Making room at the table

Geoff Kirbyson. Photo by Doug Little.

Economic reconciliation is a concept that’s becoming increasingly popular in our vernacular these days but it can only happen if there are willing participants on both sides.

We’ve still got a long way to go but we’re making progress.

A decade ago, there was a general lack of awareness about Indigenous-owned businesses and an apathy towards Indigenous people as retail customers. But today, there has been a social awakening as people are realizing that it’s time to move forward on truth and reconciliation.

Non-Indigenous people are much more interested in how they can move the needle.

With the Indigenous population in Manitoba nearing 165,000, according to the most recent government figures, not catering to them cuts you off from more than 12 per cent of the province’s total.

It’s time we have space for Indigenous people at all tables. They’ve given space to several non-Indigenous people around the boardroom of the Indigenous Chamber of Commerce. In fact, one-third of the directors are non-Indigenous.

There’s an emerging business class of Indigenous people who have talent and are bringing new and interesting products to market.

Did you know that Indigenous women are opening businesses at twice the rate of non-Indigenous women in Canada?

They’re following the lead of the likes of Michelle Cameron, CEO of Winnipeg-based Dreamcatcher Promotions, which operates the largest Indigenous-owned promotional e-commerce site in North America.

Indigenous youth are increasingly getting educated and mobilized and we need to create space for them in leadership roles, too.

It’s also important that companies around Winnipeg and Manitoba hire qualified Indigenous employees. The more your workforce reflects society around you, the better you’ll be able to respond to market needs. If everybody looks like you, talks like you and thinks like you, you’ll have a one-dimensional business.

But if you’ve got people around your table who can look at opportunities and challenges through a different lens, the better your company will be.

The Hudson’s Bay Company is leading the way in economic reconciliation by donating its iconic building on Portage Avenue to the Southern Chiefs Organization. When it opens in 2026 complete with 300 affordable housing units, a childcare centre, a health and wellness centre, restaurants, offices and a museum, it’s going to be both spectacular and an economic driver for downtown Winnipeg.


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