A Cultural Shift in Métis Economic Development – Joe Desjarlais

There are big changes taking place in Aboriginal economic development and the ideas that undergird these activities. In Métis circles, history is being made as Metis people and communities assume more of a central role in shaping future economic development in BC and nationally. The old neo-classic ideology that casts Metis people as marginal to the economic future of this country is breaking down. In simple terms, bad ideas that governed our encounters with each other and others are making way for better ones. It’s not about Metis people participating in the broader Canadian economy as marginal cultural window dressing. It’s not just about managerial need to “fill the HR skills gaps” or training quotas, or other piecemeal short term “solutions.” In this thinking, the success of Metis people or communities depends on their ability to “get with the program,” or to uncritically and passively buy into prevailing economic structures or the ideas that undergird them.

Metis people realize that old schemes by unethical mainstream politicians, industry or even Métis leaders that ignore their critical voices and participation are not adequate. This reflects piecemeal, colonial thinking and does not reflect historic Métis or Canadian values, for that matter. Lift the lid off the typical economic development discussions and we see a more fundamental shift. Métis along with other indigenous peoples are growing in power and influence and are reclaiming their traditional ability to choose, to shape Canada and its policies in ways that truly reflect people and a sense of place. We are all in an exciting transition in Canada as we rethink just what that would look like.

A case-in-point is the current idea shift taking place on the future of big oil and the policies that affect all of us. Métis people, supported by the BC Metis Federation, are beginning to rightfully influence and shape the public conversation in more sustainable ways. They need holistic community planning that reconciles historical Aboriginal approaches with western business approaches. This means that, for Métis people, corporations and governments alike must see that when they do business or make deals with Métis people, it’s within the context of a genuine historical relationship in Canada. Non Western histories and traditional ways of being are being reclaimed and this is reshaping the nature of the discussion. This is about a way of understanding and interacting with one another. For this, corporations and Aboriginal communities need to think about complex issues generationally and broadly. They need to cultivate a historical memory. This takes imagination and vision to see what is possible. Perhaps financier Paul Clements Hunt said it best at a recent conference on clean energy when he stated that it’s the responsibility of people and communities to “free up the imagination to see what is possible.”

Economic Development and community planning consultants themselves are impacted by this cultural re-think. The leaders among them are starting to conceptualize themselves within a language as facilitators and a resource rather than “consultants” (which often have been ‘problem solvers’ or justifiers). It’s not about consultants as ‘experts’ who are coming in to work alongside the ‘client’ but as co-operators (in the true sense of this word.)

Whether it’s for strategic planning in sustainable Aboriginal-private sector partnerships, liaison or mediation services for new or existing partnerships, sensitivity training, or long term community planning that considers traditional ways of being, knowledge contractors are realizing that they must function as collaborators rather than consultants or experts. They must empower their “partners” to make informed decisions. It’s about equipping and releasing them to function. It’s much more than just technical expertise. It’s about investing in lives.

Welcome to these emerging realities in Aboriginal economic development that are truly game changers.

Contributor: Joe Desjarlais is on the Executive of the BC Metis Federation. He also conducts seminars as well as new paradigm consultation work. For more information on these activities please email Joe Desjarlais at j.desjarlais@bcmetis.com

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