A new approach to Aboriginal community engagement

Jamie Saulnier grew up in a small town in Northwestern Ontario where the bush provided adventure through hunting and fishing, as well as an income from trapping and guiding.

His upbringing instilled a deep appreciation for Nature in all its seasons. Visits to the log cabins that he helped build as boy on the shores of Running Deer Lake, away from life’s many distractions, replenishes his soul. He can relate to the idea of stewardship to which members of Aboriginal communities naturally adhere. Understanding how Nature is woven into the fabric of Aboriginal culture has aided Jamie in his journey to understand the complex challenges facing them.

Aboriginal people have frequently been obligated to move far from their comfort zones to cities or job sites in order to pursue careers and personal advancement. “Community members are eager for opportunities, but this geographic challenge is a huge barrier for many reasons that other Canadians may not understand,” said Jamie. Knowing the great potential that Aboriginal people can contribute to Canada’s economy, Jamie has been working hard to bring opportunities to them.

There is a growing interest on the part of the private sector to partner with Aboriginal communities, particularly with respect to their participation in large resource developments. It is estimated that more than 600 major projects are expected to develop across Canada over the next decade, of which more than 90 percent are located in or near Aboriginal communities. These conditions present significant economic opportunities for Aboriginal peoples.

Early engagement, planning and activities to prepare communities, their members and businesses are necessary to ensure meaningful participation in these resource development projects. “There are often misconceptions about the Aboriginal lifestyle and culture due to negative media coverage or historically preconditioned attitudes,” states Jamie. “You don’t gain a true perspective from behind a desk in an office; your physical presence is needed in the community. Listening attentively and hearing the individual voices is required long before taking action in an engagement effort.”

Today, Jamie is the owner of Running Deer Resources (RDR), a Winnipeg based firm that builds bridges between Aboriginal communities and industry to maximize employment and economic opportunities.

Over the years, RDR has developed a program that communities can use to engage with employers. This unique system captures a snapshot of the community’s human resource capabilities. The Community Resource Information System (CRIS) catalogues all workers, their skills and work eligibility and is used in conjunction with the Community Assets Inventory Program (CAIP), which inventories the community’s assets, such as equipment and industry related businesses. Through this system, educational and training needs can also be identified and programs introduced to help individuals gain employment.

“Knowledge is power.” said Jamie. “Once the communities have an organized system, they will have a thorough understanding of their own assets and potential workforce and be ready to engage or negotiate effectively with industry.”

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