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Business student spearheads Indigenous economic resurgence projects

Indigenous Student Showcase celebrates scholarship and entrepreneurship
By: Tania Ulrich
April 28, 2023
Cher Trudeau with students Cody Anthony, Cassandra Witteman / iowyth (Io) and Carrie Davis.

The 11th annual Indigenous Student Showcase provided a platform for Indigenous students at Toronto Metropolitan University to define their success and present their accomplishments to the broader community. The event celebrates Indigenous student creativity and innovation. Pictured are Cher Trudeau, coordinator Aboriginal Education Council with student honourees Cody Anthony, Cassandra Witteman / iowyth (Io) and Carrie Davis. Photo credit: Kaytee Dalton

For third-year business management student Cody Anthony, working towards First Nation economic growth is both a vital aspect of reconciliation between Canada and Indigenous peoples, and a practical route to self-reliance and self-determination.

Anthony, an Urban-Indigenous (Dene:Settler) youth whose family originates from the Northwest Territories, is the founder of the Ted Rogers Indigenous in Business (external link)  community-centered student organization. The group works to increase representation of Indigenous peoples in the economic sector and Indigenous values within economic development strategies. It supports Indigenous entrepreneurship and encourages Indigenous students to consider business degrees and careers.

“The intention is to advocate for reconciliation through economic participation and invite Indigenous peoples to the table,” he says.

Anthony was recently recognized at the 11th annual Indigenous Student Showcase and Open House, an opportunity for the TMU community to learn about and celebrate Indigenous student achievement. He received a Defining Your Success Award for Creative Excellence and an honorarium.

The initiative aims to foster understanding, and inspire and empower Indigenous students at TMU to intentionally define their own academic objectives.

“Without the ability to create spaces like this for our Indigenous students, where they get to identify and present what is important to them, it is difficult to think about how the future will look like - their work does and will make an impact,” says Monica McKay, director, Aboriginal Initiatives. “If we don't take this opportunity to recognize student accomplishments, hear from them and share with the TMU community, we can get back to a place where the Indigenous community doesn’t see themselves represented and participating in the larger TMU community.”

For a list of all winners, please see below.

Centring Indigenous approaches to SRC and honouring Indigenous trailblazers 

As part of course work for his business management degree, Anthony contributed to a research project promoting Indigenous business and new venture creation in his second year of the program. Working collaboratively and with the mentorship of Michael Mihalicz, Indigenous adviser at the Ted Rogers School of Management, Anthony helped to co-publish findings in Indigenous Entrepreneurship: A community-driven approach to new venture creation, a resource to help integrate Indigenous perspectives into curriculum.

His work shed light on the legitimacy of business in Indigenous traditions and explored pre-colonial commerce, trade and exchange in the Americas by mapping trade routes to show how Indigenous peoples developed complex economic systems that laid the foundation for the modern North American economy.

Smudging ceremony with canoe

The Reconciliation in Business 2022 Conference and Social event unveiled an Indigenous art installation at the Ted Rogers School of Management, a Birchbark Canoe made by Mi’kmaw artisan, Todd Labrador. Indigenous trading networks existed on the continent long before Europeans arrived, and canoes made travel and trade possible. The installation celebrates the rich history of pioneering Indigenous entrepreneurship in Canada. Photo credit: Tiffany Chan

Business and Reconciliation

Indigenous dancers in regalia

Photo credit: Tiffany Chan

Indigenous dancers in regalia

The Reconciliation in Business 2022 Conference and Social event at the Ted Rogers School of Management last September was the first of its kind at a university focused on reconciliation and entrepreneurship. Highlights include cultural dance performances by Indigenous performers in full regalia. Photo credit: Tiffany Chan

“We promote the idea of people, planet and purpose over profits,” said Anthony in his presentation introduction at the student showcase event. “This is something that we embark on every day, something that we hope to innovate in the business sector by promoting Indigenous entrepreneurship.”

This ethos underpinned the organization of the Reconciliation in Business 2022 Conference and Social event at the Ted Rogers School of Management last September, which celebrated Indigenous resurgence in business. 

