The Royal Commission Report on Aboriginal Peoples: Challenges and Opportunities for Corporate Canada
Prepared by: Mr. Robin Wortman Corporate Aboriginal Relations Consultant for the Conference on Aboriginal Economies
Sponsored by: RBC Royal Bank & CANDO
October 23, 1997, Toronto, Ontario
2. The Loss of Land and Resources
3. The Aboriginal Employment Opportunities: A Challenge for Corporate Canada
4. Choosing to Make a Difference
4.1 Research and Understanding
4.2 Consultation and Relationship Building
4.3 Setting Goals for Mutual Benefits
4.4 Constructive Partnerships
4.5 Capacity Building
4.6 Human Resources Development
4.7 Employing Aboriginal People
4.8 Aboriginal Economic Development
4.9 Access to Capital: Investing in the Future
5. Conclusion: A Commitment to Change
NOTE: statistics relating to aspects of this paper are not re-stated
as they are effectively covered in other papers in this series.
" Whatever the words of your final report and
recommendations may be, they will mean little if they are not met
with the political will, the knowledge and the ability to achieve
their intent. "
Chief Robert Pasco, Nlaka'pamux Tribal Council,
Merritt, British Columbia
In the aftermath of the Oka crisis in 1990, the government of Canada
established a Royal Commission on Aboriginal Peoples (RCAP) to address
outstanding grievances and concerns facing Aboriginal people in
Canada. The Commission was mandated to consult widely and to bring
back recommendations that would provide solutions. After five years
of consultations and research the report was released in November
1996. The report contains more than 400 specific recommendations
in five volumes and over 3,500 pages of explanations and notes.
Expectations among Aboriginal people have been raised by the government
of Canada through the Commission's work and recommendations. The
report brings public attention to possible solutions proposed by
Aboriginal people themselves. Aboriginal people have, once again,
put their trust in the rest of Canada to listen, to understand and
to respond. If practical recommendations are not implemented then
the $58 million invested in the RCAP report will simply be added
to the $7.5 billion annual cost of maintaining the status quo.
We must not let this happen. There is too much at stake. The cost
associated with maintaining the status quo is too high. If the present
trends continue, the demographic projections alone are cause for
concern. We must seriously consider the sincere intent of the Commission's
proposed recommendations for solutions. The RCAP report was a mammoth
project and the Commission did excellent work in not only identifying
ways to develop a new and meaningful relationship between Aboriginal
and non-Aboriginal people in Canada but also the importance of the
historical background of Aboriginal/non-Aboriginal relations as
the stepping stone to a new relationship-building process.
The RCAP report presents a unique opportunity for corporate Canada.
It not only provides a wealth of information about the history of
the relationship between Aboriginal and non-Aboriginal peoples and
their governments but also puts current issues into context. More
importantly, the report recommends ways to take us into a more prosperous
future, together. This is an opportunity to establish new relationships
between Aboriginal people and corporations that are based on heightened
awareness, deeper understanding, mutual respect and shared economic
The Right Honourable Joe Clark provided an eloquent summation at
the final session of a conference on the RCAP report hosted by the
McGill Institute for the Study of Canada. Mr. Clark, known for his
carefully weighed words and diplomatic approach to sensitive issues,
cautioned conference delegates that, should the report become "one
more failure, the results could be incendiary for our country."
" The soul of the Native Peoples of Canada is
hungry for the Spirit of God, because it is hungry for justice,
peace, love, goodness, fortitude and human dignity "
Paul II, September 20, 1987, Fort Simpson, NT
2. The Loss of Land and Resources
The loss of access to land and resources through government policy
contributed significantly to the demise of the Aboriginal economy
and the dependence of Aboriginal people on social assistance. It
is generally recognized that settling specific and comprehensive
land claims will benefit both Aboriginal and non-Aboriginal people.
A recent cost-benefit study of treaty settlements in British Columbia
, conducted by KPMG for the government of British Columbia, concluded
that the net, long-term benefits of land claims settlements are
favorable for both Aboriginal and non-Aboriginal people. Aboriginal
people, particularly in remote areas of the country, want to have
a say in the pace and manner of development, as well as a share
in the benefits.
Recent settlements in other parts of Canada add credibility to
the KPMG conclusions about British Columbia. For example, the Crees
living east of James Bay in Quebec, the Inuvialuit in the Beaufort
Sea region and the Metis Settlements in Alberta have demonstrated
that the local economy is enhanced and investment is increased once
the rules of development are clear and the uncertainty over land
tenure is removed. It would be astute of Corporate Canada to communicate
their strong support for the speedy completion of land claims negotiations
and settlements in British Columbia and elsewhere in Canada to the
appropriate levels of government.
