A new textbook discussing the Indigenous economy will be launched today by Cape Breton University Press, and may be the first of its kind in Canada.
The idea for the book, called Indigenous Business in Canada: Principles and Practice, was born five years ago during a series of national roundtable discussions with Indigenous university students, according to Cape Breton University's vice-president of international and Aboriginal Affairs.
"We were asking about barriers that Indigenous students face studying business," Keith Brown recalled.
"We heard things you would expect, like systemic racism. One of the things we heard over and over and over again was: 'We don't exist. We are invisible. We are in no textbook.'"
Barriers to business
There are more than 1.4 million Indigenous people in Canada, but Brown said students felt they were being overlooked "and if you're not Indigenous, you don't know about 1.4 million people and a $30-billion economy."
Brown said no case studies existed with which to anchor a textbook.
One of the first places to start was with the model used by Membertou First Nation, which has enjoyed significant economic success over the last decade.
"Then we went across the country looking at best practices in business," Brown said. "We spoke to academics. We spoke to community people, just to say, 'The country should hear your story.' There's so many successes but you don't hear about them."
The textbook contains 52 new case studies.
Rachel Marsch of Winnipeg, a member of the panel that helped develop the original concept for the book, said she felt the absence of relatable case studies when she studied business.
"It was amazing for me to go through that many years of education and just feel like I had no one I could relate to, no one I could identify with in terms of being Indigenous and being in business."
She said the new textbook far exceeded her expectations and she looks forward to gauging its impact on future students.
Brown said the Aboriginal Financial Officers Association of Canada has already adopted the textbook, as have some colleges and universities.
The earlier, the better
Marsch said she wishes such a book had existed when she was in junior high and high school.
"I was able to make those connections during post-secondary, eventually," she said. "It was only toward the end of my degree, though, that I found the Aboriginal Business Education Partners that really helped me get to where I am now.
"The important thing to me is exposing Indigenous and non-Indigenous students, because we need to let everyone see that this is something that's for everybody. I can't wait to see what the next 10, 20, 30 years look like for our Indigenous people, and especially the youth."