Manitoba

Indigenous Innovation Summit puts positive spin on social change

The first-ever Indigenous Innovation Summit, organized by the National Association of Friendship Centres, wants to connect indigenous innovators with each other and the non-indigenous community.

'We believe innovation is indigenous and always has been, in our communities'

The Indigenous Innovation Summit's welcome reception Wednesday night. The two-day summit takes place Thursday and Friday at the Winnipeg Art Gallery.

The first-ever Indigenous Innovation Summit, organized by the National Association of Friendship Centres, wants to connect indigenous innovators with each other and non-indigenous innovators.

"It's not a typical summit… we actually get engaged, it's interactive and people work together on things," said Jeffrey Cyr, executive director of the National Association of Friendship Centres, based in Ottawa.

The two-day national summit takes place at the Winnipeg Art Gallery.

The first stage of the summit highlights members of the indigenous community who are already innovators, both in business and in social change, including: the Winnipeg Boldness Project, a North End group focused on improving outcomes for children, and aboriginal-run shoemaker Manitobah Mukluks, said Cyr. 

"We're going to expose indigenous innovation that's actually going on – already Winnipeg, Manitoba has got great examples of it," he said.

"We believe innovation is indigenous and always has been in our communities," he added.

The second stage of the conference is to introduce those innovators with members of the non-indigenous community from similar sectors and build "a field of understanding" between the two groups, said Cyr.

Now that the Truth and Reconciliation findings are out, Canada is in the era of reconciliation said, Stephen Huddart president and CEO of Montreal's J.W. McConnell Family Foundation. The mission of the foundation is to build "a more innovative, inclusive, sustainable, and resilient society."

"We're now at the point where having recognized the true history of the country, we're given quite an opportunity to co-create a different kind of future together," said Huddart.

"It's really a moment of great creative possibility," he said.

Canada's indigenous peoples are going to be the source for new ideas and new ways of solving complex problems, said Cyr.

"There's tons of skills, capacity, expertise in indigenous communities … we've got a change going on in Canada, a new government, a TRC report that's come out, and really, a momentum," he said.

Being Bold

The Winnipeg Boldness Project is being featured front and centre in the summit's innovation lab.

The Boldness Project is a case study of the city's Point Douglas neighbourhood and looks at ways to improve children's futures.

Diane Roussin is the project director of the Winnipeg Boldness Project.
"We know that education is a huge solution to many of the issues and challenges that some of our families face in the North End," said Diane Roussin, who is the project director.

Roussin said one of the things the project found is that families in that neighbourhood are not investing financially in their kids' post-secondary dreams. She said one of the goals is to find solutions to change that.

"The whole field and discipline of social innovation is trying to tackle and look at complex, crazy challenges that seem to perplex us and that are ongoing and have been around for a long time," she said.

Throughout Thursday and Friday, summit attendees can pop into the innovation lab and brainstorm with the Boldness team.

"We are going to get them working on exercises and tools that [are] going to help us move work forward," Roussin said. "There [are] some very smart people in this room, so they are going to help us co-create those solutions even further."

She added that another goal is to integrate indigenous knowledge into finding solutions.

The Indigenous Innovation Summit runs until Friday evening.

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