MDB Insight Blog

Reconciliation and Economic Development

Reconciliation and Economic Development

This week our #WednesdayswithMDBinsight post explores Indigenous economic development with Natasha Gaudio Harrison, Consultant.

As Canadians engage in important dialogue around race relations, I have been looking inward at our profession to better understand opportunities for increasing equality through economic development. Our MDB Insight team’s work in this field has afforded us some important context about those opportunities. We have been honoured to contribute to Indigenous economic development through various projects across the country and are aware of both the need for concrete progress and some of the initiatives and resources that aim to support that progress.

When the Truth and Reconciliation Commission of Canada’s final report came out in 2015, one of its calls to action was “we call upon the federal government to develop with Aboriginal groups a joint strategy to eliminate educational and employment gaps between Aboriginal and non-Aboriginal Canadians” (Truth and Reconciliation Commission of Canada, 2015).

As economic developers, we all need to do our best to bring this call to action forward in our work. At MDB Insight, we have seen the numbers on a macro and micro-scale. When it comes to educational attainment, we know that the Indigenous participation rate nationally, at 79.2, is lower than that of the non-Indigenous population (87.7). When we zoom into our work in local communities, we’ve often seen that disparity increase substantially.  We also hear a lot about the foundational factors that lead to those outcomes: educational disparity is the obvious one, but it extends to social wellness and cultural awareness gaps. The work done by the Truth and Reconciliation Commission in this area is clear – the reasons behind the existing education and employment disparities locally and nationally are the result of Canada’s history of colonization, the residential school system, and overall cultural genocide. 

So, what can we do? What’s currently being done? 

We’re aware of some great joint economic development initiatives among Indigenous and non-Indigenous communities, including How We Prosper Together: Regional Economic Development Strategic Plan for Superior East and Neighbouring Communities , a strategy that MDB Insight assisted 11 First Nation and non-First Nation communities with developing in Northern Ontario in 2019. We are also currently working with the Yellowknives Dene First Nation and the City of Yellowknife toward the creation of a Joint Economic Development Strategy, a partnership that is the result of the Federation of Canadian Municipalities and Cando’s Community Economic Development Initiative, which supports partnership development between municipalities and neighbouring First Nations toward establishing mutually beneficial economic development. That program places emphasis on strong relationship building between communities – a key component to success.

Systemic challenges require systemic solutions. They require us as economic developers to bring a holistic lens to our approach to growing the economy to ensure that the actions we take include equal opportunity for Indigenous partners, and in a best case scenario, promote Indigenous ownership and empowerment over local assets. It’s important to listen to and amplify Indigenous voices and support the work that’s being done across the country in this area.

Here are some Indigenous economic development organizations whose work we watch closely:   

The Council for the Advancement of Native Development Officers (Cando) 

Cando is a national Indigenous organization involved in community economic development. “Cando has been instrumental in facilitating partnerships with EDOs, academics, Aboriginal leaders and senior corporate and government representatives. Cando is unique because it is the only national organization that focuses on education and professional development for EDOs working in Aboriginal communities or organizations.”

Canadian Council for Aboriginal Business (CCAB)

The Canadian Council for Aboriginal Business builds bridges between Aboriginal and non-Aboriginal peoples, businesses, and communities through diverse programming, providing tools, training, network building, major business awards, and national events. 

CCAB’s offerings include certification for Aboriginal-owned businesses (CAB) and companies with Progressive Aboriginal Relations (PAR). TFAB (Tools and Financing for Aboriginal Business) connects Aboriginal entrepreneurs with tools, training and networks to strengthen and scale their businesses. 

National Indigenous Economic Development Board (NIEDB)

The NIEDB is committed to providing advice and guidance to the federal government on issues related to Indigenous economic opportunities that enable the Indigenous peoples of Canada to have a voice in government policy.

Do you know of other great Indigenous-led resources on economic development? We’d love to hear about them!

To learn more about Natasha and the other members of our team, go to

Natasha 2018Our Wednesdays with MDB Insight posts feature the thinkers and doers on our team sharing ideas and talking about what’s important to us as professionals. We have very diverse backgrounds and a range of interests to share with you. We hope you’re enjoying these posts and that you will join the conversation with us and let us know what’s on your mind mid-week.



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