Building links between business and the indigenous world

Murray Sinclair - IIS 2015 
 Jenny Philbrick, who is in her final semester of her business dgree with a major in human resources, poses with Justice Murray Sinclair. ~ Photo provided by Jenny Philbrick 

Students attend first-ever Indigenous Innovation SummitNine Mount Royal University business students recently took part in Canada’s first-ever Indigenous Innovation Summit (IIS 2015), held from Nov. 18 to 20 in Winnipeg. The IIS’s goal was to bring together innovators of indigenous backgrounds from across the nation to discover new methods for tackling common problems.

“We wanted to be involved so we could continue to explore how we could bring more indigenous students into business programs and ensure their success, and also start to explore what indigenous curriculum would look like in terms of business programming,” said Katharine McGowan, PhD and professor of social innovation at Mount Royal.

Attendance was sponsored through the Suncor Aboriginal Business Education Pilot Program, a collaboration between the Bissett School of Business and the Suncor Energy Foundation. The Summit provided students with the opportunity to both discover and build links between the indigenous world and business.

For a chance at the available spots, students entered a competitive application process, providing their resume and a one-page discursive essay on the role of social innovation, especially in indigenous communities. The applications reflected on the writers’ roles as community members and what they wanted to do with their business education once they were finished their degree.Business innovation can build bridges

The IIS 2015 provided an excellent networking opportunity for the students, as they were able to rub elbows with some of Canada’s most well-known members of the community. Speakers included Justice Murray Sinclair, Canadian judge, lawyer, and the current chair of the Indian Residential Schools Truth and Reconciliation Commission; Waneek Horn-Miller, past member of the Canadian Women's Waterpolo Team that won a Gold Medal at the 1999 Pan American Games; Tina Keeper, a Cree activist, producer, former actress and former member of the Canadian House of Commons; and Wab Kinew, a hip hop musician, public speaker, broadcaster, and university administrator, best known as a host of programming on CBC Radio and Television.

Tina Keeper - IIS 2015 
Philbrick poses with Cree activist, producer, former actress and former member of the Canadian House of Commons Tina Keeper. ~ Photo provided by Jenny Philbrick 

“I think our students have a real role to play in bridging the spaces between the social needs and interests of the indigenous communities and the innovations they are already pursuing,” said McGowan.

It was a participatory process, and attendees were required to get involved in each of the discussions and presentations and provide their perspectives.

Nicole Misener, who is in her last semester of a business administration degree with a major in general management, and who is of Metis descent, attended the Summit. She is aiming for a future working for the federal government in foreign affairs, with the idea of using innovation to implement new programs and to make existing programs more accessible.

“People are looking for more from a business than just making a profit,” Misener said. “They expect you to do something within the community.”

“One of the best moments of the Summit was that connection to the culture and seeing how others have been using social innovation to create improvements. It made me feel like I’m not the only one who looks at this as a big thing.”

Chanel Froese, who is in her third year of a business administration degree and is of Metis descent as well, also attended, saying that she wanted to get a deeper understanding of what is happening in Canada around social innovation and indigenous communities.

“I’ve never been very involved in the indigenous community so I wanted to see what was going on and what is projected to be going on in the future,” Froese said.
Indigenization at Mount RoyalAs part of its 2025 Strategic Plan, Mount Royal is aiming to increase indigenous intake from 3.7 per cent in 2013-2014 to 7.0 per cent in 2024-2025. One of the aspects of this effort will be indigenization of the curriculum.

Canada’s indigenous population is currently at 2 per cent of the total, but it’s growing quickly.

“One of the issues is of inclusion. If we’re talking about supporting our indigenous students it’s important that they see that reflected back at them. But it’s not just for our indigenous students. The reality is that for most business to move forward in Canada and the future, you will have to be aware of indigenous issues,” said McGowan.

Froese points out that most of Alberta, B.C., and Canada are covered by reservations, so when companies are looking to expand geographically they have to be mindful of their presence.

“Indigenization means education to me,” said Misener. “It’s not so much about creating a space on campus for indigenous students, because we already have that. It’s about educating people who are maybe not aware of indigenous issues, the social challenges, that kind of thing, and also educating them about, hey, we’re not just a problem.”

The more perspectives involved in business, the better it is for all involved.

“Business education and business itself can be a real avenue for personal and community success. And it doesn’t have to look like what you think it does,” McGowan said.

“If we have the panoply of examples reflected back, then we will be better business educators, and the students will be better prepared for the world they are going in to…regardless of who they are.”

Dec. 8, 2015 — Michelle Bodnar