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7 Common Elements in Successful Indigenous Relations Strategies

7 Common Elements in Successful Indigenous Relations Strategies

Indigenous relations is an evolving field, especially now in light of the federal government’s commitment to negotiation on a nation-to-nation basis. Over the years we’ve looked at strategies and talked to people about what makes a successful strategy.

While each organization has a unique strategy that fits its corporate culture, there are some common elements:

1. Business Development

Work closely with the Indigenous community to identify business development opportunities that are a fit with the community. Take the time to ensure your organization has a systemic understanding of the community’s culture and worldview. In order to discover what business development options might be a fit you will have to do your due diligence:

  • What are the most pressing issues for the community?
  • Does the community have an economic development department?
  • What are the demographics of the community? Is it growing in capacity or is it shrinking because people are leaving to take advantage of opportunities in urban centres?
  • If possible, consider “big picture” business development ideas that would be a legacy; are the businesses viable after your company leaves?
  • If needed, provide business development advice for the community to develop the businesses needed to support your project.
  • Have a draft Impact and Benefits Agreement that includes business development strategies ready for their review.

2. Employment and/or Training Initiatives

Viable, respectful employment opportunities are a major consideration and goal for almost every Indigenous community.

  • What does your project have to offer in terms of employment and career path development? Be prepared to list the jobs, the skills required and associated training initiatives.
  • Are the employment opportunities of your project realistic? Don’t fabricate job opportunities to improve the optics of your project.
  • Consider assisting communities to conduct a skills inventory of community members both at home and those who have relocated.
  • Does your project plan include a recruitment, retention and mentoring strategy?
  • Include measurable targets and timelines to achieve the targets.
  • Does the community have the skills capacity your project requires? Identify the gaps and training initiatives required to fill the gaps.
  • Avoid “best efforts” language in your agreements. (i.e. “We will make best efforts to hire locally” but then there is a realization that there aren't the skill sets required by the project - avoid presenting unattainable opportunities).

3. Revenue Sharing

Resource Revenue Sharing is a critical component of successful Indigenous relations strategies. A number of provincial and territorial governments, but not all, have negotiated agreements with Indigenous communities to share revenue generated from resource development. There is nothing that forces us to do this but for the private sector, it can be a game-changer when it comes to achieving community support for a project. Here’s a perspective worth considering for your Indigenous relations strategy.

Businesses have argued that they should not be responsible for the entire cost of making deals with Aboriginal communities work. First Nations have advocated revenue sharing for many years. Chief Perry Bellegarde of the Federation of Saskatchewan Indian Nations has said “We did not cede (or) relinquish (resource rights). We said we’d share this land. The treaties were not meant to make one side poor and one side rich.” In his new role as National Chief of the Assembly of First Nations, Chief Bellegarde has been just as clear: “We will no longer accept poverty and hopelessness while resource companies and governments grow fat off our lands and territories and resources. If our lands and resources are to be developed, it will be done only with our fair share of the royalties, with our ownership of the resources and jobs for our people. It will be done on our terms and our timeline” (Kennedy, Postmedia News, and Warnica 11 December 2014).

Ken S. Coates, January 2015

4. Community Donations

A donations program is not a handout... it provides a hand-up. There are endless ways your company can provide a hand up thereby creating a positive legacy. Helping just one person improve their ability to access good education or skills training can have a positive impact on the entire community. Ideas for financial and in-kind donations include:

  • Education bursaries and scholarships;
  • Training initiatives;
  • Support youth to attend cultural events (e.g. Tribal Journeys);
  • Community centre;
  • Community daycare;
  • Community bus;
  • Library;
  • Support for Eldercare;
  • Support (and attend) community events;
  • Support (and attend) fundraising events.

5. Communications:

The key principle of an effective communications strategy is respect for your audience. Respectful communications with an Indigenous community create the foundation for a two-way exchange of information, and without that back-and-forth flow, you are at risk of not picking up on community sentiment about your project. Here are some suggestions for respectful communication:

  • Be familiar with the tenets of Free, Prior, Informed Consent.
  • Keep in mind that Indigenous Peoples have a history of oral communication.
  • In-person meetings are more effective and respectful than telephone calls or emails.
  • Plan to meet in the community or with the leaders over a meal in a restaurant.
  • Plan to meet early and frequently and not just when you need approval for something.
  • Ensure your communications strategy includes a plan for sharing bad news when it happens - don’t delay.
  • Social media, especially Facebook, is often the communications hub for Indigenous communities.
  • Be transparent.
  • Be flexible.
  • Promise less, deliver more.

6. Training for Your Team:

This is increasingly becoming a standard for corporations. The Truth and Reconciliation Commission Calls-to-Action included a call to action for the corporate sector. Awareness of the history of government policies of assimilation and how those policies continue to impact Indigenous Peoples is necessary training for your team. If you have Indigenous hires, and you should, you need to ensure that the people coming into contact with them have taken cultural competency training and that your worksite is culturally inclusive.

Here’s the call to action for the business sector:

Business and Reconciliation

92. We call upon the corporate sector in Canada to adopt the United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples as a reconciliation framework and to apply its principles, norms, and standards to corporate policy and core operational activities involving Indigenous peoples and their lands and resources. This would include, but not be limited to, the following:

i. Commit to meaningful consultation, building respectful relationships, and obtaining the free, prior, and informed consent of Indigenous peoples before proceeding with economic development projects.

ii. Ensure that Aboriginal peoples have equitable access to jobs, training, and education opportunities in the corporate sector and that Aboriginal communities gain long-term sustainable benefits from economic development projects.

iii. Provide education for management and staff on the history of Aboriginal peoples, including the history and legacy of residential schools, the United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples, Treaties and Aboriginal rights, Indigenous law, and Aboriginal–Crown relations. This will require skills-based training in intercultural competency, conflict resolution, human rights, and anti-racism.

We offer everything from Indigenous Awareness training to Working Effectively with Indigenous Peoples® and beyond!

7. Negotiations:

Effective negotiations with Indigenous communities are supported by a strong, trusting relationship. The commitment you put into building the relationship long before everyone sits down at the negotiating table will be time and effort well spent. Here are some suggestions to keep in mind before you enter negotiations:

  • Understand the governance structure of the community and what that means in terms of what they can agree to.
  • Be familiar with the tenets of the UN Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples - the federal government has indicated it is committed to implementing the declaration.
  • Understand that Indigenous communities are rights holders, not stakeholders.
  • Understand the relationship between Indigenous Peoples and the land.
  • Understand that Chief and Council make decisions based on the Seventh Generation Principle.
  • Understand and respect the immense pressure Chief and Council are under to balance economic opportunities for community members with the need to protect the environment.
  • Have the right decision-making people at the table representing your company - preferably the President or CEO as they are the ones who can make decisions.

These are just some of the common elements of a successful Indigenous relations strategy that will benefit your organization and the Indigenous community you work with. Indigenous Corporate Training's Indigenous Consultation & Engagement course is a great option for learning more.

Featured photo: Coast Salish drummers. Photo: Vancouver 125, Flickr

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