NACCA Prosperity Forum 2024: Embracing change for a prosperous Indigenous economy

by Kara Thorvaldson

Five women sitting on stage during a panel discussion with logos of NACCA in the background.
(From left) Magnolia Perron, manager of Indigenous Women and Youth Program at the National Aboriginal Capital Corporations Association (NACCA); Dr. Wendy Cukier, founder and academic director of the Diversity Institute and Women Entrepreneurship Knowledge Hub; Alison Kirkland, CEO of the Women’s Enterprise Organizations of Canada; Dawn Madahbee Leach, general manager of the Waubetek Business Development Corporation; and Laura Mueller, founder of Matriarch Media, speaking on a panel at the NACCA Prosperity Forum 2024.

The National Aboriginal Capital Corporations Association (NACCA) Prosperity Forum 2024, held at the Hilton Lac-Leamy in Gatineau, Quebec, from May 7 to 9, was a source of hope, inspiration and innovation, centred around the theme Embracing Change: A Prosperous Indigenous Economy. The Women Entrepreneurship Knowledge Hub (WEKH) was delighted to attend this event, which provided a platform for Indigenous leaders, entrepreneurs and stakeholders to come together, exchange ideas, share stories and experiences, and envision a future of economic growth and prosperity for Indigenous communities. 

The 2024 Forum kicked off on the evening of May 7 with a spirited reception, setting the stage for networking, connection and the forging of meaningful relationships—an example of the strength found in community and collaboration, essential elements that sit at the core of this annual gathering.

Day 1: Economic development, Indigenous financial institutions and success stories

The Forum’s first day was marked by many speakers, including guest addresses from the Minister of Indigenous Services, the Honourable Patty Hajdu, and the Minister of Small Business, the Honourable Rechie Valdez, highlighting the government’s commitment to Indigenous economic development. These addresses, along with thought-provoking panel discussions with industry experts and thought leaders, set the tone throughout both days.

A woman speaking at a podium on a stage with her speech broadcast on two large screens and the logos of NACCA on the screens behind her.
The Honourable Patty Hajdu, Minister of Indigenous Services speaking at the NACCA Prosperity Forum 2024.

Three panel discussions delved into the roles of small and medium-sized enterprises (SMEs) and Indigenous financial institutions (IFIs) in fostering Indigenous economic growth across Canada, as well as overcoming challenges and embracing opportunities in gender equity, global trade and economic empowerment. Dr. Wendy Cukier, founder and academic director of the Diversity Institute and WEKH, participated in a panel: Navigating the Future of the Women’s Entrepreneurship Ecosystem: Challenges and Opportunities. Cukier shared preliminary research findings from the State of Women’s Entrepreneurship Report in Canada 2024, along with other data and insights concerning the challenges and opportunities in women’s entrepreneurship, as well as navigating the ecosystem aiming to empower Indigenous women economically. 

Attendees also interacted with industry representatives and explored the exhibitor space, showing support for Indigenous artists, creatives and entrepreneurs. As WEKH representatives, Dalainey Gervais and Kara Thorvaldson, WEKH’s program manager, hosted an exhibitor space where they shared more information about the Diversity Institute and its diverse research and programs, including WEKH. 

Success stories of Indigenous entrepreneurs and businesses were also featured throughout the Forum, including the unveiling of an exciting new partnership between the Indigenous Prosperity Foundation and the Mastercard Foundation. The event was further enriched by the captivating performances of the SpiritWolf Singers, who commanded the stage with their mesmerizing drumming and singing; Leo and Leah Andrades, who mesmerized the audience with their traditional dance performance; and talented artists who brought the captivating performance of Miigis: Underwater Panther by Red Sky Performance.

The Indigenous Prosperity Gala, capping off the first day, celebrated outstanding achievements in Indigenous business with the 2024 IFI Awards. The Awards recognized the achievements of the following Indigenous-owned businesses:

  • Young Indigenous Entrepreneur Award: Emilie McKinney, Anishinaabe Bimishimo
  • Indigenous Women Business Award: Melody Kelts, SAGE Pharmacy
  • Distinguished Leader Award: Michael Ivy, Apeetagosan Development 
  • Indigenous Community Business: Ron Bonnycastle, Castle Rock Enterprise
  • Indigenous Business of the Year: Martin O’Bomwasin, Abenaki Adventure

Day 2: Empowering Indigenous youth and celebrating talent and resilience

The second day of the Forum maintained the momentum of the previous day, offering a wealth of informative sessions and valuable insights from speakers and panellists. Among them was a guest address from the Honourable Minister Soraya Marinez Ferrada, Minister of Tourism and Minister responsible for the Economic Development Agency of Canada for the Regions of Quebec. Additional panels focused on empowering Indigenous youth entrepreneurs and addressing the challenges and opportunities of the modern workplace. Speakers highlighted the need to support youth-led ventures, and foster innovation and skills development, and the importance of attracting and retaining Indigenous talent.

The Forum concluded with an electrifying performance by Indigenous artist Rebecca Strong, a finalist and eventual winner of Canada’s Got Talent Season 3. Her performance symbolized the talent and resilience present in Indigenous communities.

The NACCA Prosperity Forum 2024 was more than just a gathering—it was a catalyst for change and prosperity in Indigenous economies across Canada. By embracing change, fostering innovation and supporting Indigenous entrepreneurship, it provided insights into and a pathway for how we can build a future of economic growth and prosperity for all Indigenous Peoples.