Posted on 27 June 2012 by Keith Lacey
A national economic development conference for First Nation business leaders being held in Osoyoos this week heard Tuesday that a newly-released national study on aboriginal economic development indicates there have been major improvements over the past decade, but substantial gaps remain between aboriginal and non-aboriginal Canadians.
The good news is the federal government remains committed to tracking the progress of aboriginal people over the next 15 years to ensure they are given the same opportunities as non-aboriginal people, said Osoyoos Indian Band Chief Clarence Louie.
Louie, Dawn Madahbee, vice-chair of the National Aboriginal Economic Development Board (NAEDB) and Dan Albas, MP for Okanagan-Coquihalla, were unanimous in their praise for the release of the 40-page Aboriginal Economic Benchmarking Report released during the 2012 Aboriginal Economic Leadership Summit that kicked off Tuesday morning at Spirit Ridge Resort and Spa in Osoyoos.
“I am pleased to present the Aboriginal Economic Benchmarking Report, a landmark document that provides comprehensive information on the degree to which aboriginal Canadians are participating in the Canadian economy,” said Louie, who is the chief of the most economically successful First Nations band in the country.
“For the past 20 years, the NAEDB has championed the benefits of aboriginal economic development. Each member of the board personally believes the potential has never been greater for aboriginal people to be active in the economy, to strengthen their communities and to boost Canada’s prosperity.”
The vision of First Nation, Inuit and Metis leaders across the country is for aboriginal Canadians to have the same economic opportunities and outcomes as other Canadians, said Madahbee, who is an economic development officer for a First Nations band in northeastern Ontario.
The benchmarking report is the first comprehensive effort ever undertaken to identify a number of socio-economic indicators to assess the state and progress of the aboriginal economy of Canada, she said.
“This will enable us to track our progress over time,” she said. “Data was gathered for over 100 measures and a selection of key measures is presented in this report.”
This groundbreaking report provides solid evidence aboriginal Canadians are making some measurable progress toward improving economic outcomes. However, despite these gains, the report and data clearly indicate significant gaps remain between aboriginal and non-aboriginal Canadians, she said.
“Clearly, much of our economic potential remains unrealized and there is still much work to be done before aboriginal Canadians are in the same position as other Canadians to contribute to and benefit from one of the world’s wealthiest economies,” said Madahbee.
The benchmarking report sets out bold 10-year targets to help achieve the NAEDB vision, she said.
While many will find these targets ambitious, the board believes concerted efforts by all parties will make them attainable.
“For this reason, I hope this report will be used by aboriginal Canadians, the private sector, academics and governments, aboriginal and non-aboriginal alike, to influence decisions that will help achieve meaningful improvements in the economic participation of First Nation, Inuit and Metis peoples.”
Over the next several years, the NAEDB will release regular progress reports to track improvement in economic development projects and successes among aboriginal people and track their progress towards stated targets, she said.
“It is my sincere desire these progress reports show marked improvement in the report’s indicators, ensuring aboriginal Canadians achieve full inclusion in Canada’s economy,” she said.
Madahbee, who is also the vice-chair of the Waubetek Business Development Corporation, said that organization has loaned more than $50 million to aboriginal entrepreneurs in northeastern Ontario over the past few years.
“And with great success I must say … the success rate of these businesses are higher than the Canadian average,” she said.
The government’s Federal Framework for Aboriginal Economic Development, released in 2009, has set targets and goals to offer many more opportunities for First Nation people and businesses and the success of that initiative is just starting to be realized, said Madahbee.
While a great deal of progress has been made, the reality is unemployment among aboriginal people is above 14 per cent or twice the national average and the labour force participation rates and income levels are far below those for non-aboriginal people, she said.
While average per capita income has increased from $19,000 to almost $24,000 for the average aboriginal between 1995-2005, this is significantly lower than the income of non-aboriginal Canadians, she said.
Measures of community well-being indicate that among the lowest-ranked communities in Canada, 96 were First Nation and one was Inuit, said Louie.
“Only one First Nation community was ranked among the top 100 communities (Twassen near Vancouver),” said Louie.
Even though the OIB has excelled economically, it’s still not in the top 100 on this community wellness scale, said Louie.
“But we are doing better than most First Nations communities,” he said.
With the federal government’s commitment to tracking aboriginal economic success, Madahbee is confident more positive change is coming in the next 10-to- 15 years.
“It is clear that the gaps that will exist have to be closed and soon,” she said. “Our goal is to be on par within the next 10 years. We find the current gaps are unacceptable, but we also believe we can make our goals attainable.”
Albas said the federal government fully realizes the importance of having First Nation people succeed through continuing economic development opportunities across the country.
Albas reiterated this benchmarking report presents a clear and detailed picture of how much progress has been made by First Nation people over the past decade, but much more work needs to be done to ensure the next generation of young people can continue this growth and success.
Almost 160,000 First Nation young people are prepared to join the workforce in the next five years and the federal government, with assistance from organizations like NAEDB, must work together to ensure they have ample opportunities to access quality employment and economic opportunities, said Albas.
The conference continued Tuesday and wraps up today.
Dozens of First Nation, Inuit and Metis leaders from numerous provinces have made the trip to Osoyoos to participate in the national economic summit.
Two full days of seminars and discussions were scheduled for Tuesday and today, with the event wrapping up with a wine tour or round of golf for participants.
The full range of information gathered during the process in compiling the benchmark report can be found online at www.naedb-cndea.com