Alexia McKinnon entered the second cohort of the indigenous Business Leadership Executive MBA (IBL-EMBA) at Simon Fraser University’s Beedie School of Business. In her corporate law course alone, she learned case law and much more from the indigenous legal scholar who taught the class.
“He taught us indigenous sources of law that I don’t think any of us thought or considered at that time,” says McKinnon. “What does it look like when we look at legal context and cases from an indigenous law perspective? It means culture, ceremony, protocol, language, relationship to the natural world, dispute resolutions from our own community, deliberative decision making.”
Her experience in the IBL-EMBA helped her see her world in a new, powerful light.
“Never ever did I think the wisdom and knowledge I hold as an indigenous person was applicable in a legal context. And once I understood that, the landscape completely shifted, and it’s almost as fundamental as a paradigm shift.”
Now as director of indigenous Programs at the Beedie School, McKinnon helps lead the next chapters of the 10-year-old program with that shift in mind.
“It’s not just to build EMBAs,” she says. “It’s to build indigenous leaders committed to transforming and shaping the system so that it’s inclusive of indigenous world view and deliberative on creating indigenous economies.”
In 2012, Beedie launched a pilot program, born from a vision to include indigenous leaders at the corporate decision-making table. Demand for the program has grown: Originally offered every two years, it now admits a cohort each year and will reach 147 alumni this fall with 40 students enrolled for next year.
Accredited by EQUIS and AACSB International, the program offers the familiar academic rigor of EMBA Programs. It also distinguishes itself in many ways: 70 percent of the faculty are indigenous, all program teaching assistants are indigenous, and the program invites elders and knowledge keepers into the classroom to support the students.
“We respect the wisdom students bring, and then the MBA space is really a place for students to weave the two worlds together and to create new systems, processes, and structures that work for their own communities and their organizations,” says McKinnon.
“Another concept that is different, and I think really sets us apart from business schools, is we view education as healing,” she says. Part of a truth and reconciliation process, the Canadian Call to Action #92 invites corporations and businesses to work in better relationships with indigenous peoples.
“As a business school, we’ve really taken this on, not only to focus first and foremost on our indigenous community but also those who work with us.”
In other groundbreaking efforts, faculty are pioneering new areas of study. One of the first indigenous students to complete a Ph.D., now a faculty member on a tenure track at Beedie, is generating research on a new area of study, indigenous economies. The body of work looks at what wealth means and how an indigenous worldview of wealth can be incorporated into business.
The program recently changed its format, based on the discovery during the pandemic that students appreciated the convenience of online learning. Now the blended learning model delivers two courses a semester online and one, one-week face-to-face on-the-land learning experience in the faculty member’s home community.
The program’s alumni help demonstrate its impact, as they make their mark in environmentalism, resource and land development, housing, and other areas, says McKinnon. “They are doing incredible work in their communities.” The program inspired other alumni—20 of them—to pursue doctorates, helping increase the number of indigenous faculty.
In coming years, the program will work to expand indigenous studies and research and support more indigenous leaders, while always remaining committed to the success of its students, says McKinnon.
“We believe in bringing the entire cohort along, so everyone who starts finishes. We create the conditions for them to learn and grow and find those areas they want to further for their nations, their businesses, or themselves.