Porcupine Episode 6: Indigenous Economics and Reconciliation with André Le Dressay
How have economics affection Indigenous Canadians? How do you bring First Nation governments into the regional economy? These are just a few of the questions that Merrell-Ann and Michael ask André Le Dressay. André is the Director at the Tulo Centre of Indigenous Economics.
Listen to Episode 6: Indigenous Economics and Reconciliation and Read the Episode 6 Show Notes
Merrell-Ann Phare (00:03): This is Porcupine. I’m Merrell-Ann Phare.
Michael Miltenberger (00:06): And I’m Michael Miltenberger and we’re the hosts of the Porcupine Podcast.
Merrell-Ann Phare (00:09): Okay. So there’s this old joke that goes how do two porcupines hug?
Michael Miltenberger (00:14): Carefully.
Merrell-Ann Phare (00:16): And such as the story of reconciliation, at least so far.
André Le Dressay (00:19). The cost of doing business on First Nation lands was four to six times higher than it was anywhere else.
Merrell-Ann Phare (00:26): In this podcast series, we’re exploring reconciliation between Indigenous and non-Indigenous Canadians. We’re looking at its funny, educational, touching, and difficult aspects, and also its prickly parts. Hello, my name is Merrell-Ann Phare.
Michael Miltenberger (00:40): And I’m Michael Miltenberger.
Merrell-Ann Phare (00:42): And welcome to the Porcupine Podcast. We’re interviewing André Le Dressay, the Director for Tulo Centre of Indigenous Economics.
Meet André Le Dressay
Merrell-Ann Phare (00:52): So hello, André. I’m so happy that you’re able to participate in our Porcupine Podcast today. We want to introduce André Le Dressay from the, well, I guess, so you have a couple of hats. Why don’t you explain your, a few different places that you occupy in the world?
André Le Dressay (01:07): I started working in this area in 1991.
Merrell-Ann Phare (01:11): Area being?
André Le Dressay (01:11): In Indigenous economics.
Merrell-Ann Phare (01:18): Right.
André Le Dressay (01:18): And since then I’ve as part of that, I started a company called Fiscal Realities which is keeps food on my table, but it’s not what I’m interested in. The area that’s really got me interested is taking some of the things we’ve learned over the last 30 years and transferring them to interested students. So I’m the director of the Tulo Centre of Indigenous Economics as well.
The Name Tulu: A Chinook Word
André Le Dressay: Tulo is a a Chinook word. Chinook is a trading language that existed from what would be modern day Alaska to the North of California practiced by over 50 or 60 different nations. It, it’s a combination of the languages of the, of those nations as well as English and French. And Tulo is, means earned money or profit in that language. It’s a language of 500 words and that was one of the words. And so we just called ourselves the Tulo Centre.
The Mission of the Tulu Centre for Indigenous Economics
Merrell-Ann Phare (02:19): So what’s the mission? What you’re trying to do with the Tulo Centre for Indigenous Economics?
André Le Dressay (02:25): It was based on an observation. A piece of research that we completed in 1998 that showed that the cost of doing business on First Nation lands was four to six times higher than it was anywhere else.
The mission of the Tulo Centre of Indigenous Economics is to help interested students and their communities develop jurisdiction for the purpose of reducing those high costs of doing business and facilitating economic development. It’s led to three different certificate programs – one in tax administration one in land management, and one in applied economics.
The Economic Element of Reconciliation
Michael Miltenberger (03:05): Our whole discussion here in Porcupine is we’re interested in reconciliation and the many faces and facets of reconciliation. What’s the economic component that you see with all your work? And what’s the opportunity when it comes to what’s the big ‘E’ economic part of reconciliation. And how does it work?
André Le Dressay (03:27): One of the difficulties we have is we take words and give them the meaning that we want to apply. And reconciliation is one of the most difficult words to, for anyone to appreciate, because of course it’s used, it’s used quite often in relationships, right? That have gone bad.
Merrell-Ann Phare (03:53): And there’s some relevance of that idea in this situation.
150 Years of Economic Injustice
André Le Dressay (03:57): The economic element of reconciliation really stems from the fact that 150 years ago. I guess a little more than 150 years ago. All of the Indigenous groups across Canada were effectively legislated out of the economy. And so you have 150 years of economic injustice. And so reconciliation has to be the process of bringing Indigenous governments back into the, into the economy.
For the Benefit of All: Regional Economics and Successful Governing
Michael Miltenberger (04:25): Can you point to any places in Canada where you see good things happening with economics and reconciliation?