In the interim, the Commission has recommended that corporations
assume that the Aboriginal people, on whose traditional land the
development is being considered, have a legitimate ownership interest
in the resource and control access. In fact, it is a sound business
strategy. Increasingly, First Nation governments are asserting their
traditional rights and intervening in licensing approval processes
in order to influence development decisions and access opportunities.
There is no need to wait until matters are before a quasi-judicial
administrative board or the courts before developing a relationship
with a First Nation community that may be affected by a new development.
The courts are becoming much more inclined to respond favorably
to requests for injunctions filed by First Nation groups with outstanding
claims. The injunction to halt development at Voisey's Bay, which
was granted to the Innu and Inuit in Labrador, is the most recent
example. In contrast, the Red Dog mine in Alaska proceeded following
sincere negotiations and consultations with the local indigenous
population who controlled access to the resource. Once the company
addressed the needs of the people, the people addressed the needs
of the company. When the concerns of the people are alleviated,
the people will accommodate the company and the benefits will flow
Resource-based companies would be prudent to consider taking a
new approach to building relationships with local Aboriginal groups,
organizations and governments and treat them with the respect they
deserve. Too often in the past, corporations relied on provincial
governments and local authorities to handle matters related to resource
access. This is becoming less and less practical or effective. Many
of these companies realize the most effective and efficient path
is to negotiate directly with the appropriate Aboriginal people
when land is involved.
Industry is encouraged to communicate more openly and effectively
and at the earliest opportunity with local Aboriginal communities
that may be affected by development. The relationship is best if
it is formalized through agreements that involve community support.
The Canadian Aboriginal Minerals Association even suggests appointing
"an Aboriginal representative from the Traditional Territory
to the Board of Directors" of the resource company . It is
crucial to involve local leaders (formal and informal) in discussions
related to development plans. Aboriginal people will be able to
help the corporation identify opportunities for mutual business
While the various levels of government continue to negotiate new
roles and responsibilities for land use and resource access with
First Nation governments, corporations can begin to establish relationships
with Aboriginal people now. Aboriginal people, particularly in rural,
remote and resource-rich areas, are becoming more assertive regarding
their traditional use of the land and more demanding of governments
and corporations to provide opportunities for economic benefit to
the community's members.
To assert their legitimate economic interests, Aboriginal governments
are increasingly filing land claims and intervening in licensing
hearings for proposed developments on traditional lands and lands
under claim. Over 150 claims have been settled. A number of comprehensive
land claims, or modern-day treaties, have been completed. In these
cases, Aboriginal communities have taken control of the management
of their local economies and, with a sufficient land base, have
improved their living conditions.
As this trend continues, it is estimated that over $25 billion
will be transferred to Aboriginal government coffers in addition
to significant land transfers. Sharing the benefits of resource
extraction and wealth creation must happen. This applies equally
to initiatives for economic development through business development
and employment creation in the resource sectors. The settlement
of Aboriginal land claims is a rising tide that will lift all boats.
In other words, when Aboriginal peoples' economic circumstances
improve so do the circumstances for all Canadians.
More and more, corporations are negotiating benefit-impact agreements
with Aboriginal governments as a result of licensing requirements
for development. In some cases the results have been impressive.
A good example is Syncrude, which launched its Aboriginal Business
Development Program in 1985, well ahead of other companies in the
mining industry. Today, it is the largest industrial employer of
Aboriginal people in Canada. Most noteworthy is the fact that almost
half the jobs created for Aboriginal people in the region are as
a result of the emergence of an aggressive Aboriginal business sector
that earns over $55 million a year in contracts in the Fort McMurray
region of Alberta.
Another extremely instructive example is the Cameco uranium mine
in northern Saskatchewan. As a result of license requirements, the
company committed itself to build business relations with northern
residents, local First Nation communities and Aboriginal people.
Today, the Kitsaki Development Corporation, an arm of the LaRonge
First Nation, is a thriving community-owned enterprise that oversees
a number of different companies including Northern Resources Trucking,
a joint venture with Trimac Transportation System, which employs
dozens of Aboriginal people. Recently, BHP Minerals in Yellowknife
entered into an agreement with local Aboriginal organizations to
provide opportunities to Aboriginal people in its planned diamond
These examples demonstrate that corporate Canada, given the will
of its leadership, can provide opportunities that give Aboriginal
people a chance to share in the benefits of this great country we
call Canada. Corporate Canada can provide Aboriginal people with
access to financial resources through business development partnerships
on their traditional lands. It makes sense to involve local people
The decision to create the new territory of Nunavut means that
Aboriginal people will have additional political and economic influence
over development in the north. It is in the best interest of corporations
planning to work in the north to gain some experience working with
Aboriginal people in other parts of Canada. Cameco, for example,
earned the rights to operate a mine in one of the former Soviet
republics largely due to its demonstrated experience in sharing
the benefits of wealth creation through mining with Aboriginal people
in northern Saskatchewan. When Aboriginal people participate and
benefit from development, everyone benefits.
