The day of her father’s funeral, Traci Houpapa remembers thinking back to her childhood, the weekend days spent looking up from her colouring book and watching him fiercely argue for land rights for their Maori tribe. “One day," she said to herself, “I want to be just like dad.”
Today, as chair of the Federation of Maori Authorities, she brings that same spirit to advocate for the Maori Indigenous community in New Zealand. During last week’s World Indigenous Business Forum in Vancouver, Ms. Houpapa sat down with government officials, tribal leaders and Canadian companies to discuss the importance of economic trade opportunities between global companies and Indigenous businesses – including First Nations in Canada.
“There is a predominant thought that when we’re talking about Indigenous economic development, it’s largely only between Indigenous nations,” Ms. Houpapa said in an interview with The Globe and Mail. “While that is still important, the idea that Indigenous nations be recognized as global trading nations with other countries and companies is really important.
“Maori … are significant stakeholders in the future of New Zealand," she added. "Our long-term viewpoint and intergenerational commitment make us ideal partners for domestic and international investment.”
Conversations about trade opportunities between countries are increasingly important as more First Nations business ventures emerge in Canada. The forum in Vancouver brought 700 people from around the world, and was an opportunity to showcase Indigenous companies that have exported products within their own communities or globally, said Keith Matthew, a councillor and former chief of the Simpcw First Nation and ambassador to the forum.
“We are seeing our [First Nations] business sector as one of the fastest-growing businesses sectors in Canada right now,” Mr. Matthew said. “We are seeing a breadth of different businesses that have been created by Indigenous communities that is unprecedented for that population.”
Ms. Houpapa is also a director of the Ontario Teachers’ Pension Plan New Zealand Forests Investment Ltd., which invests privately in the industry in New Zealand. She says Canada is one of the Maori’s biggest trading partners, along with Australia and several Asian countries. Another key initiative she hopes will gain traction after the conference is the opportunity for countries to reconsider trade tariffs to protect and foster Indigenous business.
“Many Indigenous nations generally are starting from a deficit position in terms of assets, resources, support, capacity and capability,” she said. “None of this is going to happen overnight. But a tariff may well enable and encourage the growth of economic development and exporting capability between Indigenous people.”
In New Zealand, more than 27,000 Maori legal entities preside over 1.2 million hectares of land. The federation estimates the Maori economy at about $42-billion.
The Maori economy is largely made up of forestry and fishing, as well as red meat, dairy and horticulture. For those industries to grow, Ms. Houpapa says, the country must maintain its global trade and exporting relationships while securing new routes to market through “co-ordinated" trade arrangements.
“There’s an awful lot of goodwill being discussed, but what we are hoping is to find some tangible examples of how we can foster the bilateral relationship between Maori and Indigenous people in Canada to get some kind of tangible results that have economic drip-down effect to help both parties,” Ms. Houpapa said.
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