A leadership building group based in Canada aims to connect indigenous peoples and businesses worldwide at its latest conference. The Indigenous Leadership Development Institute, a 12-year-old nonprofit leadership organization, will hold its fifth annual World Indigenous Business Forum on October 4 and 5 in New York City. And just to create greater value for attendees, the forum will feature actor Val Kilmer as a keynote speaker. It will also facilitate networking so, “people can just meet,” suggested a Native businessman at the kickoff reception for the conference at Talking Stick Resort in the Salt River Pima-Maricopa Indian Community, Arizona, on August 22.
The kick-off event was held to stimulate interest in the forum from local tribes. Rosa Walker, Peguis First Nation, ILDI’s president and chief executive officer, said during the reception, “ILDI sets out to help bring people together and to engage on a global level.” In addition to the annual forum, ILDI works with 60 universities in the United States and Canada to conduct executive and leadership training, including a youth leadership forum.
The business forums arose from what Walker noted is the need to “bring in corporate people to engage with indigenous governments and businesses.” After an Australian Aborigine delegation began attending the forums, Walker said ILDI realized that opening the forum to worldwide indigenous nations not only helps build capacity but also sets off her conference from forums like the annual Reservation Economic Summit (RES) conference (held February 27 through March 1 at Mandalay Bay Hotel & Casino in Las Vegas, Nevada), which is mainly aimed toward U.S. tribal communities.
“We can’t do it alone—as indigenous people, we’re not on the map. We’re always the last to know anything,” Walker said. So ILDI set out to help bring people together and to engage on a global level. “We all have the same issues,” Walker added; “we need governments and corporations that really do care about these issues, otherwise we’ll all be at the end of the priority list.”
To emphasize the global reach of ILDI’s initiatives, this year’s forum will feature Nontombi Naomi Tutu, a race and gender justice activist and the daughter of Nobel Peace Prize winner Archbishop Desmond Tutu and Dr. Jeff McMullen, Australian journalist and author. Other speakers include National Congress of American Indians President Jefferson Keel, Chief Robert Louis, chair of the First Nation Land Advisory Board and Ivan Makil, former president of the Salt River community and principal of Generation Seven Strategic Partners.
Makil said, “Indigenous groups are more tribal then we realize; it makes sense that all indigenous nations can do business together. The indigenous business model is different than the United States’ model; when tribal people sit together, it’s all good.”
Makil and Walker both stressed that they see themselves as “social entrepreneurs” who are working for more than just financial rewards. “There’s a greater good in how you deal with opportunities when indigenous communities’ values can connect, there’s value in it for everybody,” said Makil.
“Business is only one small aspect of what creates a society and our way of life,” he added. “It’s about so much more than money.”
If we don’t do it, nobody will.