In the interim, while the Aboriginal, federal, provincial and territorial
governments discuss what to do about recommendations related to
lands and resources, private companies and corporations can begin
to do what makes good business sense: provide opportunities in business
and employment to Aboriginal people. By doing so now, companies
will benefit from new relationships, an expanding local labor force
and a greater probability of assured access to lands and resources
in the future.
3. The Aboriginal Employment Opportunities: A Challenge for Corporate Canada
The unemployment and income gap between Aboriginal people and non-Aboriginal
people is widening, despite the fact that more and more Aboriginal
people are increasing their education levels and acquiring employable
skills. The population is growing rapidly and needs access to land,
resources and investment capital. This must be achieved, in large
part, through Aboriginal business development and employment initiatives
by the private sector. However, the Commission is asking government
to act. RBC Royal Bank is encouraging corporate Canada to take the lead
in training, employment and business development. Corporate Canada
needs to become more actively involved and to organize itself to
help alleviate the chronic conditions endured by Aboriginal people
across Canada. Corporate Canada needs to make a concerted and collaborative
effort to further economic and social equality in this country.
One aspect of the report, however, is somewhat disappointing: there
is virtually no reference to corporate Canada's role in society
as corporate citizens and in the economy as engines for growth and
creators of opportunity. Although the sections on lands and resources,
employment development and access to capital make a brief mention
of the role of corporations, the focus of the report is on government's
need to take action, including creating opportunities for employment.
The expectation created by the Commission that governments, acting
alone or together, are the primary agents for implementing the recommendations
is an unfortunate oversight.
Although the vast majority of recommendations relate to matters
best handled by governments, a number of recommendations warrant
serious attention from corporate leaders. These recommendations
relate to education, training, youth, employment, business development,
lands and resources and access to capital. These recommendations
will give corporate leaders useful insights into the expectations
and desires of Aboriginal people. For example, the recommendations
relating to employment equity clearly imply a high level of dissatisfaction
with the effectiveness of this legislation and the results it has
Corporations must seriously consider three possible options:
- increasing government regulation and legislation, as requested
throughout the report, in areas affecting the private sector in
order to achieve some of the economic objectives of Aboriginal
- becoming directly involved with Aboriginal people, their governments,
organizations, institutions and communities to achieve mutually
beneficial economic objectives with a minimum of government regulation;
- maintaining the status quo through a continued failure to act
by governments and the private sector.
The second option is plainly the best choice for all. The third
option, given the forecasts in the report, is really not an option.
The first option has been tried with limited success. Governments,
without the sincere involvement of the private sector, cannot achieve
the economic goals set out in this report. Therefore, corporate
leaders must devise a formal process themselves, in partnership
with Aboriginal leaders in government and economic development -
a process that will address issues of mutual concern and benefit.
Business leaders continuously remind provincial and federal governments
that government is not the creator of jobs - business is. Government
is not the engine of growth in the economy - business is. Governments
may regulate development but the private sector is the creator of
wealth. Aboriginal people are simply asking corporations for the
opportunity to share in the mutual benefits of wealth creation.
Only the private sector can provide opportunities in an economically
cost-effective manner - not government.
The Commission clearly indicates that a wide range of inter-related
initiatives must be undertaken immediately in order to reverse this
trend. The Commission sets out a 20-year strategy for implementing
the recommendations. There is a vital role for corporate Canada
to play in education, training, employment, business development
and development financing for the creation of jobs, particularly
for Aboriginal youth.
It is time for corporate leaders to respond to this challenge in
an organized, concerted and collaborative manner in partnership
with Aboriginal leaders in business, governments and organizations.
The rewards to individual companies will be measurable and the benefits
to Canada as a whole will be immeasurable. Therefore, let's look
at what corporate Canada can do to assist in implementing practical
recommendations in the report.
4. Choosing to Make a Difference
The first major policy decision a corporation needs to make is
at the most senior levels. Does the corporation want to make a difference
in the Aboriginal sector of the economy and labor market? The following
questions will immediately arise: How will this impact the bottom
line of the company? What is the business imperative or benefit
for doing things differently? Although the answer to these questions
will differ for each company and business sector, the broad picture
indicates that the status quo is indefensible. Therefore, it is
worth investigating the possibilities and potential benefits that
might accrue by re-examining current business practices. Often corporations
become comfortable with recruitment and contracting systems without
determining whether the existing practices inadvertently exclude
Aboriginal people from entering or participating in the company.
