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What are the Elements of an Effective Indigenous Joint Venture?

What are the Elements of an Effective Indigenous Joint Venture?

Canada’s historical reputation is of a country where living conditions were good, and there were ample economic opportunities - a “land of milk and honey.” Europeans were wooed to come to Canada, settle, and reap the benefit of its vast resources. And come they did, and reap the benefits they did.Indigenous joint ventures But the good living conditions and ample economic opportunities were not available to the country’s First Peoples who were dislocated from their traditional lives and land to make room for the European settlers. The impact of those early Indian Act policies of dislocation, relocation, and assimilation constrained generations of Indigenous Peoples from developing economic opportunities and returning to self-reliance.

There are roughly 1.6 million Indigenous Peoples in Canada - the fastest growing segment of the population. It is also the segment of the population with the lowest rate of employment due to some formidable factors.

However, Indigenous Peoples are increasingly recognizing and capitalizing on entrepreneurial opportunities - there are 43,000 Indigenous-owned businesses.

“There has been a massive jump in Indigenous owned and operated businesses in Canada since the 1990s when it was estimated there were just 6,000. That number grew to 27,000 in 2001, and according to the 2006 census the number of self-employed Indigenous people had grown to 37,000 - a growth rate five times that of self-employed non-Indigenous Canadians. By 2016, according to the Sodexo Canada Indigenous Business Survey, the number of Indigenous entrepreneurs had grown to 43,000.” [1]

And, of equal significance is the value non-Indigenous Canadians place on the importance of supporting Indigenous enterprises. More from the 2017 Sodexo Canada Indigenous Business Survey:

“77 per cent of Canadians recognize the importance of thriving Indigenous enterprises for the creation of sustainable economic opportunities for Indigenous peoples. Three-quarters of Canadians (77 per cent) also believe supporting strong Indigenous businesses is an important pathway to healing Canada’s relationship with First Nations, Inuit and Métis people.

The survey found significant support for action by the private sector to help Indigenous entrepreneurs develop and grow their enterprises.

Key findings

  • 81 per cent agree Canadian corporations should include Indigenous owned and operated businesses in their supplier networks whenever possible.
  • 73 per cent think Canadian corporations should help Indigenous entrepreneurs take their businesses to the next level.
  • Seven-in-ten Canadians (71 per cent) believe that on-going supports for Indigenous companies, such as training and mentoring, should be a long-term strategy for Canadian corporations.
  • 69 per cent think companies doing business on or near First Nations, Inuit and Métis lands should obtain services from Indigenous businesses whenever possible.
  • 73 per cent agree that Indigenous businesses have much to offer the Canadian economy.” [2]

One way in which the private sector can contribute to the growing success of Indigenous entrepreneurs is through joint ventures. In this article, we focus on joint ventures (JV) with Indigenous communities, as opposed to independently owned Indigenous businesses.

Many JVs are created when a non-Indigenous business has the resources, capacity and finances to capitalize on an opportunity but lacks the contacts/networks, specific local knowledge and experience that can only come from collaborating with an Indigenous community.

Here are some considerations for companies interested in a JV with an Indigenous corporation.

Governance structure

  • Does the community have an elected government or are they operating under the hereditary system?
  • In some communities, there are both forms of government, in which case you need to find out which one has the authority to sign the agreement. If it’s an elected government, don’t assume Chief and Council can make land use decisions - in some situations, it is the traditional leaders who make those decisions.
  • If it’s an elected government, what is the election cycle (some are three-year instead of two-year cycles) and when is the next election.
  • Regardless of the form of governance, you should consider relationship building to be longterm and sustainable and if there are two forms of government, try to build relationships with both.

Economic Development Departments

  • Communities that have chosen to make economic development a priority will often have an economic development department that is separate from the chief and council, just as many municipalities have separate economic development departments.
  • Even though you may be working on an agreement with the Ec Dev department, it’s still advisable to engage with the community as Indigenous rights are collectively held.

Territorial overlap

  • Be aware there may be territorial overlap disputes.
  • The project has the potential to be in one of these two scenarios:
    • It is situated in the core of uncontested territory
    • It is situated on overlapping territorial claims

Employment Opportunities

  • Be realistic regarding potential employment opportunities.
  • Be realistic regarding matching existing skills in the community and project needs.
  • Don’t offer more than can be supported by the project.
  • Don’t offer training programs/career paths that don't fit with the timeline of the project.
  • If you are offering training programs, will participants be certified in time to work on the project.


  • Be aware that western worldviews and business operating styles may differ from those of Indigenous partners.
  • Learn the values, principles, and business philosophy of your potential partner.
  • Have they been involved in other JVs and was it successful? If not, what went wrong?
  • Consider enrolling all staff in Indigenous awareness training.
  • Consider making it mandatory that all contractors have training that supports effective, respectful working relationships with Indigenous Peoples.


  • It’s crucial that transparency be a priority and maintained for the duration of the JV.
  • Consider setting the JV up so that it has its own, independent legal and accounting services.

It’s in the best interests of Canada as a whole if there’s a thriving Indigenous business sector. Joint ventures are a way in which this can happen.

[1 Working Effectively with Indigenous Peoples® blog, Survey results show strong support for Indigenous Entrepreneurs

[2] Sodexo, Indigenous participation in economy strengthens Canada’s social fabric: Survey, June 14, 2017

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