This October 9-11, 2018, Rotorua, New Zealand hosted the 9th annual World Indigenous Business Forum. I was fortunate enough to attend this great event so far from home. While being up for 36 hours travelling there and 42 hours for the return trip was daunting to say the least, the experience, people, culture and beautiful country more than made up for the lack of sleep and persistent jet lag. We started off the trip as part of Canada’s first Indigenous trade mission to New Zealand, hosted and organized by Canada’s High Commissioner Mario Bot and Omar Alghabra, Parliamentary Secretary to the Minister of International Trade Diversification. We learned about the role of the Canadian Trade Commission Service, Maori economy and networked with Indigenous business representatives from Canada. We also met with Richard Jefferies, Tainui Group Holdings and toured their Ruakura site which will be New Zealand’s largest inland port connecting the countries economy and creating up to 12,000 jobs. It was inspiring to see such a grand vision in development that will serve both the country and the Maori citizens well into the future.
My second day began with a formal cultural welcome at the Tamatekapua Marae (Maori meeting house) which was a wonderful way to open the WIBF and to see and take part in the Maori culture. Later the Canada Trade Commission Service hosted networking events with our Australian and New Zealand counterparts where we learned about some of the emerging businesses, opportunities and best practices that are being implemented by their Indigenous communities.
I along with the other delegates were amazed by the diverse, mature and sophisticated business and structures the Maori have set up in the 25 years since they signed their treaties with the government of New Zealand. While the success and challenges of Canadian First Nations are well known and both the Canadian and New Zealand delegates were of the opinion that the other was so much further ahead in business development. The fact is that Indigenous people globally have a shared history of colonization and its negative impacts remain a legacy we continue to overcome in innovative and creative ways. The WIBF’s modo is to “Share, Connect and Inspire” and the interactions, presentations and people allowed for this to take place, to learn best practice and to see ourselves, both in terms of success as well as challenges, in others and to understand that we can overcome these to heal our communities as well as to become leaders in business and industry.
I found much in common amongst Indigenous peoples globally and observed some practices unique to Indigenous people in how we structure our businesses. If we buy land it is to retain traditional territory that has historic and cultural significance, offers agricultural opportunities and finally land that has strategic economic value. Finally, all of our economic development corporations are structured to recognize that our community members are our shareholders and the resulting financial success is reinvested back into the community and to support further business development and expansion.
The ultimate goal for Indigenous nations in Saskatchewan, Canada, New Zealand and elsewhere is to retain, revitalize and recapture our traditions, values, culture and language. Business and economic development have emerged as critical pathways for this to be accomplished. Examples of successful business and practices as well as the end goal of a vibrant culture and language within the community were on full display at the WIBF. Presentations and panels at the conference were intermixed with poetry, traditional and contemporary song and dance as well as delicious food and drink.
I left Rotorua, New Zealand with dozens of new friends, business contacts, ideas and a confirmation that First Nations in Saskatchewan and Canada have much in common with our counterparts globally. Given our shared history, we have much more to share when it comes to rebuilding our communities and re-entering local, regional and the global economies as well as how best to revitalize and support our culture, traditions, languages and values. As planning begins for WIBF 2019, celebrating the 10th anniversary in Vancouver, B.C. Canada, I look forward to building on the new friendships and models of success as I continue to work with First Nations in Saskatchewan in their economic development efforts.