André Le Dressay (04:33): I’m going to do two examples. A lot of people look to British Columbia, but I don’t think that’s, there’s interesting things that happen in British Columbia.
But the first example, I want to talk about what you’re doing. I think what you’re doing is really about, how do you bring First Nation, Indigenous governments into the regional economy? And it’s one of the most difficult governance questions there are because it’s part economics, so let’s benefit, we’ll all benefit from being part of the regional economy, but it’s really, really about politics.
How Do We Create A Political Coalition That Actually Benefits All?
The Collaborative Leadership Initiative
André Le Dressay (05:13): How do we create a political coalition that actually benefits, recognizes that we have to work together, that we benefit from each other. And so I think what you’re doing with the Collaborative Leadership Initiative is such an important example for this country because it’s building the type of regional frameworks that have practical applications to First Nation economies.
And you’re going to see a lot of, I think, positive economic results in Manitoba. But what is the scale of that possibility? Well, the scale of that possibility is the benefits that would be achieved if First Nation income were the same as Canadian incomes. That would be a $27 billion injection into the Canadian GDP.
So the potential is enormous and the costs of not doing that is the socioeconomic impacts that we see throughout the country. And so you think of the little things that have to be done. The most important thing is forming those political coalitions, because that’s how we go from being outside the system to having the political will to be part of the economic, part of the economic system. So that’s why I really have so much respect for what you two are working on.
How Do You Exercise Jurisdiction in a Way That Develops an Economy?
Merrell-Ann Phare (06:27): That’s a very kind thing to say. I mean, we’ve thought that it’s about at all levels about how do we make decisions together. And so getting people in a room, it’s just the first barrier. Right?
But, and so, yeah, that’s what that process is about, would you go beyond? If you were advising a group of leaders that wanted to work together on an economic initiative, what are the things that you would tell them to put their priorities into in terms of that structural piece?
Not, not invest in gold, that’s not what I mean. And more like what’s the, where do you see the most important movement in trying to right that economic injustice?
André Le Dressay (07:14): I can give you the one word answer and the long answer, the, the one word answer is jurisdiction. The, the long answer is how do you exercise jurisdiction in a way that develops an economy?
The Cost of the Invisible Public Sector
We look at economies precisely, as you said, do you know, should I invest in gold? Should I? Cause we see the private sector. We see it all over the place. We see it as we drive down the road – we see it’s there. Well, what don’t see as the public sector. And the public sector is a series of institutions that if they’re missing, the cost of doing business are very high.
The public sector is the difference between successful economies and unsuccessful economies. And what is that? Well it’s good business, great infrastructure, you have to have roads, water, sewer, right?
You have to have the rule of law, you have to have standards you have to have certainties when people make decisions about investing, they know that there’s going to be some return, that they can be certain of that, of that risk that they’re taking.
You’ve got to have good public services at a reasonable price.
You’ve got to have good public services at a reasonable price. That that’s your tax and your fiscal relationship and you’ve, and you’ve got to have some belief that, you know, in, in, in the property and the tenure system, so that when you make an investment in, you know, you have some certainty in that.
Those components, as I was saying earlier, that’s, that’s your 150 years of history, was saying, no, those don’t exist for First Nations and Indigenous governments across this country. And so the project for all of us is to rebuild that and to help, right? And that’s what we do at Tulo Centre. That’s what you’re doing with the Collaborative Leadership Initiative. Our, you know, our project, it’s a lot of work, but it all comes down to that one word: Jurisdiction.
The only way that First Nation jurisdiction can be occupied is if there’s an orderly process by which that occurs.
Merrell-Ann Phare (08:51): So I know that you work closely with Chief Commissioner Jules of the First Nation Tax Commission, and he focuses a lot on creating legislation. So can you explain both, do you support that?
André Le Dressay (09:05): It’s always difficult to put words in Manny’s mouth, but I’m going to take a shot here. Here’s, here’s the reason why he favors legislation. Is that he believes that the only way that First Nation jurisdiction can be occupied is if there’s an orderly process by which that occurs.
And the legislative frameworks of provincial territorial and federal governments is the mechanism by which they orderly create space, if you will, in the jurisdictional framework. And so their legislation is to do that. The First Nation legislation fills that. And you now have an orderly process, especially if you have institutional support to implement that legislation.
Merrell-Ann Phare (09:47): For them to work together, presumably.
André Le Dressay (09:50): Yeah, exactly, exactly. And that’s what legislation, that’s really, what good legislation does. But legislation on its own is ultimately just words, right? The, the, the, the actual implementation of a law is what institutions do, what our public institutions do.