The Aboriginal Workforce Participation Initiative (AWPI) of the
government of Canada has coordinators in each region of Canada to
help private companies to become more aware of practical steps toward
change. The program offers excellent resource materials for senior
executives, recruitment officers and hiring managers. Another excellent
reference source is Corporate Aboriginal Relations: Best Practice
Case Practices, written by Pamela Sloan and Roger Hill. The book
profiles over 35 case studies of corporations, government agencies,
departments, businesses and financial institutions that have demonstrated
success in a number of areas of Aboriginal relations. The authors
provide instructive analysis and a step-by-step checklist of best
practices as a practical guide to executives and managers.
The Conference Board of Canada's Council on Corporate Aboriginal
Relations, comprising about 40 national companies and government
organizations, meets regularly to promote the exchange of information,
ideas, and experiences on corporate management of Aboriginal issues.
A major objective of this Council is to discuss challenges and solutions
in the area of corporate Aboriginal relations. This Council is making
The corporations that are achieving the greatest level of success
have the highest level of senior executive support. This is crucial.
The initiative must have clear goals and objectives and measurable
results tied to performance appraisals. The most senior executive
can make a significant contribution by continually reminding employees
that positive Aboriginal relations are a priority for the company.
SaskEnergy initiated their Aboriginal program through their Board
of Directors, which approved a formal Aboriginal Policy Framework.
The framework succinctly states the company's goal of encouraging
and developing partnerships with Indian and Metis communities in
their province. The framework also mentions some specific objectives,
such as a primary focus in the area of employment, education and
training, and business development with both parties clearly stating
their interests, expectations and commitments. Since its inception
in 1993, SaskEnergy has completed numerous partnership agreements
and achieved significant business results.
Once a corporation makes the strategic decision to undertake a
new initiative to enhance Aboriginal participation in its workforce,
contracting and procurement activities, they should consider the
4.1 Research and Understanding
It is important to accurately assess the current situation. Many
companies already have Aboriginal people working for them. In
some cases, these individuals can be valuable informal advisors
at the outset. One approach that has worked for RBC Royal Bank has
been a commitment to regular focus groups involving Aboriginal
employees from across Canada who provide continuous feedback,
guidance and advice in the area of employment and business development.
This, along with regular feedback from Aboriginal communities,
allows the bank to adjust its practices.
The challenge of getting a clear picture of the situation varies,
depending on the business sector (resource extraction, financial
services, public utility, etc.), location (urban or rural) and
labor market needs (highly skilled, university educated, unskilled,
Knowing the nature of the corporation's business and the opportunities
for employment and business development that are created each
year through the normal business cycle will provide a clear picture
of business needs and the opportunities that a corporation might
4.2 Consultations and Relationship Building
There are many non-profit Aboriginal sectoral organizations in
Canada. These organizations, depending on the business interest
of the company, can provide valuable information and insights
into the nature of the Aboriginal sector of the economy, its institutions
and its people.
The conferences and workshops that these organizations occasionally
hold provide an excellent opportunity to meet key resource people
in the organization and at the community level. While learning
more about Aboriginal culture, traditions and business practices,
corporate sector representatives can build relationships at a
personal and institutional level. The deeper understanding thus
achieved will greatly assist a company in identifying areas of
opportunity that could lead to mutually beneficial business relationships.
The financial community has developed many key partnerships:
TD Bank with the First Nations Bank of Canada, Bank of Montreal
with the Canadian Council for Aboriginal Business and the Foundation
for the Advancement of Aboriginal Youth, CIBC and Royal Bank of
Canada with the National Aboriginal Achievement Foundation and
the Canadian Youth Business Trust, and RBC Royal Bank with the National
Association of Friendship Centers, the Council for the Advancement
of Native Development Officers, the National Indigenous Economic
Education Fund and CESO Aboriginal Services. Scotia Bank was directly
involved with the well received Aboriginal Business Administration
program through the University of Saskatchewan.
Peace Hill Trust, a financial institution owned 100% by an Alberta
First Nation, has gained significant momentum across the country
by effectively identifying the needs of Aboriginal Canadians and
developing a multitude of products and services to meet these
4.3 Setting Goals for Mutual Benefits
The most exciting and effective way to build relationships with
Aboriginal people and organizations is through an agreement to
work together on common goals for mutual benefit. This requires
a high level of trust and respect. It also requires creative thinking
and innovation so that two cultures can be bridged for a single
purpose. As eloquently stated by Natalie Rostad in her interpretation
of the Partners in Your Future artwork she created for RBC Royal Bank,
"Like the braiding of sweet grass there is the significance
in joining strengths and allowing each to contribute to the eventuality
of a chosen journey". The Aboriginal community must know
its capacity, resources and potential. The corporation must know
its current and future business and employment needs.
