Why Economic Reconciliation is key to building a resilient economy in Calgary

January 19, 2024
New Economy Research & Reports Talent
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Calgary can only realize an economy with opportunities for all with intentional, intergenerational progress towards Economic Reconciliation with and for Indigenous Peoples. 

Our first New Economy LIVE of 2024 explored how the economic contributions of Indigenous households, governments and businesses are integral to economic prosperity in Calgary and the Treaty 7 Region.  

Long-term prosperity is a collective goal for Calgary, and building a city where everyone is welcome, safe and able to build a meaningful life is a priority in Calgary's economic strategy. 

Indigenous economic contributions in Calgary and Treaty 7 region 

Leading the event, Susan Mowbray, a consulting partner at MNP, presented key insights and future-focused actions from the Indigenous Economic Contribution Study, jointly commissioned by Calgary Economic Development and the City of Calgary, and released in December 2023.  

“Data found in this study establishes a baseline to help us understand where we are and what opportunities we can tap into as we work towards Economic Reconciliation,” said Susan Mowbray, Partner, Consulting, MNP. 

“It also counters some of the myths and misconceptions that may be contributing to some of the biases against Indigenous Peoples.” 

In 2021 alone, the Indigenous economy generated a total GDP of $1.5 billion, or approximately 1.2 per cent of Calgary’s total GDP. First Nations governments contributed $540 million, Indigenous-owned businesses contributed $450 million and Indigenous households contributed $530 million.

The Indigenous population is younger and growing much faster than the non-Indigenous population 

At nearly four percent, growth of the Indigenous population was nearly double the growth of the non-Indigenous population between 2006 and 2021. Approximately 42 per cent of the Indigenous population is under 25, compared with 29 per cent of the non-Indigenous population. 

“There are huge opportunities to help make differences in the lives of young Indigenous People by creating more opportunities for participation in the broader economy,” said Mowbray.  

“As our population ages and retires, there are more opportunities for younger people to participate and help with labour shortages. We can close gaps by removing barriers for Indigenous youth to access to these opportunities.” 

What is Economic Reconciliation? 

Economic Reconciliation is the process of making economic amends for historical injustices to Indigenous Peoples.  

“One of the key findings in the Indigenous Economic Contribution Study was honoring the truths of reconciliation,” said Shawna Morning Bull, Business Development Manager, Community Futures Treaty7 

“We’re still figuring out the truth of all that’s happened, and this study helps to uncover the truths by documenting key findings.” 

Panelists shared what Economic Reconciliation means to Indigenous Peoples and organizations, and how it is a key part of rebuilding Canada’s relationship with Indigenous communities. 

“I recognize Economic Reconciliation as one of the pillars of the Truth and Reconciliation Commission. We need to compile existing data and paint the picture of the economic reality that Indigenous People in Calgary face, which has hardly been done before,” said Harold Horsefall, Indigenous Relations Strategist, City of Calgary. 

“With that data, we can identify gaps, create actionable plans and implement those plans.” 

Michelle Goodkey, Chief Sustainability Officer and VP External Relations, Project Reconciliation emphasized the importance of why Indigenous participation is key to advancing Reconciliation. 

“Economic Reconciliation is a path forward to Reconciliation. It means that we have choices in what we want to do, by having equity in projects, building businesses and gaining access to capital,” said Goodkey. 

In practice, Economic Reconciliation means Indigenous communities have economic self-reliance and self-governance that honours Indigenous cultures and is not reliant on industry or the government.” 

Understanding the economic barriers faced by Indigenous Peoples 

Indigenous Peoples in Canada have contributed to their traditional, national, regional and local economies since time immemorial. However, over the last 150 years, these communities have also experienced intergenerational trauma and systemic barriers through colonization. 

These barriers include, but are not limited to, removal from traditional territories, limited access to loans and financial capital, exclusion from programs and other limitations due to federally imposed structures. These barriers still exist today. 

For example, the Bearspaw First Nation, Chiniki First Nation and Goodstoney First Nation are distinct and separate but have been forced to share a single land base which can lead to difficulties approving projects and stalling economic activity. 

A common challenge shared by panelists was the barrier that Indigenous Peoples face when it comes to access to technology. 

“From a tourism perspective, we need to utilize technology to better understand where our audience is visiting from. This can be challenging in rural Alberta,” said Brenda Holder, Board Chair, Indigenous Tourism Alberta. 

“A lot of First Nations don’t have access to the funding and can’t afford telecom departments in their communities. With older infrastructure, access to the internet is a barrier,” said Morning Bull.

