University of Saskatchewan

September 22, 2014   

How I Spent My Summer Vacation

Anne Mease (Photo by Liam Richards)
September 18, 2006

Study Explores Native Entrepreneurship Across Globe
Monday, September 18, 2006
(>Sixth in a Series)
By David Hutton and Charles Hamilton
for The StarPhoenix

A journey of discovery from New Zealand to Arizona and back to Canada has sparked ideas among a group of University of Saskatchewan researchers that could help revitalize Canada's aboriginal economy.

 “This gives us some new perspective,” says Anne Mease, a master’s student in native studies. “If groups in Canada can take a little bit of what the Maori do, a little bit of what people in Arizona are doing, we could really make things happen here.”

 

Mease is one of seven participants in the Canadian Imperial Bank of Commerce-sponsored research program, offered through the College of Agriculture. It aims to explore ways of creating new value-added ventures on Aboriginal lands by looking at opportunities in Canada and around the world.

 

“Participants are offered an international experience that will broaden their knowledge of the global agricultural and bio-resource industries,” says Thomas Allen, CIBC Scholar in Agricultural Entrepreneurship, and one of the professors supervising the project. 

 

“These students are acquiring the skills needed to become industry leaders here at home.”

 

During the New Zealand trip earlier this year, the group, which consisted of Canadian Aboriginal students, chiefs and community leaders, learned about New Zealand’s Maori people and their prosperous participation in the agricultural economy. 

 

They visited and studied successful Maori ventures throughout the country – everything from a wetland restoration project to wine production to mussel farming. 

 

“In New Zealand especially, they’ve managed to maintain their culture while at the same time making millions of dollars,” Mease says.

 

“The Maori people have been able to take land that was worth nothing and turn it into prime, productive property.”

 

Maori people have also developed a lucrative eco-tourism industry, showcasing traditional lifestyle and customs. Saskatchewan may follow their lead as aboriginal leaders proceed with plans to create a cultural centre in Prince Albert National Park.

 

This summer, the group took another trip to the southwestern United States.  Joined by their New Zealand and U.S counterparts, they received an extensive tour of the Gila River Indian Community (GRIC), learning how these groups have become major players in the American agricultural industry.   

 

The GRIC now manages one of the most successful citrus farms in the United States.

 

All three contingents were then invited on a five-day tour of Western Canada, where they visited and studied a variety of successful Canadian Aboriginal agriculture and bio-resource ventures.

 

The North American tour finished in Saskatoon with a conference that featured Aboriginal agriculture representatives from New Zealand, U.S. and Canada , bringing together a variety of perspectives on the future of Aboriginal agricultural and bio-resource industries. 

 

“This is about ideas,” says Allen.  “We want to find out what is and what’s not working with regard to Aboriginal economies and innovation.”

 

Allen and others are looking at successful marketing techniques, such as Aboriginal branding and labeling, which have been implemented in New Zealand and the U.S.

 

He says this experience not only exposed participants to new forms of agriculture and Aboriginal innovation, but put them in touch with the world-wide Aboriginal agriculture community. 

 

“I hope that the contacts and the networks developed by the participants will last a lifetime, that this year’s students will assist in offering parts of the program in future years, and that a formal, or informal, association of graduates will be created,” says Allen.

 

Mease hopes that what she has learned will help with her master’s thesis – a comprehensive study of land management issues surrounding her own Selkirk First Nation in the Yukon.

 

She is optimistic that the confidence and fresh thinking inspired by these two extraordinary expeditions will help bolster Canada’s Aboriginal cultural and economic prosperity. 

 

For any Aboriginal economy to flourish, she says Aboriginal communities need to be open to new ideas.  “If the Maori and American Indians could do that kind of thing in 20 years, we could do it 20 years,” she says. “This gives us hope.”

(This article is part of a partnership initiative between The StarPhoenix and University of Saskatchewan Research Communications Office to highlight the work of student researchers and showcase the efforts of student writers and photographers.)

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