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Aaron Aubin is the principal and founder of Aaron Aubin Consulting Inc.

Indigenous communities across Canada have been experiencing explosive population growth.

Between 2006 and 2016, the population increased by more than 42 per cent, four times faster than the non-Indigenous population, and Statistics Canada anticipates it will expand to more than 2.5 million over the next two decades from 1.6 million in 2016. More people are also learning about their ancestry and newly identifying as Indigenous, which is considered one of the key causes of the rapid Indigenous population growth.

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While the population increases and Canada slowly comes to terms with reconciliation, we need to carve out an ethical space so that Indigenous and non-Indigenous people can co-exist. My use of the term “ethical space” came about through the work of Dr. Reg Crowshoe, from the Piikani Nation, during the development of the Indigenous Gathering Place in Calgary. Dr. Crowshoe explained ethical space as a place where traditional oral practices and Western written practices are paralleled, leveraging the strengths of the respective processes to co-create a safe place to design, develop, validate and work together in harmony, bridging the gap between cultures and activating meaningful reconciliation.

Alongside this increasing awareness of Indigenous history in Canada, there have been several transformational legal decisions and landmark reports. In 2015, the Truth and Reconciliation Commission of Canada (TRC) released their final report with 94 Calls to Action to help redress the legacy of residential schools and advance reconciliation. In 2016, Canada endorsed the United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples (UNDRIP), a global declaration that recognizes Indigenous peoples’ basic human rights, including self-determination and self-governance.

Over the past three years, much has been written about the Sixties Scoop, wherein a series of provincial child-welfare policies resulted in an estimated 20,000 Indigenous children being removed from their homes, placed in foster care and eventually adopted into non-Indigenous families. The consequence is a generation of Indigenous people who have lost their culture, heritage, language and birth families, with multigenerational ripple effects of trauma. Since the emergence of these stories, many people have started journeys of discovery into their own Indigenous heritage.

Earlier this month, the final report on the National Inquiry into Missing and Murdered Indigenous Women and Girls introduced 231 Calls to Justice, recommending that government, law enforcement, the justice system and the broader public begin to address the historical and ongoing genocide of Indigenous women and girls and members of the 2SLGBTQQIA community. The imperatives include a call for official language status for Indigenous languages and sweeping changes to the justice and law enforcement systems.

Despite our steps forward, setbacks still remain. Although the federal government committed to fully implement UNDRIP back in February, 2018, last week, the Senate failed to pass Bill C-262, which would have led to the harmonization of UNDRIP with Canadian law. While this represents a significant setback, Bill C-91 respecting Indigenous languages and Bill C-92 asserting that Indigenous people have jurisdiction over child and family services in their communities, both passed and will proceed to royal assent.

Indigenous population expansion and widespread implementation of the UNDRIP Articles and TRC Calls to Action will inevitably lead to new economic opportunities for small and large Indigenous businesses, higher education and job training, and investment both from and within Indigenous communities.

For example, in April, 2019, the Membertou First Nation’s development corporation, a Mi’kmaq-owned and staffed business in Nova Scotia, was named one of Canada’s best-managed companies. Tsawwassen First Nation, through partnerships with private industry, has constructed a $600-million commercial enterprise, creating 3,500 jobs and initiating an adjacent housing development. In 2018, Tsuut’ina Nation, west of Calgary, announced a 1,200-acre residential and commercial development, including 17 million square feet in real estate at an estimated cost of $4.5-billion. These are only a few examples of Indigenous communities across Canada creating self-determined economic opportunities and partnerships.

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The success of Indigenous communities also contributes to Canada’s economy. As reported by the Canadian Council for Aboriginal Business in 2016, Indigenous people contributed more than $32-billion to Canada’s economy, with more than $12-billion from Indigenous businesses. In 2018, the Blood Tribe in Alberta reported contributions of $215-million from the First Nation members’ activities to the economies of surrounding municipalities.

Indigenous communities are also moving toward greater self-determination through the development of their own constitutions, land codes and decision-making authority. A constitution provides the overarching structure for governing a First Nation’s citizens and processes; and land codes provide a mechanism to control Indigenous lands and resources outside the authority of Canada’s Indian Act. Today, 78 First Nations have operational land codes and more than 50 more are developing land codes of their own. Self-governing First Nations are able to direct and expand their economies according to their own values and priorities while, in turn, economic growth leads to greater self-determination and control.

Aside from economic opportunities and self-determination, new long-term relationships are being fostered between Indigenous communities and government, corporations and other organizations. By respectfully acknowledging traditional Indigenous territories and homelands, the fabric of our cities is already mapping our shared trajectory to reconciliation.

As Canada approaches 2.5 million Indigenous people, the journey that lays before all of us will be guided by a new process, an ethical space that follows traditional oral ceremonies and Western written conventions in parallel. Through this way of working together we will co-create a safe place to share, discuss and move toward mutual understanding, respect and lasting reconciliation.

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