The two parties must openly discuss what their interests are.
Open and frank communication is essential so that the comfort
level between the parties can be developed to a point where cooperative
and constructive partnerships thrive.
4.4 Constructive Partnerships
It is crucial to cultivate a relationship with a potential partner
by getting to know the people, their institutions and their decision-making
process. A partnership is about people and how decisions are made.
Once a mutually beneficial relationship has been determined and
both parties agree in principle that they may be stronger working
together, a Memorandum of Strategic Alliance might be agreed to
and signed. It stands as a symbol of the relationship. Certain
broad commitments and understandings are clearly spelled out in
the Memorandum to set the ground rules for the business relationship.
When a specific opportunity arises, either party may approach
the other to jointly pursue a project.
If it becomes clear that the parties would be stronger together
in pursuing an opportunity, a joint venture agreement is drafted
for a specific project. This provides a great degree of flexibility
for both parties and for the Aboriginal partner in particular.
As the Aboriginal partners increase their capacity, they will
bring more value to each joint venture agreement and, therefore,
enjoy increased benefits.
In some cases, it is better for a strategic alliance partner
to pursue an opportunity separately but still involve the other
partner in some way. PLC Construction Management Inc. has developed
many alliances with First Nations. For example, they received
a contract in southern Alberta to construct two bridges. Although
the project was not on reserve, PCL honored its Strategic Alliance
with the Blood Tribe and sub-contracted some work to a Blood Nation
firm. The result was over 5,900 man-hours of indirect and direct
employment for Blood Tribe members. This represented over 19 per
cent of the total labor on the construction phase. The project
superintendent was Aboriginal.
Partnerships are limited only by the capacities of both parties
and the opportunities available to them. Capacity building is
4.5 Capacity Building
The Meadow Lake Tribal Council, in northern Saskatchewan, came
to a realization many years ago that their economic and social
well-being would not be enhanced unless they took responsibility
for their own future. The Tribal Council began to take important
steps toward self-reliance through cooperation, partnership and
The Tribal Council has educated, trained and created employment
for hundreds of their community members. They own sawmills, logging
operations, trucking companies, etc. They created opportunities
for themselves. This has resulted in 240 direct jobs, millions
of dollars in revenues, tax payments to various levels of government,
enhanced self-sufficiency and increased economic diversification
throughout the region.
There are many Aboriginal people who are individually working
to improve their capacities through education and training. They
are seeking opportunities to apply their knowledge, practice their
skills and gain work experience. This is an area in which corporate
Canada can really assist.
Some corporations, such as RBC Royal Bank, begin at the earliest
ages to impress on young Aboriginal people the importance of understanding
the fundamentals of business and finance. This is accomplished
through partnerships between bank representatives, schools and
Aboriginal organizations. RBC Royal Bank's Aboriginal Stay-in-School
and Native Student Award Programs are two initiatives which help
meet the bank's commitment to improving employment opportunities
in the bank for Aboriginal people.
Nova Gas Transmission's Native education program was introduced
in 1986. As a gas transmission company in the province of Alberta,
they were having an impact on Aboriginal communities and consequently
wanted to provide opportunities. Nova realized they had to make
Aboriginal students aware of various career options and to encourage
them to stay in school, complete grade 12 and enter the work force.
The program has reached thousands of students in over 170 schools
through distribution of resource materials and hundreds of presentations
by Aboriginal summer students. The program also profiles positive
Aboriginal role models.
Many post-secondary institutions are providing special programs
to remove barriers to enrollment for Aboriginal students. Corporations
can help remove the financial barriers. Scholarships, bursaries,
cooperative education, part-time employment and summer employment
are all ways in which a corporation can help Aboriginal students
to complete their education, attain meaningful employment and
4.6 Human Resources Development
" Opportunity without capacity is nothing; but, capacity
without opportunity is still nothing. "
Vice Chief Isadore
Campbell, Meadow Lake Tribal Council, Accepting the 1995 CANDO
Economic Developer of the Year Award
One of the common threads throughout the report is the need for
human resource development at all levels and in all areas, such
as, government administration, business management, financial
administration, organizational development, health and the sciences.
This is an area where the corporate sector can play a significant
The Commission "sees the need for an intensive marshaling
of resources and energy to find jobs and qualify Aboriginal people
to fill them. The Commission urges that bridges be built between
Aboriginal nations, governments, private sector employers, and
education and training institutions in the context of a 10-year
initiative to identify real job opportunities and develop the
training that will qualify Aboriginal people for those jobs."
