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A historic gathering for First Nation-led economic development and reconciliation

The February 2024 meeting fostered strategic partnerships for championing opportunities in mining, forestry energy and infrastructure

The Neeganii-iishiwan Network Gathering in Thunder Bay, which means ' to lead to the Gathering place,' has become a symbol of Indigenous economic empowerment and collaboration.

On February 27-29, 2024, the Victoria Inn Hotel & Conference Centre was a hub where more than 300 visionaries, entrepreneurs, and community leaders from Northwestern Ontario and beyond gathered to create a future marked by shared prosperity, economic reconciliation, and cultural resurgence.

In a landmark event hosted by the Windigo Community Development Corporation, Shibogama First Nations Council, Matawa First Nations, Keewaytinook Okimakanak, and Independent First Nations Alliance, the Gathering showcased over 30 communities' collective resolve to drive economic growth through strategic partnerships. The pivotal platform facilitated the exchange of Indigenous capacity-building insights and championed the creation of equitable opportunities in sectors pivotal to the region—mining, forestry, energy, and infrastructure.

The last ten years have seen Ontario's Far North economy flourish, significantly propelled by First Nations' participation.

Their economic engagement is evident through three primary channels—they support the market as diligent consumers and workers, serve as enterprising business owners who invest, create jobs, conduct trade, and collaborate through governments and organizations to launch large-scale projects. This foundational role sets the stage for more substantial economic contributions, with First Nations working alongside provincial and federal governments to advance educational opportunities and economic development. The Neeganii-iishiwan Network Gathering marks a critical juncture in this journey, signalling a move toward a future where First Nations' contributions are recognized as central to the region's prosperity.

Recognizing the important role of First Nations participation in the broader economy, the Gathering became a strategic event to unite the collective aspirations of Nations, businesses, industry sectors, and government bodies. The dialogue centred on building a collaborative framework to harness and amplify the Far North's economic potential. Initiatives to enhance educational outcomes and economic development were discussed as key drivers for increasing First Nation employment, launching successful entrepreneurial endeavours, and extending the scope of First Nations' economic influence.

Dedicated sessions at the Gathering delved into pressing areas critical for community empowerment and regional prosperity. Experts and community leaders addressed infrastructure development, project planning, workforce training, and development to ensure procurement readiness for pivotal sectors like mining, forestry, energy, and infrastructure. In addition, the forum explored the development of local community enterprises such as community stores, gas bars, and tourism—ventures that stand as pillars for sustainable economic and social development. These narratives showcased a vivid picture of a future where First Nations not only contribute to but shape the economic narrative of the North.

The event illuminated the diversity of First Nations' economic roles through heartfelt narratives and case studies. Speakers included Bill Lomax of the First Nation Bank of Canada and J.P Gladu, a respected national Indigenous business leader who served as emcee.

The agenda included panel discussions, networking events, and a tradeshow that showcased diverse local innovations, from community enterprises to tech startups. These innovative ideas were complemented by cultural performances that celebrated the First Nations' rich heritage and aspirations.

The Gathering concluded as a historical event and a catalyst for future initiatives to sustain the momentum. It clearly focused on continuous education, skill development, and nurturing entrepreneurial talent within the First Nations communities.

Learn more about the event online here.