How Calgary can advance Economic Reconciliation

New Economy LIVE speakers discussed actions our community can take to advance Economic Reconciliation in Calgary and the Treaty 7 region. These actions are largely based on the three recommendations set forward in the Indigenous Economic Contribution Study. 

Led by the City of Calgary, civic partners, community organizations and businesses, the objective of the recommendations is to increase Indigenous economic participation.

Develop an Indigenous Procurement Plan 

Currently, the City of Calgary is developing an Indigenous Procurement Program to reduce barriers and increase access to City contracts for Indigenous-owned businesses.   

“Our procurement program is committed to understanding and building Indigenous Peoples capacity within the City,” said Horsefall. 

“We want to directly build relationships and connect with Indigenous-owned businesses to hear more about their lived experiences and to gather input on how the City of Calgary can evolve a more equitable and accessible procurement process.” 

An Indigenous Procurement Working Group was formed in November 2023, and in 2024, the City will release a questionnaire for Indigenous businesses interested in being a supplier. 

Strengthen Indigenous economic development 

The community is encouraged to work with the Blackfoot Confederacy Nations, Tsuut’ina Nation, Stoney Nakoda Nations, Métis and urban Indigenous economic development organizations to enhance program offerings and support for Indigenous businesses.

“Non-Indigenous people can educate themselves through things like reading the 94 Calls to Action, attending webinars like this one and getting to know the differences in Treaties,” said Morning Bull.

“We can also help Indigenous Peoples be successful by educating them on how to run a business, including financial literacy and marketing skills.”

Goodkey agreed with Morning Bull and emphasized the need to create Indigenous capital to empower economic sovereignty.

“When we empower self-reliance among communities, we all rise up together. That’s the idea of Reconciliation – both Indigenous and non-Indigenous communities' benefit, and we work together to build a better future for Canadians,” said Goodkey.  

Attract Indigenous meetings and events 

 The third recommendation lays the foundation for relationship-building and encourages the community to prioritize the establishment of Indigenous tourism in the region.

Holder emphasized how Indigenous tourism is an opportunity to share culture, connect youth and elders and ensure all these individuals benefit economically in the process.

“Within the Indigenous tourism industry, I encountered a term I refer to as ‘money wounds’, or the difficulty that people have in earning money. It can be intimidating to understand how to charge for things that are natural gifts or naturally a part of our culture,” said Holder. 

Holder explained how following a conversation with a friend, she started using a metaphor that explains money as the new equivalent to trading with beaver pelt.  

“For Indigenous People, we have to approach economics in a cultural way that benefits us and feels good to us.”

Holder shared that a significant number of Indigenous people who work in tourism have a desire to become entrepreneurs, and 30 per cent of these individuals are women.

Four takeaways from the panel on the path to Reconciliation 
  • Understand that Economic Reconciliation is a win-win for everyone - not just for the Nations. Everyone is going to benefit if we all rise up. 
  • Take part in an Indigenous experience. Come walk with us, come eat with us and come learn with us. 
  • Continue to learn, advocate and create those spaces to be good neighbours. 
  • Lean into Economic Reconciliation and understand it is challenging work. We are fighting forces that have been happening since 1867, and the Indigenous Economic Contribution Study shows us we have a lot more work to do.


What is New Economy LIVE? The New Economy LIVE event series aims to engage Calgarians in the economic strategy and the interconnected drivers that create long-term prosperity and an inclusive economy. In case you missed it, you can watch the full New Economy LIVE on our YouTube channel.    

Reconciliation Statement: Calgary Economic Development is committed to advancing Reconciliation with and for Indigenous Peoples, businesses and communities to contribute to an equitable future. We strive to respond to and adopt the Truth and Reconciliation Commission’s Calls to Action. 

We collaborate with The City of Calgary and work with the Indigenous Relations Office, to develop actionable items in response to the White Goose Flying Report. We are responsible for listening to, learning from and visiting with Indigenous Peoples, Elders, Traditional Knowledge Keepers and community members. This is in the spirit of fostering reciprocal and mutually beneficial relationships to become a trusted partner to Indigenous communities and businesses. This commitment is only the start of a pathway that is intergenerational. We will identify, amplify and elevate the power of the Indigenous economies in the Treaty 7 Region and Otipemisiwak Métis Government, Calgary Nose Hill Métis District 5 and Calgary Elbow Métis District 6. We commit to holding ourselves accountable through our Reconciliation Action Plan, to support actions and strategies that create tangible benefits for Indigenous Peoples towards economic prosperity. 

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