The Commission identifies barriers that prevent Aboriginal people
from obtaining employment. They are: not knowing what future labor
market needs are in order to prepare for upcoming jobs; lack of
opportunities to obtain on-the-job experience; and, lack of opportunities
for available jobs based on demonstrated ability.
The Commission recognizes, as have a number of forums on Aboriginal
corporate relations, that governments at all levels have a role
to play. The corporate representatives at the Ontario Stakeholders'
Forum clearly stated that they wanted to be partners with government
rather than watching government off-load their responsibilities
onto the private sector.
Corporations and businesses can make an immediate and significant
contribution in the area of youth, on-the-job training and employment.
This generation of Aboriginal people is the best educated ever,
and opportunities need to be made available. It is time to finally
remove the systemic barriers caused by poorly designed hiring
and contracting processes and criteria, as well as, prejudicial
attitudes. The Commission became convinced that existing conditions
and approaches have resulted in immeasurable human and financial
The Aboriginal population growth rate is almost twice that of
the Canadian rate. Currently, over 50 per cent of the Aboriginal
population is less than 24 years old, compared to 35 per cent
in the general population. Aboriginal people will represent a
significant percentage of new entrants to the labor market in
the coming years, particularly in northern regions of provinces
A destructive cycle of dependence is perpetuated by home environments
in which the parents do not work and are dependent on social assistance.
Children raised in these circumstances tend to be less successful
in school, experience more health difficulties and are more likely
to be unemployed than children raised in more affluent conditions.
The government of Canada is investing hundreds of millions of
dollars in training initiatives, education and work experience
programs, however, none of these programs will achieve their objectives
unless the private sector takes a proactive interest in getting
involved. Corporations can establish cooperative education or
work experience opportunities for Aboriginal students attending
local high schools or post-secondary institutions. They can get
involved in organizing career fairs with schools and local Aboriginal
organizations like the 114 Aboriginal Friendship Centers in urban
communities across Canada. And, they can organize job shadowing
or mentoring programs to help Aboriginal youth become aware of
different career options and the relationship between education
at school and performance at work. There are numerous Aboriginal
employment service agencies and organizations that are available
and willing to assist corporate Canada.
The current younger generation of Aboriginal people is looking
for opportunities to improve or change their current living conditions
and seeking role models for change. These role models are successful
Aboriginal entrepreneurs and community members with jobs. In the
absence of positive role models, youth may turn to those who have
lost patience with government and society generally, those who
may resort to violence to gain attention to their plight. Due
to lack of opportunities, previously reviewed, they will become
increasingly more hostile to persistent disparities in the economic
circumstances of Aboriginal and non-Aboriginal people.
Recognition of achievement and profiling positive role models
are a vital part of enhancing human resource development. CIBC
and RBC Royal Bank are significant financial contributors to and partners
with the National Aboriginal Achievement Foundation (NAAF) which
manages a large scholarship fund to assist young Aboriginal people
to realize their education goals and dreams. This partnership
also includes the organization of Aboriginal youth career fairs
to assist young people to become more aware of the vast array
of career opportunities they have and obtain advice on how to
reach their goals. The best recognition for a young Aboriginal
person who has completed their education and is starting out in
the workforce is a meaningful job.
4.7 Employing Aboriginal People
There are basically three aspects of employment: recruitment,
retention and promotion. Identifying qualified Aboriginal people
requires creativity, innovation, and contacts in the Aboriginal
community. Retaining Aboriginal people requires sensitivity, understanding
and a commitment to culturally sensitive employee development.
Promoting an Aboriginal person within the organization requires
a corporate culture that is sincerely committed to merit. Once
an Aboriginal person is recruited and retained through culturally
sensitive employee development, the rest will take care of itself,
given an opportunity to compete equally.
There is an immense gap between the culture of an Aboriginal
community and many of today's workplaces, especially the large
bureaucratic structures of government or corporations. The efforts
of innovative and progressive employers such as Revenue Canada
and the Saskatchewan government have taught us some valuable lessons.
Each of these employers took somewhat different approaches and
distinguished them in specific ways.
Revenue Canada clearly set out their specific goals for a successful
Aboriginal employment program. The program contained an outreach
component, a series of developmental employment initiatives, cross-cultural
training and a supporting communications strategy. An outreach
program is essential because it identifies key Aboriginal resource
people and organizations with whom to consult and establish partnerships.
This approach permits a prospective employer to identify opportunities,
systemic barriers, solutions and capable Aboriginal people who
can meet the needs. Training is critical as well, and not only
for the new Aboriginal employee. The manager or supervisor also
needs help in understanding how to be effective and supportive
of a diverse workforce.
