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Indigenous Leaders: Restoring the treaty relationship is the path to prosperity

Randi Ray looks to advance partnerships between Indigenous people and corporate Canada
Randi Ray, founder of Miikana, a Sudbury-based consulting firm specializing in building mutually beneficial partnerships between Indigenous and non-Indigenous organizations.

Randi Ray believes it's time to reset the relationship, between Indigenous and non-Indigenous people, between First Nation communities and the corporate world.

For the Sudbury entrepreneur, it’s time to restore the spirit and intent of the treaty relationship. The treaties are what she refers to as the original founding documents of Canada.

Through her Hanmer-based consulting business, Miikana (an Anishinaabemowin word for "the path”), Ray is passionate about helping to bridge the socioeconomic gap in the areas of educational programming, leadership, community and economic development, program design, and governance.

The original intent of the treaties, as set out by her forward-thinking ancestors, leaders of sovereign nations in their own right, was to agree to share the land and its natural wealth with the European settlers. The treaties signified peace, prosperity, integrity and values.

But instead of sharing trillions of dollars in generational wealth from places like the mineral-rich Sudbury basin, the reciprocal relationship that Indigenous people sought instead devolved to racist restrictions, policies and practices like residential schools and the still-in-existence Indian Act. 

Companies need to know that history, understand that context, Ray said, before meaningful discussions with Indigenous communities can take place.

For Ray, there can be no reconciliation without truth.

“We need look back before we look forward.”

Ray is the founder of two companies, Miikana and Noojimo Health, the latter being Canada’s first Indigenous-owned virtual mental health clinic and workplace wellness group. Collectively, the two companies employ 17.

The impetus to create these businesses have come out of community asks and needs. Ray hopes these opportunities will convince members who’ve left the reserve to come back and help strengthen capacity. 

A member of the Flying Post First Nation, Ray draws inspiration from her father Murray Ray, chief of Flying Post and one of Ontario’s longest serving leaders at close to 30 years.

Education for all of his members remains one of his long-standing priorities, which is why Ray considers herself a lifelong learner. She has a PhD in education from Nipissing University, focusing on sustainable leadership development with First Nations.

Another of his priorities is economic sovereignty.

“Sovereignty for our communities means our communities are thriving,” Ray said, “and they have the means to make economic decisions for themselves and govern themselves in a way that works for them.”

Ray’s journey in entrepreneurship mirrors the obstacles along the path of many fledgling Indigenous business people. Due to systematic barriers like the Indian Act, access to capital still remains a huge stumbling block.

When Ray started her mental health company, she self-financed the business.

“I’m building (this) but it’s still a barrier that First Nation people experience.”

Through her consulting firm, Ray and her team have worked with approximately 100 clients, many in the extractive industries, others on the government side, in education and the health-care sectors.

Progressive-minded organizations know they must engage with First Nation communities in the areas that they operate. Some need help with that outreach.

The focal point of her consulting business is to bring people together to have thoughtful conversations.

First Nations want to participate in the greater Canadian economy, with ethical partners, but not at the expense of giving up their autonomy and rights, she said.

“How do we move this conversation forward in an equitable way that brings us back to that treaty relationship?”

One way to bridge the gap is through procurement opportunities. It helps communities get their collective foot in the door. And it can start as simply as buying corporate Christmas gifts from an Indigenous-owned small business, Ray said.

“I’m trying to change how these big companies spend to be able to create more opportunities for Indigenous business.”

On a larger scale, it can evolve into mutually beneficial partnership opportunities with industry.

One success she points to is Flying Post Camp and Logistics, a joint venture between Flying Post First Nation and Morris Modular of Sudbury.

The company is a spinoff benefit that’s emerged from the construction of IAMGOLD’s Côté Gold open-pit mine development in the Gogama area. They provide the remote workforce with housing and modular accommodations for the construction workers and eventually the mining workforce over the course of the mine’s life.

This an example of the tremendous mutual benefits that can be achieved on shared territory.

“It is about us meaningfully participating in the economy to create one for ourselves. That’s what we want," Ray said. 

"There's a lot corporate Canada can learn about the way Indigenous people do things in a sustainable way, thinking generations forward."

While there’s been much progress made over the years, there remains much work to do, Ray said.

“We are starting to do that truth-telling. We are starting to tell the truth of what’s happened in this country and it’s opened a lot of people’s eyes, to be able to have these conversations in a meaningful way.”