Indigenous Works is working with key agricultural partners to increase Indigenous engagement in agri-business
By Jackie Clark
A national Indigenous organization is partnering with key agricultural groups to promote collaboration, innovation and commercialization throughout the Indigenous agri-business community. Indigenous Works is a social enterprise working to improve the engagement of Indigenous people in the Canadian economy.
This project is one branch of their Luminary initiative.
“Luminary is about advancing Indigenous innovation for economic transformation, employment and well-being. And this larger initiative came about because of a large engagement gap that we uncovered,” Kelly Lendsay, president and CEO of Indigenous Works, told Farms.com. “How do we connect academia with Indigenous businesses and Indigenous community economic priorities to drive the commercialization from innovation that will lead to jobs?”
After posing that question “we started to talk to people about sectoral priorities,” he added.
Food sovereignty and security is top of mind for Canadians because of the COVID-19 pandemic.
“It’s the same for Indigenous communities,” Lendsay said. Agri-business was identified as a sectoral hub of the Luminary initiative, as the project partners and governments across Canada named agri-food a top priority.
Indigenous Works has partnered with Protein Industries Canada, Farm Credit Canada, Universities from across the country, and the presenting sponsor, Nutrien, to get the ball rolling.
“We’ve received the funding and we’re ready to roll out with the work of Luminary in the agri-business sector,” Lendsay explained. “Nutrien as a private sector firm put in significant funding, $100,000. And it shows you how serious they are about Indigenous engagement. And they know that there is a real business-case and opportunity to harness this innovation agenda.”
This summer, Indigenous Works officials are continuing to reach out to organizations with “a description of the project, what it plans to do, and it’s an invitation for people to sign onto the charter and join us as we co-create and co-develop a strategy together,” he added. The goal “is to gather a group of committed Luminary agri-business charter partners. This will be the community of practice that will help guide this project.”
Meanwhile, other project activities are already underway, including a mapping exercise to identify Indigenous actors within the agri-business landscape.
“We know that there is tremendous potential, but no one has really mapped the agri-business sector,” in terms of Indigenous participation, Lendsay said. Mapping is “going to help us quantify as well as qualify the organizations, entrepreneurs, the communities that are engaged in agri-business.”
Then, the organization can ask “how can we leverage and align with academic research agencies? How do we then foster and identify innovation clusters and priorities and actually put together some pilots with partners that could implement some research collaborations?” he explained.
Lendsay would like to have 10-20 of those clusters to roll out by 2022 “and start putting innovation to work,” he said.
Enormous potential for agricultural innovation exists within Indigenous communities and spaces.
The Cowessess First Nation recently made the news for the discovery of 751 unmarked graves at the former Marieval Indian Residential School.
That nation “has thousands of acres under their management. Some of it they farm, some of it they lease, so they’re probably one of the largest landholders. That’s just one example,” Lendsay said. In aquaculture, “you’ve got the Mi’maq, who purchased $1 billion investment into Clearwater Seafoods, you’ve got the Inuit with a turbot factory up in Pangnirtung which is flying, you’ve got the west with whitefish cooperates and red salmon.”
No one has mapped the size of the Indigenous fishery and structured innovation collaborations, he explained. Untapped opportunities exist to share knowledge and capitol.
The Katzie First Nation British Columbia “had a potato bulb called the wapato 3500 years ago. 750 years ago, it was commercialized and it became part of trade. Now they’re looking at bringing the wapato back as a food source,” he added. The Luminary initiative “could be a stimulus for new commercialization and partnership activity.”
Other examples include the haskap berry, which are similar to cranberries, research on biodegradable plastic bags made from fish scales, and by-products from mushrooms can be used as a substitute for leather, Lendsay explained.
“Indigenous people are looking at the connections between food, health, the environment, the climate, plastics, and so on, and I think this is what will be quite unique about the Indigenous strategy that we bring forward,” he said.