The Saskatchewan government established an Aboriginal resume
inventory in cooperation with Aboriginal communities and organizations.
The establishment and maintenance of an up-to-date human resource
database in a specific area of operations are a critical component
of any meaningful employment strategy. The Commission recommends
that private employers become more involved with and supportive
of Aboriginal employment service agencies. Often these agencies
provide executive search and temporary work placement services
as well. It makes sense to bring together employers and employment
placement people in order to develop an up-to-date human resource
The Saskatchewan government, due to its large number of Aboriginal
employees, has formed an Aboriginal Employees Network that provides
opportunities for information sharing and assists the government
in continually improving its performance, identifying barriers
and removing them. A network also acts as a support system for
new employees. Some employers, like RBC Royal Bank, have established
internal advisory committees to serve this purpose. These committees
identify discriminating practices and employment barriers that
previously were not recognized and develop solutions to overcome
We take the everyday practices or circumstances for granted that
need to be reviewed because they may present a barrier for Aboriginal
people. Many jobs are filled as a result of informal connections
rather than formal advertising and recruitment practices. This
is one reason why formal partnerships with Aboriginal employment
agencies are important. Many employers have internal hiring policies
that frequently preclude external competitions. Internal barriers
include lack of access to application forms and having not only
to meet employment requirements but having to surpass them.
The conditions of work and fair and consistent criteria for evaluating
work are important. Training opportunities must be available,
with counseling on career options, career path guidance and in
some cases access to apprenticeship positions. Often work experience
placements of one to three weeks in new positions will help new
employees to identify positions to which they want to aspire.
It is crucial for any employee to feel comfortable in the workplace
to maximize opportunities for employee performance and job enjoyment.
In some companies, establishing formal networks and mentoring
programs help new Aboriginal employees to adjust and make career
decisions and lifestyle choices. It is important to set realistic
goals, methodically identify and remove barriers and target initiatives
to specific problem areas. When Aboriginal employees leave a company,
exit interviews, especially conducted by another Aboriginal person,
are an invaluable way of gaining an understanding of where improvements
may need to be made.
The right approaches, developed through consultation, partnership
and goal setting can achieve immediate results, reduce turnover
and increase participation in the workforce by Aboriginal people.
However, the commitment to Aboriginal employment goes beyond the
particular interest of an employer. There must be a tangible demonstration
that we, as Canadians, in whatever role we play, are prepared
to make a difference and are truly committed to and capable of
making Canada the best place to live in the world for everyone
in this country.
Aboriginal employment agencies in urban centers connect potential
employers with the Aboriginal labor force. Corporations might
consider developing a fee-for-service, long-term business partnership
with Aboriginal non-profit organizations in this field. These
organizations can also provide valuable advice and assistance
on a fee-for-service basis to corporations who are dealing with
retention issues or are not meeting their employment equity requirements.
Corporations, as part of the business partnership, could provide
labor force forecast information to career counselors to ensure
that Aboriginal youth are being trained and qualified to fill
future labor market needs.
4.8 Aboriginal Economic Development
Active partnerships will lead to mutual business benefits, as
notable successes demonstrate. It also provides opportunities
for Aboriginal people to benefit from wealth generation on their
traditional lands, an indirect way of accessing land and resources
for economic benefit. Corporations may want to contemplate innovative
approaches to development, such as negotiating with the licensing
authority the ability to direct a percentage of royalty payments
to a regional Aboriginal development trust fund that is co-managed
by corporate and Aboriginal representatives. The co-management
approach could extend further to involve Aboriginal participation
in development planning and future projections for labor force
Almost 25 years ago, when Syncrude signed their agreement for
the development of the oilsands in northeastern Alberta, the company
made a commitment to provide employment and business opportunities
to Aboriginal people. This commitment had senior executive approval.
While the company has experienced some setbacks over the years,
the commitment has remained strong. The results have proven to
be beneficial, not only to both parties, but also to everyone
in the region. Where there is a significant Aboriginal population,
an available labor market and communities that are affected by
the development, it makes good business sense to ensure that Aboriginal
people have a share in the benefits and a stake in the future.
Syncrude's approach to business development began with a sincere
commitment to make a difference. Then, the company officials applied
their talents to the task of doing it well. In 1996, Syncrude
spent over $66 million on Aboriginal employment, salaries, benefits,
community development programs, general contributions and contracts
with Aboriginal-owned businesses. Aboriginal employment is approximately
330, representing almost 10 per cent of Syncrude's workforce.