What is the role of non-Indigenous people and institutions in this journey of achieving economic justice?
Merrell-Ann Phare (10:09): What is the role of non-Indigenous people and institutions in this journey of achieving economic justice?
André Le Dressay (10:16): The question you really asked, which was the important one, which is, you know, like I’m going to compliment you again, is how do you innovate public institutions in a legal framework? And that’s why I have so much respect for what you’re working on, because it is doing that.
You’re creating a governance framework and of course you’re working it out, right? But the, well, how are you doing that is you’re saying, here’s the jurisdiction I have, here’s the jurisdiction you have, let’s break those jurisdictions, work together to create something that allows our regional economy to thrive.
What can happen when a municipality and a First Nation reserve work together?
Michael Miltenberger (10:49): When we’re doing all our meetings with the chiefs, mayors, and reeves, you did a riveting presentation about what can happen when you have a municipality and a First Nation reserve work together.
Currently, they tend to look at each other as adversaries and that they have to work around. And it’s a problem. And you painted a picture that showed what happens with partnerships. Maybe you could just touch on that a bit, because it had everybody on the edge of their seats.
André Le Dressay (11:16): The potential of working together is always the ability to innovate and to create a system that that’s going to better attract potential investment than the system of an adversarial relationship.
I think what I, what I talked about then are huge gains from trade that occurs when two groups work together and bring both of their advantages together. So that rather than looking at the potential costs, think of the growth that can occur from the potential partnership.
From the local government and the First Nation’s perspective, it’s not a pie that’s static, it’s a pie that has the potential to grow.
Economics is one of the most romantic philosophies there are.André Le Dressay
André Le Dressay (12:07): And when you look at that growth, that occurs the amount of that growth that flows to the, to the local government, amount of that growth that flows to the First Nation, whether it’s in the form of jobs, whether it’s in the form of taxes, whether it’s in the form of investment, it far dwarfs what they feel, fear they’re losing.
If we can embrace the gains from trade. And I think the potential to realize much more than we then we see when we view each other as adversaries is, is phenomenal.
Complete strangers, meet all the time in the economic sphere and make exchanges and both feel happier.
And I just wanted to, you know, one of the things that we always talk about in our classes – and I know this is an odd thing for an economist to say, but economics is one of the most romantic philosophies there are because the gains were trade which means the following:
You and I can be complete strangers. And if we can figure out a price that you and I agree to, we can both leave happier. I’ve sold you, something that you like, and I’ve got the money in return, like think of that.
Complete strangers, meet all the time in the economic sphere and make exchanges and both feel happier. How many times does that happen?
Merrell-Ann Phare (13:19): Economics is a romance language.
André Le Dressay (13:19): Exactly.
Has André Le Dressay seen opposition within the Indigenous or non-Indigenous community to the idea of having profit, building economies, strong economies?
Merrell-Ann Phare (13:19): Who knew? And have you seen opposition within the Indigenous or non-Indigenous community to this idea of having profit, building economies, strong economies? Is that something that’s not a traditional concept?
André Le Dressay (13:35): No, others are much better to speak to the history than I, but I will say this, that I think there’s a much greater appreciation for the term renewing Indigenous economies than there is restoring.
The reason I say that is that I think there’s, there’s a, I think a lot of, a lot of people have a real historical sense that pre-contact, there were strong economic institutions, there were strong economies.
Really the, the, the process is just not to restore something, cause you can’t go back and tie, but to renew something. And, and I think that’s, that’s a powerful sort of, we find any way, a powerful message to a lot of people that we work with.
What role can all of us in Canada play in terms of that reconciliation process?
Merrell-Ann Phare (14:20): What advice would you give or what would you recommend to our listeners who want to be able to be supportive of this idea of, of renewing Indigenous economies? What role can all of us in Canada play in terms of that reconciliation process?
André Le Dressay (14:38): I’m going to have a really odd answer, but I’ll get to the point. A little while ago, Starbucks made everyone go through diversity training because of something that was said in a Starbucks and it was a very offensive and it brought all these people in to close to every Starbucks across the United States to go to diversity training. It didn’t work.
They did some studies afterwards about implicit bias and of course, there’s been a massive meta study about this, about what happens when you do diversity training? The answer is nothing, or it makes things worse because people are afraid of the other person now.
So if you were to ask, what’s the one thing that actually works that makes people stop being biased of each other, or stop being worried about that we’re strangers, that we don’t, the one thing that works is working together on a tangible project.
