Carol Anne Hilton

Indigenomics: Carol Anne Hilton Builds Indigenous Economic Strength

Carol Anne Hilton coined the term “Indigenomics” and in return she’s been helping Indigenous entrepreneurs and communities make bank through economic participation. With a Nuu-chah-nulth name that means “big sister” and with roots in Hesquiaht Nation, Hilton is the CEO and founder of a company called the Indigenomics Institute, where she facilitates and drives a narrative around Indigenous economic strength.

Hilton looks at the growing economic empowerment of Indigenous people, at economic design and what actual economic empowerment for Indigenous people looks like nationally and internationally. She has an interest in understanding and overcoming business challenges  while creating solutions and pathways for entrepreneurs and communities to build businesses. 

“Balancing decision-making governance and business within the processes, that's a lot of what I do within my company.” 

That looks like helping communities design economic plans and structures, supporting businesses and startups in accessing financing, advising industries on how to engage with First Nations communities and people and a lot of economic planning and development. 

When she works with clients, Hilton does economic development planning for communities, showing them strategically how to quadruple their revenue over a two year period. She works with entrepreneurs and with community policies to increase access for their citizens to become entrepreneurs. She helps nations situate themselves in a place of power where they can actually gain revenue rather than just impact on the lands through business. 

Now a thought leader in Indigenous business, Hilton didn’t start out in this field educationally. She first thought she wanted to do social work and did community wellbeing programs but found she was more attracted to management. Hilton did an undergraduate degree in First Nation Studies but was drawn to business. 

“What I found important was that there was, even back then, very little understanding of Indigenous peoples or the growing strength of Indigenous businesses as what we're seeing today.”

She later continued onto an international MBA through the University of Hertfordshire at a time where there were few Indigenous students in business. Her initial premise in her research was basic: first nations economic development is important. From that idea, she built up an entire concept called Indigenomics, which is economics from an Indigenous worldview. Hilton facilitated it from a hashtag into an entire movement and is now building a Global Center of Indigenomics.

“Working across Canada, one of the things that I see is that there's this outstanding perspective of seeing Indigenous peoples as a burden on the fiscal system, where instead, if we saw the growth of our Indigenous businesses and entrepreneurs, that we're actually generating and participating within Canada's economy and that we're not just a cost,” she noted.

Illustration by Shaikara David

“We're actually, when invested in, able to sustain our communities and do that in a way that focuses the intention of business to be able to support our elders and support our culture, support our languages, in a way that is different from mainstream business,” she continued. Hilton talks about business as tool for cultural revitalization and collective well-being. 

“15 years ago doing my MBA, being the only Indigenous person in the classroom, what I felt was this lack of inclusion in terms of actually understanding the potential Indigenous peoples bring within this country and that context has changed considerably today.”

As she studied alongside students from China, Japan, Korea, India, the US and Mexico, worldviews competed in the classroom. She realized being deeply influenced by an Indigenous worldview shaped her thinking of how that could apply to business and Indigenous communities. 

“That's a lot of where my work is, driving a message home of how important Indigenous businesses are, how important partnerships are and how important it is for our Indigenous people to feel like they can start a business.” 

Asking the people of the Nass Valley about the likelihood of them starting a business, she was told,"You can give us all these business tools. You can tell us how to set up a business plan, how to do marketing, finance, all those aspects. But our internal state is what is most important is that we don't have confidence."

“I think that's one of the most important things to be aware of and to be able to get support around in business is building confidence and understanding how important that is to entrepreneurship, and to business overall.” 

Hilton helps communities grow towards the future based on what she’s learned from the past. Raised in care hours from her home community, she reconnected when she was 16. Looking back on her upbringing, she wished was better able to interrogate negative belief systems. “One of the things that I wish I understood earlier in my life was being able to take apart my belief system and be able to put it together in a way that serves me in a more productive way,” she reflected. That focus on mindset is helping her face the pandemic. 

“I'm very aware of the conversations that I am engaging in and what is important to me right now in my life is to create calm. So part of what that means to me is to not pay too much attention to the news and engage in fearful aspects of that.”

Hilton has focused on what she is creating and the break from travelling and more time at home has given her an ability to focus on moving her business forward, moving up timelines on planned initiatives by years. She’s also helping other business owners respond to the situation, offering support and resources and a focus on what is important and what to do next. 

Carol Anne Hilton lives up to her name of “Big Sister” by showing other Indigenous business owners and communities a way forward in business. She’s sparking a wave of cultural revitalization and an investment in community that goes beyond dollars and cents. When an Indigenous worldview met economics, Indigenomics was born and when Hilton shares her knowledge and expertise, business confidence and capacity come to life too. 

Thanks to Alison Tedford for authoring this article.

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