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A new paper from researchers at the Bank of Canada tells us a lot about the state of the Indigenous economy within Canada. But one thing that stands out is how much the paper can’t tell us – because the basic economic data, in 2023, don’t exist.
The 30-page overview, published last week, is a terrific roundup of the characteristics of and important deficits in the economies of Indigenous communities. It’s a must-read for anyone engaging in the conversation of economic reconciliation, in examining the challenges and obstacles preventing too many of those communities from realizing their economic potential.
The first challenge: finding data to measure the state of the Indigenous economy with any accuracy or timeliness. As the Bank of Canada paper makes abundantly clear right off the top, these vital building blocks for economic policy are crumbly and incomplete.
“Attempts to measure the size or contributions of the Indigenous economy in Canada are limited by data availability and quality,” the report says in its introduction. “Those data provide only a partial picture of the Indigenous economy.”
The paper cites numerous instances where key measures are anywhere from two to eight years old; many are only updated every few years. The existing statistics contain only spotty information about the number and performance of Indigenous businesses, and we know shockingly little about Indigenous ownership of physical capital (buildings, machinery and equipment used in production). The data underestimate the contribution of traditional Indigenous land-based economic activities, such as hunting and fishing.