SREDA recently welcomed Milton Tootoosis as Director of Indigenous Economic Development. This past week, he sat down with CEO Alex Fallon for a conversation about the work ahead:
Alex: You’ve had an accomplished, varied career with many roles. What interested you in joining SREDA, especially now?
Milton: We need to up our game on the Truth and Reconciliation Commission’s Call to Action #92. What’s been lagging with respect to Treaty 6 is that promise of a good economic livelihood. That was the intent of the treaty relationship – to get along and not have a war, yes, but also to make an economic deal. I think that’s what the Chiefs had in mind. They knew change was imminent and wanted to be part of it. Progress has been made, but most Elders would say we’re just scratching the surface. That’s what economic development is about: the vision the leaders had for a good livelihood. We have the potential to be real leaders in Indigenous inclusion here, economic inclusion in particular.
A: How do you make progress on inclusion when there are so many interconnected aspects to consider?
M: If it was easy, we wouldn’t be sitting here talking about it. Finding solutions is really challenging. But if we were to open the door for people to have good mentorship and training – combining that with attitude and mindset is key. What you need is a good job or business opportunity with the right coaches and mentors.
A: There have been a lot of opportunities in recent years around gaming, construction, mining, etc. Do you see the opportunity for some of those good jobs and opportunities to come from new, emerging sectors?
M: I get excited thinking about the possibilities, especially when we’re talking about thinking bigger. Tech is a huge growth opportunity. We are in the information age; climate change and green technology opportunities in response to the Paris Agreement also show huge growth potential. Agriculture and ag research, too – our nations are some of the largest communal landholders in this province and food insecurity is a challenge globally. And then manufacturing. You see some of what’s coming from Nations in the States or closer to home, the Meadow Lake Tribal Council’s new biomass project: those gems give me hope. There’s so much potential in collaboration.
A: I appreciate how you can talk about a current issue and connect it to history and context. Why is that history so important to understanding the current landscape?
M: Well, I’m a history buff and always have been. History repeats itself. We have to learn from the hard lessons and recognize that 130 years is not that long ago. A lot of people don’t know local history from before 1905. Even now, conversations about the TRC and IRS mass graves aren’t new in our community, but they are new to larger society. Things like that happened and are still happening – Missing and Murdered Indigenous Women and Girls, the apprehension of children. We can’t look the other way and ignore them. Chief Poundmaker said at the Treaty 6 talks in Cree: “We all know the story about the man who sat by the trail too long, and then it grew over, and he could never find his way again. We can never forget what has happened, but we cannot go back. Nor can we just sit beside the trail.”
A: What would your advice be to someone reading this who wants to take the first step?
M: First step, get yourself educated about the truth. Read the TRC report. Read 21 Things You May Not Know about the Indian Act. Start reviewing your company, especially if you’re in a leadership role, and look in the mirror about what your stats are saying. How many Indigenous people do you have employed? That data won’t lie. Do an assessment and then review your strategic plan, vision and inclusion plan. There are templates out there with best practices. Companies that do step forward will be ahead of everybody else. They will become Saskatoon’s employer of choice for Indigenous peoples and will be rewarded for it – doing social good as well as doing well economically.
If you or your company are interested in learning more about how to implement reconciliation strategies, contact Milton Tootoosis.