly, a 2016 report from the Atlantic Policy Congress estimated the Indigenous economy in the Atlantic provinces to be $1.14 billion in 2015. In Hilton’s view, we need to be looking forward towards a $100 billion Indigenous economy in Canada. If the Indigenous economy in just one province is approaching $10 billion, and you multiply that from British Columbia to Quebec and across the territories, then we may already be approaching that $100 billion.

The second day of the forum began with the launch of the Look North Indigenous Economy Report: Contributions of Northern Indigenous People to the Manitoba Economy. In large part, this document summarizes the information specific to northern Manitoba from the Indigenous Contributions to the Manitoba Economy report released in January 2019. According to the report, 73% of northerners identify as Indigenous and 52% live on reserve. In 2016, Indigenous spending in northern Manitoba was almost $2 billion. This spending contributed $565 million to Manitoba’s GDP, as well as over 11,000 jobs. The report also calculates — for the first time ever — the GDP of northern Manitoba. Northern Manitoba GDP for 2016 was estimated at $3.1 billion, and the Indigenous economy contributed 18% of that total.

This document, produced by RDI in partnership with Look North and MKO, finally allows Indigenous people in Manitoba’s North to put numbers to their economic contributions in the North. For the first time, it establishes a baseline, allowing Indigenous communities to track their progress moving forward. The information it contains about Indigenous economic power also encourages partnerships and collaboration between Indigenous and non-Indigenous governments and businesses for the benefit of all. RDI hopes, in the future, to be able to continue this research at a more microeconomic level — the level of individual communities.

Part 1 of 3

Forum agenda