The modern Indigenous economy is on the rise and has tremendous potential for growth. In fact, Indigenomics Institute CEO and founder Carol Anne Hilton anticipates its potential at $100B annually within the next five years. Her economic agenda is aiming to facilitate growth to reach this measure.

Carol Anne Hilton is of Nuu chah nulth descent from the Hesquiaht Nation on Vancouver Island. As the CEO and Founder of the Indigenomics Institute, Hilton is working with Nations, organizations, governments and private industry to strengthen Indigenous economic capacity. Her book Indigenomics: Taking a Seat at the Economic Table lays out the tenets of the emerging Indigenous economy and calls for a new model, a new story and a new inclusive economy.

During National Indigenous History Month in June, RBC met with Hilton to discuss the concept of Indigenomics, the value of the Indigenous economy and the steps Canada must take to achieve economic reconciliation.

It begins with removing the illusion of dependency

“The evolution of Canada is directly connected with the isolation of Indigenous People,” Hilton explains in her recent conversation with RBC. As Residential Schools and the Reserve System both conspired to isolate the Indigenous population from the remaining land and people within Canada, it led to economic segregation and the economic displacement of the Indigenous population. “What this has left us with is economic disorientation,” she further explains.

Beyond isolation, displacement and disorientation, however, the systemic relationship Canada has had with Indigenous People has led to a concept of dependency – a notion that Indigenous People are a burden to Canadian society.

In order for the Indigenous economy to reach its potential and enable the lasting prosperity of this country, this illusion must be broken down. “The biggest illusion this country faces is seeing Indigenous People as a cost to the system,” says Hilton. “It is essential today that Canadians remove this concept of dependency.”

To do so requires a change in perspective, and Hilton points out that Indigenous People aren’t falling behind, but rather have been caught in a system that no longer serves this country.

“When we understand that economic reconciliation happens on the balance sheet of this country, that’s when we will leave behind the idea that Indigenous Nations are under performing or falling behind. When we understand the idea of economic reconciliation and how important and fundamental it is to building an inclusive economy, this is when we can promote systemic equality,” she says.

Changing the language, changing the perspective

Further to the concept of dependency, there exists a language of deficit with respect to Indigenous Peoples, which stems from the perception that Indigenous People are falling behind, that they make up the highest levels of suicide, poverty and unemployment and the lowest levels of education. Hilton calls on the need to change the narrative and flip the perspective.

“Our work at the Indigenomics Institute recognizes the need to start measuring Indigenous economic strength instead of the socio-economic gap. We are looking at it using a different set of metrics that examines the evolution of the Indigenous economy in a new way.”

Indeed, it is important to tell the stories of economic success – the stories that highlight that the Indigenous economy hasn’t been a burden. Part of Hilton’s work is to elevate the visibility of Indigenous economics and understand the emergence of the $100B annual economy as a central theme to Canada’s future.

Hilton uses her recent billion-dollar tour as an example, during which she identified ten Nations across the country that were doing business at a billion-dollar level and above. “We need to normalize this as the next normal,” she urges, citing the Squamish Nation’s significant real estate development that will change the visual landscape of Vancouver, the investment in fisheries on the East coast and the $1 billion-dollar Indigenous Commitment Infrastructure Initiative by the Canada Infrastructure Bank, to name a few.

Such examples can work together to form a new narrative that aligns with the future of the country. While Hilton acknowledges that the education system hasn’t adequately equipped Canadians with the language to support the development of relationships with Indigenous People within the country, she is hopeful that a new story and a collective way forward can be achieved.

Embracing the Indigenous Worldview

“The way we see the world shapes the way we treat it. If a mountain is a deity, not a pile of ore; if a river is one of the veins of the land, not potential irrigation water; if the forest is a sacred grove, not timber; if other species are biological kin, not resources; or if the planet is our mother, not an opportunity – then we will treat each other with greater respect. Thus, the challenge is to look at the world from a different perspective.”

This perspective, offered by activist David Suzuki, is included in Hilton’s Indigenomics: Taking a Seat at The Table as a demonstration of the concept that “the way we see the world shapes the way we treat it.” It also centres the Indigenous worldview in sharp contract with western world views.

“Indigenous worldview is based on a relational economy – wealth is not monetary but based on relationships,” she explains. It is rooted in generosity, spirituality and relationships, and resources and responsibility are intertwined. There is a concept of responsibility across generations – the Indigenous worldview is long-term, versus the western view that is short-term and centred around capitalism.

While the western worldview has been the dominant perspective for generations in Canada, in order for Indigenous People to have an active seat at the economic table there must be an acknowledgement of the Indigenous worldview and a recognition of the differences between views. Indeed, a long-term worldview can reveal the opportunities that exist for Canada to be more prosperous and more inclusive.

Through her work at the Indigenomics Institute, her book Indigenomics: Taking a Seat at the Economic Tableand conversations with corporations such as RBC, Carol Anne Hilton is working to facilitate a more inclusive Canada. She is challenging Canadians to think about the Indigenous worldview and to understand the opportunity to be more prosperous when there are Indigenous leaders at the table.

With thousands of RBC employees having tuned in for her discussion, it’s a great place to start this new conversation. Now, the conversation needs to expand – to other board rooms, policy rooms and family dining room tables – informing and educating more and more Canadians about the impact of the Indigenous economy and the building of a more inclusive country.

Recalling the words of Murray Sinclair, she offers this thought: We have pointed you to the mountain. It’s up to you to do the climbing.

This article is intended as general information only and is not to be relied upon as constituting legal, financial or other professional advice. A professional advisor should be consulted regarding your specific situation. Information presented is believed to be factual and up-to-date but we do not guarantee its accuracy and it should not be regarded as a complete analysis of the subjects discussed. All expressions of opinion reflect the judgment of the authors as of the date of publication and are subject to change. No endorsement of any third parties or their advice, opinions, information, products or services is expressly given or implied by Royal Bank of Canada or any of its affiliates.