And, you know, like in the studies, the things that worked the best was integrating troops in, in battle. I mean, all of a sudden, all implicit biases fall, cause you have a common objective, you don’t care, right? You just want to survive.
So when you think of what can Canadians do, or what can we, all of us do to do this? This is a very simple answer. Something. Work together, right? Figure out a project, work on it, work together, let those biases fall and, you know, start bringing people together to solve problems like water. Roads.
How do we plan together? Those are like the tangible things that renew economies and ultimately lead to the changes I think we all want.
A Challenge with the Provincial Government
Michael Miltenberger (16:13): We talked about the word taxation with Manny. Currently, where I live up in the Northwest Territories, for example, many people see taxation for Indigenous people and among Indigenous people as a foreign concept. Manny was very clear with his history, that is not the case, but I just wondered if you’d want to add anything to that?
André Le Dressay (16:35): One of the challenges that First Nations in Manitoba face is with the provincial government. And the reason they face a challenge with the provincial government is because the Manitoba provincial government is on the fiscal edge.
They have the largest Indigenous population in Canada. They have quite a an aging non-Indigenous population. So they have two phenomenons. They have a rising cost of healthcare. And the Indigenous poverty means that they’re, that they have a higher cost associated with poverty and less, lower revenues. So that’s a, that’s like a fiscal catastrophe in the making, potentially.
Choices Have Consequences
André Le Dressay (17:24): And so they have two choices. They can try to extract more revenue out of poor people, which never works well. And ultimately just makes people poor, right? They or they can grow their economy. Well, now they have a real choice to make. What’s the best way to grow the Manitoba economy.
The only way, the only source is you can, you can, you know, we can make people work till their older life, or you can take your youngest, fastest growing population and help them grow the economy.
Now from the, now so that’s Manitoba’s strategy. Manitoba should focus on growing, growing the economy and working with First Nations and Indigenous groups to grow the economy. Now let’s look at on the other side. What should Indigenous and governments and First Nations do in Manitoba?
Maintaining a Competitive Edge: Revenues vs Budgets
André Le Dressay (17:24): Well, you have two choices to grow your economy. First off you need revenues to, in order to make your economy grow. So you can look to the federal government to get more revenues, to build the infrastructure, to build the institutional frameworks, to do all those things we talked about to grow your economy.
The problem is this. The federal budget is growing in two areas much faster than it is in any other areas: healthcare, pensions. So are you going to compete with that? Good luck.
So First Nations and Indigenous governments can either compete for scarce resources over there and hopefully, but I don’t like the odds.
Or they can expand their tax bases, look at how to implement their tax powers and grow their economies, and grow their revenues and build their economies, by building the institutional framework. That’s, you know, the strategy that Manny and other leaders are…
Merrell-Ann Phare (19:16): Thereby building the economy of Manitoba.
André Le Dressay (19:18): Exactly, exactly. Exactly. And so tax is a, you know, it’s another romantic idea.
Whats the Role of the Private Sector in Achieving Economic Justice and Economic Reconciliation?
Merrell-Ann Phare (19:30): Does the private sector just, generally speaking in Canada, have a role in achieving economic kind of justice or economic reconciliation with First Nations?
André Le Dressay (19:39): The private sector has to recognize that this pool of talent is out there and they have to start thinking about how do we involve them more in the private sector.
I think the private sector will invest where there’s a profit and they’ll see that they’ll see the opportunities. They’ve got to see this profit, because if you think of the long-term investments that the private sector can make that have a certain return, the best one you can make is in people because that’s your future labor force.
I really think that the private sector partnerships potentially with, with individuals or First Nation governments are ready. You see so much growth in that area because the private sector’s like, hey, look at that growth opportunities, they’re huge opportunities. So I, I don’t know how much you have to encourage the private sector,
Merrell-Ann Phare (20:34): Right. Yeah. They go where the opportunity is, For sure. André just, you’re just so fun to talk to, you’re so hopeful. And it’s just, it’s just so, your enthusiasm is infectious. I love having these conversations. So thank you very much for coming in and talking to us today.
Michael Miltenberger (20:52):= Thank you, André.
Merrell-Ann Phare (20:57): The Porcupine Podcast is produced by myself, Merrell-Ann Phare and Michael Miltenberger. We’d also like to thank our co-producer and audio technician, Hannah Gehman, and our writer, Deborah Bowers, thanks to you for listening to Porcupine Podcast. We hope you return and please feel free to rate and subscribe. Bye for now.
Listen to the Episode
Listen to Episode 6: Indigenous Economics and Reconciliation with André Le Dressay