I have had the great opportunity of working with the Indigenous community since 1994 when I moved myself and my family back to my traditional homelands along the north shore of Lake Superior. My formal education was civil engineering technology however I quickly realized that my combined family heritages (Indigenous ancestry and European ethnicity) afforded me the luxury of being appreciative of both worldviews and my life passion became discovering techniques to bridge between people of different cultural backgrounds.
For over twenty-two years, my speciality has been community liaison, community engagement and community development. I have had the great fortune to travel to many of the First Nations across Ontario including the majority of those of the Nishnawbe Aski Nation (largest geographical treaty area in Canada) complete with the remote fly-in communities as well as all of Independent First Nations together with many reserves from the remaining three treaty areas in Ontario. Many experiences interacting with these two worldviews over the years illustrated to me that terminology and perceived cultural slights seemed to be the greatest challenges for the initiation and sustainability of working relationships between industry, government and the Indigenous communities. Generally speaking, I observed that each group was primarily saying the same thing but because of unfamiliar terminology or overlooking important cultural practices, these groups thought the other was adverse to their views. I always envisioned the great potential for these two groups to work together, however lacked the research and numbers to back that up. Until now. TD Economics has been doing a great job in busting myths and bringing forward great common financial sense.
Working within the Indigenous communities has been lucrative and the future continues to be bright within this sector especially with regards to resources. There is a myth out there that Indigenous communities do not want to work with mainstream industry. Indigenous communities are interested in economic development while simultaneously protecting their traditional lands. Without trying to generalize, most communities’ main concern is to be involved at all stages of development especially the planning. Establishing respectful and honest partnerships with Indigenous communities is a very smart business strategy especially for resource-based industries. As reported in TD Economics January 5, 2013 …”effective private sector engagement with Aboriginal communities will be an important determinant in how successful Canada will be in leveraging these resource opportunities”.
(Sourced from: http://www.afoa.ca/afoadocs)
Being self-employed, I have had the freedom to choose to work with industries that carried similar personal values concerning the environment and the worth of the Indigenous peoples and also understood how crucial the initiating and fostering of a strong working relationship with the Indigenous communities was within their targeted resource areas. This proactive approach primarily results in efficient and convenient negotiations, the establishment of formalized relationships, improves project productivity and also reinforces corporate social responsibility.
I urge global industries, governments and organizations to consider doing their homework and capitalize on the benefits of working with the Indigenous communities. In 2011, TD Economics estimated that by 2016…”total Aboriginal income would be greater than the level of nominal gross domestic product (GDP) of Newfoundland and Labrador and Prince Edward Island combined”. (Sourced from TD Economics June 17, 2011: http://www.td.com/document/PDF/economics/special/sg0611_aboriginal.pdf)
Consider looking at business from a new point of view and the potential insights gained. “The business case for engagement is being further driven by the growing requirement to act in a socially responsible way (another hidden economic benefit)…improved reputation and branding can result in a financial payback…”(Sourced from January 5, 2013: www.afoa.ca/afoadocs)
Additional attention should be given to educating and promoting cultural understanding and considering the Indigenous worldview. Your company’s bottom line could benefit from it.