Inter-Tribal Trade - Wayne Garnons-Williams

Inter-tribal trade provides tribal, economic sovereignty

Wayne Garnons-Williams

Wayne Garnons-Williams (left) with John Rocky Barrett, Chairman of the Citizen Potawatomi Nation in Oklahoma

By Shari Narine
Cando Writer

Wayne Garnons-Williams is excited about the opportunities cross country inter-tribal trade offers for Canadian First Nations and American Tribes.

“I’m passionate about this because I believe tribal sovereignty really means economic sovereignty and the faster we can get First Nations to be as economically self-dependent as possible the more we can have that sovereignty within Canada and be able to say, ‘Federal government, thanks, but no thanks. We appreciate the offer of the money but we don’t want to go that way. We’d rather take our revenue and go this way,’” he said.

President of the International Inter-tribal Trade and Investment Organization headquartered in Ottawa, Garnons-Williams holds that the political climate is right for that kind of movement in Canada. Trudeau’s mandate letters to his Cabinet ministers made it clear that there was no priority more important than the nation-to-nation relationship with Indigenous peoples. One of the rights that the federal government is seriously examining, says Garnons-Williams, is the right to trade.

Domestic trade works hand-in-hand with inter-tribal trade, he says.

“But to get that done, the building blocks of trade have to be there,” said Garnons-Williams, who notes that First Nations are on both ends of the spectrum when it comes to economic development.

There is no greater building block, he says, than education, training and certification which organizations like the International Inter-tribal Trade and Investment Organization, Cando and the Canadian Council of Aboriginal Business can undertake to ensure First Nations have “the cutting edge capacity to know how to run their economic corporations.”

For First Nations to be successful, they must develop their economic corporations at arms-length from the band council.

“Chief and council should not be involved in every day operations and that’s still something that needs to be taught and prodded,” said Garnons-Williams.

But it’s catching on as newly and highly educated young people return to their reserves with business savvy. “They understand what good, sound, fiscal management is for a healthy, prosperous First Nation.”

After a First Nation corporation has successfully generated revenue for at least five years, then it can look at taking it to the next level: inter-tribal trade, which can mean either across provincial borders or into the United States.

“If you’re ready for a new market, let’s look at getting together with US Tribes,” said Garnons-Williams. He points out that US Tribes, as a whole, are ahead of Canadian First Nations economically because the tribes have been working with the US federal government for one hundred years longer than the First Nations in this country.

The next step in inter-tribal trade is to turn to academic leaders, an aspect that IITIO embraces.

“We gather together the world’s leading Indigenous economic leaders in the same room to look at these issues… what is the history of this, what does the law currently say out there in Canada, the United States and the provinces, and how can we best leverage this to make it go forward?” said Garnons-Williams.

These economic experts, he says, will discuss the issues, write research papers, and provide the solutions and options needed to move forward.

IITIO Group small

Group photo of the IITIO trade mission and conference at the College of Law, University of Oklahoma in June 2017.

More articles in this series:

Wayne Garnons-Williams - Inter-tribal trade provides tribal, economic sovereignty

Jim Collard - CPN foreign-trade zone ready for long term contracts

Keith Matthew - Cando to be “honest broker” in developing inter-tribal trade

Ray Wanuch - Strong economic development plans required to move forward with FTZs