Thursday, 2 February 2017

“Indigenization” in Business and Economics

By Vanessa Tait, 2nd year MDP student

As an Indigenous Ithinew Iskwew (Cree woman) from O-pipon-na-piwin Cree Nation, I have always had an interest in business. When I was a teenager, I witnessed both my parents open a small business in my community and saw the challenges they faced with mainstream business protocol.  During this time, I knew that I wanted to gain a greater understanding of mainstream business practices to share with our people and communities. Therefore I began my formal educational journey at the Asper School of Business at the University of Manitoba, and in 2012, I graduated with a Bachelor of Commerce Degree, majoring in Aboriginal Business Studies. Currently, I am completing a Master’s in Development Practice: Indigenous Development Degree (MDP) at the UWinnipeg. 

Throughout my education and life experiences I have overcome challenges of isolation and the impact of ignorance of my culture and ways of life. While in business school, I found that there was a lack of Indigenous content and focus in the program other than if you majored in Aboriginal Business Studies, which very few do. I had to take other courses from other majors, and it is in those classes that I found a lack of Indigenous content or even mention of our peoples and communities. The business school had an overall misunderstanding and misinterpretation of Indigenous peoples, values, leadership and history of business endeavours that are vibrant in our communities.  There was no mention of the role we played historically to present day in the economy and business environment in Canada.  Feeling isolated, judged and at times a sense of discrimination I realized that after leaving the business school there was still a missing part of what I was seeking in my education. 

 So here I am, doing my second MDP field placement with the Business and Economics Department at the UWinnipeg. I ponder and wonder if the universe has brought me here for a reason? Is this something that I have been asking for and now I am here looking to see how I can be a part of a journey to “indigenize the academy,” in particular, the business school.  I am no expert, but I can point out a lot of things that I see are missing and can be incorporated. I am but one person, but I know many Indigenous business, economics and like-minded folks that we can invite into the circle to explore this indigenization in a strategic way.  

The reason why I agreed to explore and gain insight on how this Indigenization can be rolled out, is because, I do not want another Indigenous student to go through business school feeling isolated like I did. I would like to have Indigenous communities and peoples included in the content when speaking of business and economics. We are also part of the story and there are many successful entrepreneurs, community development projects, and success stories that can be shared and explored. We need more Indigenous students graduating from business and economics as well, so that our communities become self-sustaining in their own way and a part of the growing economy.

Lorne Pelletier, Executive in Residence at UWinnipeg, and Vanessa Tait
Since the beginning of the field placement I have met many folks that are interested in the Indigenization of the University of Winnipeg.  I have attended events that discuss the indigenization and reconciliation with Indigenous peoples and communities.  It is through dialogue and discussion with Indigenous people and communities where we will be able to gain insight into what it means to incorporate and include Indigenous content and information into the academy.  I ponder now the question of why it took so long to have Indigenous content at the focal point of the institutions that are on Treaty land.  But, I know that in reaching this point we need to make sure that we are not missed this time and we are included in the education system and that our knowledge, stories, values and ways of knowing are incorporated and need to be shared.