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Guenther: Indigenous ag summit cultivates global ambition

Delegates at the Indigenous Agriculture Summit got musical accompaniment to their lunch Wednesday at Regina's Ramada Plaza. (Lisa Guenther photo)

Elmer Eashappie is an idea man. And on his mind today is an agricultural summit connecting First Nations groups worldwide to network and learn, all under the umbrella of Canadian Western Agribition.

And that idea is closer to reality than one may think.

Eashappie, an Agribition board member, is chairman of the Indigenous Agriculture Summit, an event now in its second year running concurrently with Agribition in Regina.

The summit’s goal, he says, is not to duplicate Agribition but to mimic it and “sprinkle it with indigenous culture, because that’s who we are.”

To that end the two-day summit, held Tuesday and Wednesday, included pipe ceremonies, a grand entry, a closing grand march, music and a motivational speech by Manitoba-born actor Adam Beach.

This year’s summit, held downtown at the Ramada Plaza, also had a heavy focus on financials and lease agreements.

Speakers included an aboriginal banking specialist with RBC, to present the “fundamentals of understanding finances. You need a business plan. You need this. You need that,” says Eashappie.

The summit also featured speakers from Florida’s Seminole Tribe, which Eashappie describes as “the multi-billion-dollar role model for First Nations in North America.”

The Seminole Tribe’s website lists enterprises ranging from mining to tourism to citrus groves. The tribe also owns a beef herd, based in Georgia, under the Salacoa Valley Farms brand.

Speakers also included a honeybee producer and a market gardener working with a First Nations community in northeastern Saskatchewan.

“So you can see us getting a real, tangible grassroots feel, which is Agribition,” says Agribition’s CEO Marty Seymour.

The conference, he says, is meant as “a call to action.”

“So when you leave that event, we want you to go home with an idea or innovation that’s going to change your behaviour and/or get you to do something with your work, business, whatever that is, and create opportunities,” Seymour says.

Attendance is up significantly from the first year, Seymour says. Both he and Eashappie want to see the event attract not only local and regional but international attendees.

Eashappie hopes to also attract the Navajo Nation to future summits. Featuring groups such as the Seminole and Navajo, who Eashappie describes as powerful indigenous organizations, would help attract people from as far afield as New Zealand or Mexico, he says.

Such presenters would also serve as role models for delegates at the summit, Eashappie adds. “It becomes an economic development network. It becomes education. It becomes a lot of things.”

The summit is the latest piece of First Nations programming to be folded into Agribition. Others include a First Nations Pavilion on the Agribition grounds, and a First Nations theme night at the rodeo.

“I mean, in Saskatchewan we have lots of First Nations friends here and we wanted to pull them into the Agribition programming family and build from there,” says Seymour.

— Lisa Guenther is a field editor for Grainews based at Livelong, Sask. Follow her @LtoG on Twitter.



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