THUNDER BAY — Jason Thompson, outgoing board chair of the Thunder Bay Chamber of Commerce, calls himself a "very strong advocate" for the inclusion of Indigenous people in business.
Thompson is on an advisory committee for the Canadian Aboriginal Minority Supplier Council and is an entrepreneur with his growing business, Superior Strategies.
He said quite often, when businesses are heard talking about reconciliation, he wants to know more.
"I ask them, 'What's your action plan? What are the dates? How are we moving forward?' And they can't give an answer," he said.
"During COVID, we were able to shift our procurement processes, and with a snap of the fingers, things shifted. I often ask, why is it taking so long to put the reconciliation processes in place? Again, words without action, or simply words that we want to see action."
Thompson said he is a "firm believer" that to move from poverty to prosperity, Indigenous people and their businesses need to be included.
"It's having conversations, it's building relationships, and giving a fair opportunity, and you're not seeing that yet," he said.
"It's very slow-moving. It's not happening quick enough. I truly believe that reconciliation also requires us, as Indigenous people, to do our work in that regard. Reconciliation is not cutting a cheque. It's not a donation. We're not a charity case. We want to work. "
Thompson pointed out that he built six different businesses, and he wants to work.
"I'm very vocal about it, saying I want to work, I want an opportunity, and I want to grow. But unfortunately, we still run into barrier after barrier after barrier. And the action to eliminate those barriers oftentimes, is not taking place. They're moving very slowly."
He said the barriers are broad, ranging from working with suppliers to acquiring competitive pricing or opportunities. Access to capital is still a challenge for many Indigenous businesses.
When he is vocal about these issues, he often is "given the cold shoulder."
"All I'm doing is holding people accountable. You made the promises . . . and I'm just asking you to live up to what you're promising because we've got a history of mistrust as Indigenous people and working with our partners way back to the days when the treaties were first signed."
Thompson added that working through all that is important for them to ensure that they're moving forward.
The Chronicle Journal / Local Journalism Initiative