Skip to main content

A Seat at the Table: Influencing Indigenous wellness

April 8, 2022

In 1990, seven Manitoba chiefs representing seven tribal councils each put forward $25,000 to form Tribal Councils Investment Group of Manitoba (TCIG), and said: “Let’s try and do what we can for our communities and try not to be broke by the end of the year.”

“So with that money, it really was their first attempt at getting to the economic table of Canada, and starting to build businesses and looking for opportunities to join into the infrastructure of Canada’s economy,” says Heather Berthelette (pictured above, left), TCIG’s Chief Executive Officer.

There have been many successes along the way, and some challenges, too. TCIG has invested in about 20 companies over the years, and is currently refocusing itself on its next stages of growth. “We are reconnecting with our original vision and finding out what success means through an Indigenous world view,” says Berthelette.

That vision and the next steps forward include a distinct emphasis on matters related to health and wellness for the 150,000 First Nations people represented by TCIG’s founding tribal councils. Marketed as “Spirit 92,” TCIG is distributing a line of medical products — like gauze and personal protective equipment — across Canada. The name is derived from the 92nd Call to Action advanced by the Truth and Reconciliation Commission of Canada, which calls for “building respectful relationships” with Indigenous communities in advancing businesses in Canada.

 

Economic success and wellness

The relationship between economic success and wellness is a vital lens for TCIG and its initiatives.

“I was visiting one of our communities and learned that the unemployment rate was 85 percent,” says Derek Risbey (pictured above, right), a pharmacist and diabetes educator with TCIG’s Spirit Healthcare Group. “There’s a definite link between social and economic factors and health. People with economic challenges, limited access to health care, and limited access to healthy food have a higher incidence of diabetes and other chronic health conditions. It’s this vicious cycle that can just turn and turn and turn, that’s made even worse when you’re also talking about the remoteness of the north.”

“When you’re facing poverty, and when you’re facing generational trauma, your own health is not the same priority that it otherwise would be,” says Berthelette. “These things really don’t line up with the ability to put a strong focus on a healthy lifestyle. And food sovereignty is a whole other issue. But even before we get to those, the very basics of how you wake up in the morning dictates what your priorities are going to be. And their priority can’t always be a healthy lifestyle.”

 

Building respectful relationships

It’s no wonder that rates of type 2 diabetes are so high among Indigenous people in northern Manitoba. It’s a problem that TCIG wants to help solve, and a relationship with Scimar and the Wellness Transformation Network offers a hopeful avenue.

“Diabetes has been such a fight for our Indigenous population. And we have always been users of a system that we have not been allowed to participate in. We’re not influencers because we’re not at the economic table. And, you know, the health care products industry has a 150-year head start on us,” says Berthelette, who is closely considering an investment in Scimar through TCIG. “We don’t want to be left behind another 150 years. And we don’t just want to be sampling targets. We want a seat at the table; we want to be influencers. Let us stand shoulder to shoulder with companies and decision-makers.”

Berthelette is optimistic that an investment in Scimar could change the conversation about type 2 diabetes in northern Manitoba. She sees partnership with Scimar as an opportunity to help people overcome the shame that is often associated with a type 2 diabetes diagnosis; an opportunity to empower individuals and communities to take charge of their wellness; and an opportunity to help inspire healthy living through an Indigenous world view.

“I’m optimistic that if we are consulted and if we are investors that were equals at the table, we could have a major impact on health for the next 50 years and beyond,” says Berthelette.

“We’re very excited at the prospect of welcoming TCIG as an investor in Scimar,” says Mick Lautt, Scimar’s CEO. “As with all of our relationships with the Indigenous community, we are mindful of the need to welcome the community’s economic insights and their traditional knowledge as we tackle type 2 diabetes through our research. We are excited to welcome TCIG as a partner, co-creator, influencer, and advisor.”

By: Stu Slayen