By Clint Buehler
CALGARY – With the success of the first Indigenous Business and Economic Development Conference in Edmonton two years ago, there was little doubt that another one would follow.
That happens here, beginning September 30th with a Youth Forum on Sports, Business and Leadership featuring special guest presenter National Hockey League great (and Aboriginal) Reggie Leach. One hundred Aboriginal youth have been invited to attend the forum and the conference, with their registration fees waived, but with they or their sponsors paying for their travel and accommodations.
Youth are invited “in the spirit of growth and sustainability.”
The 2008 conference—at The Coast Plaza and Conference Centre here—will focus on continuing to build dialogue on economic and business development by creating a network of professionals and businesses. Organizers believe there is a need for Indigenous people and businesses to network and to collaborate.
The first conference—in Edmonton in 2006—was borne out of the initiative of three chiefs following a discussion on business and economic development at an Alberta All Chiefs Conference. Chief Eddie Makokis of the Saddle Lake Cree Nation, Chief Victor Buffalo of the Samson Cree Nation and Chief Ron Morin of the Enoch Cree Nation stepped up to provide seed money for organizing the conference. They recruited longtime First Nations leader and organizer Charles Wood to chair the organizing committee under the auspices of the Canadian Indigenous Business Association (CIBA).
Wood says the initiative was inspired by the advice of generations of Elders “that in order for our people to survive and compete, we must ‘work together.’”
Under Wood’s leadership of the organizing committee, an outstanding slate of presenters was recruited, Indigenous and corporate financial support secured, exhibition booths were fully booked and, when the agenda was released, registration was quickly filled with hundreds of Aborinal and corporate leaders from across the country registering.
The somewhat discomforting star of the presenters was Chief Clarence Louie of the Osoyoos Indian Band and CEO of its business and economic development corporation, with his no-holds-barred declaration that economic development was the key to First Nations employment, financial security and social stability, citing Osoyoos success under his leadership.
“The turnout for the first conference convinced us that we were on the right track. Aboriginal organizations, businesses, government, industry and the corporate community want and need a forum to discuss economic development,” Wood says.
This year, the conference offers a similar challenging agenda, is gaining the same enthusiastic response as the 2006 conference, and has added the primary sponsorship of Chief Jim Boucher and his Fort McKay First Nation in northeastern Alberta, and Chief Charles Weaselhead and his Kainaiwa (Blood) Tribe in southern Alberta.
“I am pleased with the foresight of the host nations, to create a venue which fosters the growth of a network of professionals, businesses and technical expertise interested in creating strategic business alliances with First Nations,” says current Samson Cree Chief Marvin Yellowbird. “This will be an opportunity to strengthen relationships, build new ones and learn from each other.”
Adds Blood Chief Weaselhead, “Alberta First Nations are in a unique position being in the heart of oil and gas country. This province has generated much wealth and we’re opening the doors to share innovative ideas and create business ventures to increase participation with potential business partners, industry and the private sector.”
The 2008 conference will feature special guests including celebrated author and consultant Calvin Hein, whose book, “Dances With Dependency,” has made waves through Canada and the U.S. Other presenters include widely-honoured Victor Buffalo, former chief of the Samson Cree Nation; Dr. Manley Begay, Native Institute for Leadership, Arizona University; Sandra Jackson, Aboriginal Chambers of Commerce, Manitoba, and Andrew Masiel, Pechanga Band, USA.
Conference topics include vision; industry marketing and competition; corporate governance, management and operations, and financial management and investments.
Organizers anticipate the conference will have the following outcomes:
• Increase networking capacity among Indigenous peoples, industry and government.
• Increased involvement by Indigenous people to participate in economic/business opportunities.
• Foster and develop collaborative business partnerships.
Alberta Premier Ed Stelmach has been invited to give a luncheon address at the conference.
The conference will close with a Golf Business Mixer at Redwood Meadows on the Tsuu T’ina First Nation, on the southwest outskirts of Calgary, weather permitting.