Indigenous and business leaders came together in Winnipeg on Tuesday to build relationships and share ideas as part of a forum focused on the economy and reconciliation.
More than a hundred business owners, government leaders and representatives of business organizations gathered at the Victoria Inn near the Winnipeg airport for the Southern Chiefs’ Organization’s economic reconciliation business forum.
Among the attendees was Michelle Cameron, who has founded multiple businesses, including Dreamcatcher Promotions and the INAC (Indigenous Nations Apparel Company) clothing store chain.
Reconciliation is central to her success, she told CBC.
“It is everything,” she said. “It is the foundation of how we grow as a community — not just the Indigenous community, but all of us. We all play a part in reconciliation and doing business and moving forward.”
When Cameron started a new business, Dreamcatcher Executive Offices, she turned to another Indigenous business owner to furnish the space.
Darrell Brown owns Kisik Commercial Furniture. He says Indigenous-owned businesses can be just as competitive as others, if given the chance.
“We know how to do business. We’re very good at it. All we need is the door open, and you listen to us and give us a chance, and we’ll show you what we can do.”
True North Sports and Entertainment chief executive Mark Chipman gave the keynote speech at Tuesday’s event.
He highlighted the work his organization is doing in downtown Winnipeg to redevelop the Portage Place shopping centre, across the street from where the Southern Chiefs’ Organization is working to develop the former Hudson’s Bay building.
“I don’t know that one project is can be as successful without the other,” Chipman said in an interview.
“So I think we’ve just got a natural … playground, so to speak, to work together.”
The two organizations haven’t had any detailed conversations about co-operating, but Chipman mentioned their shared goals of creating housing in their respective projects as one possible avenue for collaboration.
SCO Grand Chief Jerry Daniels says companies also need to think about who they have at the top.
“Jamie Wilson [the vice-president of Indigenous strategy at Red River College Polytech] said it best this morning … if you don’t have Indigenous people on your board or on your executive branch of your company, then you’re probably not serious about true reconciliation,” Daniels said in an interview.
Several speakers and attendees spoke about the importance of procurement — where governments and businesses buy their goods and services — as an important part of economic reconciliation.
WATCH | Winnipeg forum discusses economic reconciliation:
The federal government has set a target of procuring five per cent of its goods and services from Indigenous-owned businesses, while the City of Regina has a 20 per cent goal.
Kisik Commercial Furniture’s Brown has contracts with the federal government and says the procurement target has led to an increase in business.
“I have seen my … business with the federal government increase to the point where I’m now going into Western Canada and I’m ready to expand. I’m looking to to hire right now,” he said.
Winnipeg Mayor Scott Gillingham says the Naawi-Oodena urban reserve development at the former Kapyong Barracks site is an example of economic reconciliation in action.
The city is “taking a broad approach to this issue through our sustainable procurement action plan,” which will “create training, employment and procurement opportunities for Indigenous people,” Gillingham said in an email statement.
The forum continues Wednesday.