Reflecting on My Experience at Forward Summit | WEST 2024

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By: Jay Cumming

Reconciliation efforts in Canada have come a long way in the last couple of decades; a lot further than I think many of us ever expected them to go. As a Métis man from Manitoba, I’ve experienced both rage and hope as I’ve watched these changes unfold across Canada.

Last week I had the great privilege of attending Forward Summit | WEST on the beautiful Tsuut’ina Nation in Calgary. Initially, I had no idea what to expect – after all, while reconciliation has been a topic I’ve been passionate about, I, like many others, had never personally encountered any steps that felt meaningful towards that pursuit, until last week.

I’m pleased to report that I was pleasantly surprised by my experience.

I should clarify: When I say “surprised,” I don’t mean by the Forward Summit team. Connecting with the team over the past six months made it clear how much they truly believe in this mission. They pour their blood, sweat and tears into supporting reconciliation, particularly economic reconciliation. No, what surprised me most was the engagement I saw from companies and the individuals representing those companies who seemed genuinely interested in creating meaningful change.

We’ve all seen the controversies and watched the news stories over the years. After seeing proof that companies are more interested in building pipelines than protecting Indigenous peoples or lands, you eventually become cynical; and rightfully so. Throughout my education I’ve also studied more than a few examples of companies and government officials steamrolling over Indigenous groups to line their own pockets. Needless to say, I wasn’t necessarily the warmest audience member.

When this is your experience, it’s absolutely shocking to hear that the individuals responsible for Indigenous relations at companies are open with their executive teams, stating their priority to build strong communities rather than make money for their companies.

The part that assuaged my cynicism most wasn’t the words that came from the speakers; it was the people I met in the audience. At the very beginning of day one, two employees of Suncor sat with me and my associates and struck up a conversation. Within minutes I was told about how beautiful the new fuel stations being built in partnership with Indigenous communities were. I was told how Indigenous communities will hire architects to design buildings that add aesthetic value to the communities. I was told about some of the initiatives specifically targeted towards Indigenous people to both engage communities and support Indigenous businesses from a marketing perspective.

During Amanda Robert’s (another member of the Suncor team) panel discussion on advancing Indigenous participation in oil and gas, it was clear that she was passionate about the relationships she was building. She was interested in building communities and supporting reconciliation, not only when it was convenient for Suncor, but all the time. To see that attitude reflected in other Suncor employees, from a variety of departments, leads me to believe that reconciliation might just be in the DNA of Suncor, ingrained in the culture of their workplace.

As a guy responsible for writing policies for a distributed team of Canadian employees, it left me inspired and in a state of reflection.

As a manager, was I doing enough to ingrain the spirit of reconciliation into the very culture of our company?

I still don’t know if I have a clear answer to this, but I definitely have a better idea now than I did two weeks ago.

It’s not just me either – the owner of The Davis Media Company, Sean Davis, is also Métis. He and I have both been disconnected from our culture and exist purely in colonial society with no tangible connection to our ancestral culture.  With such a lack of cultural exposure over the course of our lives, we have always felt unequipped to make our Indigenous connections a part of our outward corporate identity. I’m not sure whether that’s because we come from an openly racist environment and feared the market viewing us differently or because we truly didn’t know how to represent what was supposed to be our culture in the workplace.

Experiences like Forward Summit are so important because they contextualize that process and offer guidance to companies that want to be part of the solution but don’t know how.

One of the most profound statements of the entire conference was “Nothing About Us Without Us.” This important statement means opening dialogue and learning lessons from those who Canada needs to reconcile with.

Indigenous people are perfectly capable of showing us the way to move forward and how we can support reconciliation in a meaningful way. Events like Forward Summit are where these dialogues happen.

There are, of course, low-hanging fruit and quick changes we can make within our own company. Things like recognizing Indigenous holidays beyond just September 30th or creating company policies to permanently protect the rights of any current or future Indigenous employees are things that we can implement immediately to make The Davis Media Company a safer workplace for Indigenous employees.

Beyond that, our company publishes media consumed by hundreds of thousands of people across Canada. By proudly leaning into our identity as an Indigenous-owned business, maybe we can set an example for other companies across the country; after all, if we exist, then there’s likely a thousand other business owners struggling with integrating an identity that they may not fully understand into their businesses.

There are still many lessons for us to learn, and I look forward to attending Forward Summit | EAST and Forward Summit | WEST COAST this fall and continuing to learn how I can do my part in my little corner of the world to become the change that we all want to see in Canada.

This conversation is going to outlive both you and I. We can do our part today to bring Canada one step closer to economic inclusion and reconciliation with Indigenous peoples tomorrow.

My goal is to do my part to ensure that my children and grandchildren can proudly identify as Metis and connect with their history in a way that I was never taught.

If you’re interested in learning more about how you, or your company, can be a part of economic reconciliation in Canada, I implore you to join me at Forward Summit | EAST in Toronto on September 25 and 26 and at Forward Summit | WEST COAST in Vancouver on October 22 and 23.

Who knows – it might be as transformative for your life as it was for mine.

Jay Cumming is the Vice President & Publisher for The Davis Media Company, an Indigenous-owned print and digital publishing firm that produces innovative media products in partnership with non-profit groups throughout North America and the publishing partner of Forward Summit.

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