If you want to begin working with Indigenous communities on existing or future business ventures, cultivating relationships and celebrating their unique perspectives is key to moving forward and creating a thriving Canadian economy that includes Indigenous business and communities as a major player.

Submitted by forward summit.ca 

Despite only making up 4.9% of Canada’s population, Indigenous Peoples across the country are developing numerous economic opportunities, contributing more than 30 billion annually to the Canadian national economy, a pace of growth that far exceeds that of the national average.

Yet, many Indigenous Peoples and communities continue to face significant challenges in procuring the capital to create meaningful and prosperous projects, and non-Indigenous organizations struggle to develop long-lasting economic partnerships with Indigenous communities driving Canada’s economy forward.

Why? To be blunt, it’s because Western businesses operate on a completely different set of values than Indigenous businesses and tend to overlook the most critical step when reaching out to potential Indigenous partners: relationships.

“Business in the Indigenous world is not just about capital; it’s about building relationships,” says Mackenzie Brown, Director of Industry Development for Indigenous Tourism Alberta.

Building relationships requires time and energy, both of which are valuable commodities in today’s world. However, the skills necessary to develop and deepen relationships with Indigenous peoples can only come from consulting with the very Indigenous communities you seek to do business with.

“As my mother always says, don’t ask what you can do for Indigenous Peoples; ask what you can learn from Indigenous Peoples. This is a good place to start when building relationships,” says Billie Fortier, Associate at MLT Aikins.

Forward Summit, and Indigenous-led conference entered on progressing economic development for Indigenous communities in Canada, aims to assist in the advancement of Recommendation #92 of the “Truth and Reconciliation Commission of Canada’s ‘Calls to Action'” by providing a platform whereby Canada’s corporate sector and Indigenous leaders can come together and engage in open and intimate discussions on topics including community capacity building, procurement, capital, developing industries, building relationships and more.

The conference, which takes place from May 25-26, 2022, at the Grey Eagle Resort & Casino in Calgary, Alberta, features over 80 speakers, many of whom identify as Indigenous and are leaders in their respective fields. We reached out to four of their Indigenous panelists for advice on how to respectfully build meaningful relationships with Indigenous communities and peoples.

Here is what they had to say: 

BILLIE FORTIER – ASSOCIATE, MLT AIKINS: “We are moving beyond the ‘check the box’ mentality and moving towards a space where non-Indigenous organizations seek out partnerships with Indigenous businesses because they seem them as equal partners and, quite simply, good a what they do.”

DEBORAH GREEN – INDIGENOUS WORKFORCE DEVELOPMENT ADVISOR, SUNCOR ENERGY: “Ensure you are invited to begin a relationship. Relationships are foundational to anything a business seeks to do with a community. Engage with and not for, ensuring the partnership is an equally beneficial opportunity with the needs of the community primarily. Be open to changes, listen, and have patience. Throw out your projected timelines and ensure the partnership is developed in a good way.”

MACKENZIE BROWN – DIRECTOR OF INDUSTRY DEVELOPMENT, INDIGENOUS TOURISM ALBERTA: “If you want to work with Indigenous communities, you must create relationships. Create a relationship before you need anything and genuinely think about your intentions behind wanting to work with Indigenous communities so you can build reciprocal and trusting relationships.”

RAYLENE WHITFORD – FOUNDER, CANATIVE ENERGY: “It is easy to discuss financial models and engineering specifications around a boardroom table, but unless your senior leadership has spent time on the land walking, fishing, and medicine-picking with our community, they will never really understand how we see these developments. We need more CEOs helping tan hides and more chairpersons washing berries for Elders.”

BOBBIE RACETTE, FOUNDER & CEO, VIRTUAL GURUS: “Learn about the culture so you can go in prepared to have the most productive and respectful experience. There are free courses about reconciliation you can take advantage of. And be open-minded. You would be surprised at what you might get out of the meetings. Be open to learning, and don’t be afraid to ask questions. It’s exciting to think about the powder of combining Indigenous approaches with best practices from businesses in a range of sectors. I think it’s something as a society that we are only now ready to start exploring, and that we’ll continue to do more of as we move along the path of reconciliation.”