Skip to the main content.

2 min read

9 Tips for Doing Business With First Nations

9 Tips for Doing Business With First Nations

The time has come and we see action on the horizon in terms of change coming politically, legally and economically for Indigenous Peoples. Improving First Nations economic development potential is desirable not only for the First Nation but also for Canada’s mainstream businesses and the national economy. Business owners increasingly recognize the link between the success of First Nations economic development interests and that of their own. On their part, First Nations increasingly are actively pursuing economic development opportunities on reserve and within their traditional territory lands.

It's imperative that we do business with First Nations so here are some tips – some are common sense, some are cultural - to keep in mind when doing business with First Nations.

1. Research

Take the time to learn about your partner, their culture, and their business goals. There are over 600 First Nation communities in Canada and each one has its own unique culture. A successful working relationship will be based on a solid foundation of respect.

2. Practice Consistent Open Communication

The best way to get to know your potential partner is to have regular, face-to-face meetings with open and respectful communication. Don’t just have a meeting when a document has to be signed or when an issue has arisen. Plan to visit the community frequently, and attend and support cultural events.

If and when an issue does arise, the conversation is going to go a lot more smoothly if you have an established, respectful relationship.

3. Practice Respectful Communication

Ensure the speaker has finished speaking before jumping in. A silence at the end of a statement does not necessarily indicate the person has finished speaking. Always wait for what might be considered an uncomfortable length of time before speaking.

  • Some issues are emotionally charged. Don’t take it personally but listen respectfully
  • First Nations are NOT stakeholders – do not refer to them as such
  • Constant eye contact as practiced in European culture is not comfortable for some First Nations who avoid direct eye contact
  • Try to keep it light and expect to be the brunt of jokes. In fact, if you are the brunt, it could be a sign that you are being accepted so take it as a compliment

Here's an article that might help you with that all-important letter to the chief of the community: Communications With Indigenous Leaders - Letter Writing Tips.

4. Don’t always rely on written documents sent in the mail or electronically

First Nations culture is oral. Meet and discuss documents in-depth.

5. Have realistic expectations

Details of your business agreement cannot be dealt with in one meeting. Allow for an adequate timeframe to work out the details of the agreement. Keep in mind that while economic developments are important to the community, Chief and Council have other pressing community matters that must be attended to and can take precedence over yours. Additionally, they are often inundated with requests for meetings so keep that in mind while trying to book a meeting. Also, realize that meetings can be cancelled at very short notice if a community matter arises.

6. Don’t use top-down approaches

First Nations have endured hundreds of years of top-down approaches via the Indian Act. Avoid authoritative attitudes and approaches to issues. Use a consensus-building approach.

7. Promise less, deliver more

Don’t fill the air with empty promises – your word is taken seriously. If you make a promise that you find you can’t deliver on, expect to feel some shame. Treat your First Nation partner with the same respect you would like shown to yourself. Be trustworthy and respectful.

8. Long-term planning means LONG TERM

Keep in mind that First Nations have a completely different view on the meaning of “long term” than do non-First Nations. When they make a decision they weigh the impact on seven generations into the future and respect those who are no longer here.

9. Decision making

Individuals can become uncomfortable if asked to make decisions for the group. Often, community consultation, collective decision-making, and permission to make decisions must occur - this can be time-consuming so again, check your watch at the door and go with the flow.

This article was originally published April 27, 2015.

Featured photo: Unsplash

Sign up for our Working Effectively With Indigenous Peoples Training

  • There are no suggestions because the search field is empty.
Communications With Indigenous Leaders - Letter Writing Tips

Communications With Indigenous Leaders - Letter Writing Tips

When communicating cross-culturally there are certain sensitivities around the language used in the letter and expectations placed on the recipient...

Read More
Business Case for Creating Inclusive Worksites for Aboriginal Workers

Business Case for Creating Inclusive Worksites for Aboriginal Workers

Kelly J. Lendsay, President & CEO, Aboriginal Human Resource Council, is a social entrepreneur who is internationally recognized as one of Canada’s...

Read More
Doing Business with First Nations Leasing Land

Doing Business with First Nations Leasing Land

There is a new reality taking shape in the Canadian economy. More than ever before, First Nations are pursuing and achieving a greater share in the...

Read More