The event centred on advocacy and support for the Truth and Reconciliation Commission (TRC) Call to Action #92. The recommendation makes an appeal to Canada’s corporate sector to apply the principles of reconciliation to corporate policy and operational activities when working with Indigenous peoples, their lands and resources. 

This can take the form of reciprocal relationships or 50/50 equity partnerships as means towards decolonization and self-determination. An example, Anthony points out, are equity partnerships between Hydro One and Indigenous communities to help foster responsible development of Indigenous land resources that benefit the communities in which they are extracted.

“The priority is to promote Indigenous participation in the Canadian economy and in decision-making at all levels of public policy because, as we say, ‘nothing about us, without us’,” says Anthony. “We want to work towards closing the socioeconomic gap that Indigenous Peoples face and unlock the potential of the $100 billion annual Indigenous economy.”

The conference raised $40,000, all put towards reconciliation initiatives.

Michael Mihalicz holds a large feather in front of a young woman with her back turned.

Michael Mihalicz, Indigenous adviser at the Ted Rogers School of Management, performs a ceremony at the Reconciliation in Business 2022 Conference and Social in September. Photo credit: Tiffany Chan

Edie Assinewe and Dana Marlatt.

Two panel speakers, Edie Assinewe, TMU retail management alumni and co-founder of Assinewe Jewelry and Dana Marlatt, MBA candidate at TMU and creator of the Re:conciliation project, at the conference. Photo credit: Tiffany Chan

And stay tuned! Anthony also recently participated in a TED Talk at TMU entitled, ‘The future is Indigenous’ to share perspectives and research on reconciliation and business which will be released in May on the TedX TMU student organization’s website (external link) .

Indigenous Student Showcase winners

The Indigenous Student Showcase celebrates Indigenous student achievement at TMU, and furthers student representation in scholarly, research and creative activity (SRC). Student presenters were all recognized at the Indigenous Student Showcase with the Defining Your Success Award for Creative Excellence and honorarium, in partnership with Elder Joanne Dallaire who created and launched this year’s event:

Carrie Davis, second-year Documentary Media MFA
Carrie Davis, who is Moose Cree, Wikwemikong Anishinaabe, previewed a clip from their short documentary, Double M Country, about their personal journey of self-discovery. The film is set to premiere at DOC Now (external link) , TMU’s annual festival of Documentary Media MFA students’ films and photo exhibitions from June 1 to June 4.

Sarah Dennis, fourth-year Social Work 
Sarah Dennis is from Nipissing First Nation and brings Indigenous health practices and perspectives to health and wellness approaches. As an Indigenous entrepreneur, her line of organic and hemp-based natural skin care remedies, Copperhead Naturals (external link) , are made with traditionally foraged and sustainable ingredients. 

Cassandra Witteman / iowyth (Io), first-year Communication and Culture PhD 
(Io) Cassandra Witteman identified as Metis from Penetang and presented their book The Witch: A Pedagogy of Immanence (external link) , described as a set of stories that help them to remember and understand Indigenous ways of knowing and our connection to nature.

The annual Indigenous Student Showcase and Open House is produced in partnership with the Office of Aboriginal Initiatives, Aboriginal Education Council, and Toronto Metropolitan Aboriginal Student Services, with additional support from the Rebirthed Teachings Office and Office of the Vice-President, Equity and Community Inclusion.

The future is Indigenous

Monica McKay

Monica McKay, director, Aboriginal Initiatives and director and member of the Aboriginal Education Council responsible for developing, leading and coordinating the implementation of TMU’s Aboriginal Education strategy. Photo credit: Kaytee Dalton

Kelsi-Leigh Balaban.

Kelsi-Leigh Balaban, community engagement specialist, Yellowhead Institute. Photo credit: Kaytee Dalton

In identifying their heritage and band in their presentation introductions, student award recipients continued the cultural practice of honouring their roots. Connecting to the past, these students recognize the power and impact of communal bonds. In sharing their success, they also pave the way for the next generation of Indigenous youth, deepening a sense of purpose, place and pride.

Additional awards and scholarships made possible by generous donors include:

  • The Johnson Scholarship Foundation
  • The Wipro Awards
  • The Fiera Capital Awards
  • The Frank Hori Foundation
  • The Ann and Bill McKay Awards
  • The Bennett Award
  • The Yellowhead Awards

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