The workshop was organized by Greg Halseth from the UNBC Community Development Institute and by Ray Gerow from the Prince George Aboriginal Business Development Corporation. The purpose was to focus upon Indigenous economic development in the three critical contexts of: on-reserve communities; Nations with treaties; and within urban Aboriginal communities. The speakers collectively explored the frameworks that organize current Indigenous economic development actions and activities, they sought to identify key barriers to successful Indigenous economic development, and they identified possible actions and supports needed to achieve positive change. 

The workshop featured 14 speakers from across northern BC and internationally. The speakers included a mix of academic researchers, practitioners, and policy analysts. Each of the presentation sessions included a significant period of time for roundtable discussions and reflection on the points being raised. A key benefit of having an intimate workshop was that a wide range of views and opinions could be shared on all matters, and this created a very exciting
mutual learning opportunity. Supporting the discussions were a range of observers that included UNBC faculty and people from northern BC communities.

5 critical issues were identified throughout the presentations.

The first has to do with the notion of governance and governance capacity. In this case
the significant challenges for small communities (whether or not they have treaty rights)
were contrasted with the difficulties of urban Aboriginal settings where there is no
overarching mechanism for governance and collective action.

Another critical issue had to do with the challenges of running Band- or community-
managed businesses. A number of models for, and issues around, separating business and
political decision-making were debated. An important addition to the conversation is the
finding that many of the most successful First Nations in BC who have operated Band-
owned businesses in the past are transitioning out of that activity so that they can focus
on being a “government” responsible for creating the conditions for local entrepreneurs to
run the economic activities.

Another important set of debates concerns the question of achieving economies of scale
amongst small communities and small community businesses. In this case, several
mechanisms for collective marketing, certification, and management were discussed and

Another critical issue had to do more generally with the issue of capacity and community
development. While communities struggle with administrative and jurisdictional issues,
there is a more fundamental underlying challenge with respect to healing and addressing
the impacts of colonialism and ongoing instances of racism (in policy, in practice, and in person). This matter of creating a substantial foundation of community development
was identified as important in supporting options for future possibilities and changes in
economic development.

Throughout the discussion the question of leadership and collective responsibility were
raised time and again. The need for capacity to lead and to manage during these times of
change was noted as key to successful Indigenous economic development.

The proceedings of the workshop are currently being developed into an electronic book
publication which will be made available through the UNBC Community Development
Institute’s peer reviewed Community Publications Series. The electronic book publication will
be co-edited by Julia Schwamborn, Greg Halseth, and Tor Gjertsen.

The workshop was organized in response to requests from the University of the Arctic’s
Thematic Networks. The event itself provided an opportunity for joint meetings of the Thematic
Networks on: Local and Regional Development, Northern Governance, and Northern Tourism.
We were fortunate to have the leaders from all three of these Thematic Networks attend the
workshop and attend some additional meetings before and following the workshop. These
meetings were very fruitful in providing a mutual update as to the activities and initiatives they
are each undertaking. Exciting new models for projects and for international education were
discussed. While each Network has a robust set of activities underway, there was interest in
using the 2011 Gargia Conference (on the topic of Northern Tourism and Place Development) as
an opportunity to further discussions between the Thematic Networks.

Submitted by Greg Halseth