Carol Anne Hilton, chief executive officer and founder of the Indigenomics Institute, presents to members of the Greater Nanaimo Chamber of Commerce on Jan. 29 at the Coast Bastion Hotel. (Nicholas Pescod/News Bulletin)

A stronger Vancouver Island through Indigenomics

Former government advisor touts growth through indigenous inclusion

Everyone is better off economically when indigenous people are not just included, but actively participating in the economy.

That was the message Carol Anne Hilton, chief executive officer and founder of the Indigenomics Institute, delivered during her presentation to members of the Greater Nanaimo Chamber of Commerce on Wednesday morning at the Coast Bastion Hotel.

Hilton, who is Nuu-chah-nulth descent from the Hesquiaht Nation and has served as an advisor to the provincial and federal government, discussed the concept of ‘indigenomics’ – essentially the economic inclusion of indigenous people in the overall economy – and why it’s important.

“Indigenomics is the collective economic response to the lasting legacy of the systemic exclusion of indigenous people in the development of this country…” Hilton said. “It’s essentially restoring the narrative that is too common in this country, away from seeing indigenous peoples as a fiscal burden towards indigenous people are economic powerhouses.”

Indigenous communities have dealt with systemic exclusion, the reservation system, 150 years of broken treaties and the Indian Act, said Hilton. She said those experiences have been barriers to economic success and independence for years.

“Indigenous peoples are the only ones in this country, from the start of this country, that have ever had to fight for a right to an economy,” Hilton said. “There is no other immigrant group, any kind of early settlers or founders that have had to fight for a right to an economy.”

According to Hilton, 96 per cent of the federal government money that is given to indigenous communities is spent on health, education, administration and reconciliation activities while only two per cent is spent on economic development.

“That is the classic case of the economic cart pulling the provisional horse,” she said.

However, that is changing as more and more First Nations are taking greater control of their economic futures said Hilton, pointing to the creation of the Aboriginal Chamber of Commerce in Manitoba. She also said 20 per cent of Canada’s land base is directly controlled by First Nations and more municipalities are recognizing the importance of including indigenous communities in their own economic growth.

Hilton, who holds a masters degree in business management from the University of Hertfordshire, said the current indigenous economy is worth about $32 billion but could grow to over $100 billion within five years. She said 85 per cent of businesses are “in no way” engaged with indigenous communities and that it is important for local businesses to embrace the idea of indigenous inclusion in the economy.

One way that local businesses can become engaged is by incorporating indigenous procurement policies into their purchasing policies, according to Hilton.

Hilton said indigenous economic well-being means First Nations can become self-sustainable, using the profits generated from their own businesses to fund their own interests. She also said indigenous economic prosperity will only continue to grow as the years go on.

“This is the new reality that we are looking at,” she said.

READ ALSO: Developer holds groundbreaking ceremony for downtown Nanaimo hotel 
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