Contractors and suppliers employed an additional 290 Aboriginal
people, bringing the combined Aboriginal workforce to about 12.5
percent of the total workforce doing business with Syncrude. And
stereotypes were broken - in 1996, Aboriginal employees at Syncrude
had a better attendance rate than the average for all employees.
These targets were achieved due to a concerted and dedicated effort
by employees, managers and contractors at all levels in the organization,
motivated by a clear and well communicated policy.
Syncrude will produce its billionth barrel of oil in early 1998.
This milestone may not have been achieved if not for the progressive
policies regarding local employment, procurement and business
development, especially with the Aboriginal people and their communities.
While there is some controversy about sole source contracting,
Syncrude deliberately and effectively provided sole source contracts
to Aboriginal businesses purely as a development program.
While many Aboriginal companies can compete on their own merits,
sole source contracts should be considered and negotiated for
best overall value, as opposed to tendering contracts which seek
the lowest bid only. This demonstrates commitment to facilitate
opportunities for specific Aboriginal companies to build the required
capacity to compete on a level playing field in the future. Some
businesses may be given additional consideration for contract
work based on their demonstrated track record of employing Aboriginal
people or utilizing Aboriginal sub-contractors.
Kitsaki Development Corporation in La Ronge, Saskatchewan, a
true success story, was named the 1997 CANDO Economic Developer
of the Year. This community-owned holding company operates a number
of businesses, ranging from trucking to food processing. The corporation
employs hundreds of people from the community. It has entered
into key joint ventures in order to capitalize on opportunities
made available through the uranium mine operated by Cameco. One
of the most notable joint ventures is Northern Resources Trucking,
in partnership with Trimac Transportation Systems.
Kitsaki Development Corporation has implemented mentorship, internship
and job shadowing programs. They have also demonstrated considerable
support for school-to-work transition programs as well as providing
strong leadership in community and social development projects.
Promoting the development of an Aboriginal business sector not
only enhances community development and employment for Aboriginal
people, but also benefits all Canadians. Aboriginal owned businesses,
particularly in rural and remote areas, tend to hire more Aboriginal
people because they know who is capable within their own communities.
As well, Aboriginal-owned businesses are often more sensitive
to cultural differences and, as a result, can provide more flexible
and accommodating work arrangements. In 1990-91 25,275 Aboriginal
people in Canada reported current business ownership and/or income
Attention needs to be paid to the needs of women, northerners
and people living in large urban environments. Some communities
may be happiest with a mixed economy: traditional economic activity
combined with participation in a wage economy. Corporations need
to be able to identify these situations, develop an understanding
of the seasonal cycles of the traditional economic pursuits and
design flexible work plans to accommodate these activities as
much as reasonably possible.
4.9 Access to Capital: Investing in the Future
Financial institutions and Aboriginal communities and organizations
need to continue to work together creatively to establish mutually
satisfactory means of making development capital more accessible
to the Aboriginal community, particularly on reserves. There is
a need to build the capacity of individuals and institutions to
be better at financial management. This requires a commitment
to education, training and partnership.
A report prepared by the Canadian Bankers' Association in partnership
with the Assembly of Manitoba Chiefs provides excellent recommendations
for action to the financial community and First Nations. This
report noted the challenges of identifying the training required
to develop expertise in management, administration and business
and finding the means to deliver such training. One suggestion
is to take a collaborative approach through partnerships with
Aboriginal Capital Corporations (ACCs), Community Economic Development
Organizations and financial institutions at the local level.
Employee exchange programs, mentoring and internships can help
bridge the cultural gap identified in the report: "first,
a lack of understanding of First Nations culture and history by
banks; and second, a lack of understanding of bank culture by
First Nations." The report outlines important specific actions
to bridge the gap such as: periodic staff exchanges between the
banks and ACC's; periodic informal social gatherings of bankers
and Aboriginal business people; hosting a contact group for Aboriginal
bank employees; bank representatives establishing an information
link to Aboriginal schools and career days; banks providing guidance
and education on accessing financial services (including preparation
of credit applications and personal money management); and, banks
individually striving to provide service in Aboriginal languages
Banking services need to be extended to remote and special access
communities through the use of the various new electronic technologies.
This will require special training for community members.
The Business Development Bank of Canada (BDC) in recent years
has begun to take a more coordinated and strategic approach to
the financial and management services already being provided to
Aboriginal entrepreneurs. In 1996, the BDC appointed a National
Director, Aboriginal Banking, to lead the Aboriginal Banking Unit
in its efforts to enhance service delivery and access to capital.
One of the new tools in this initiative is the Growth Capital
for Aboriginal Business product which increases access to capital
for Aboriginal entrepreneurs who want to start a small business
or expand an existing business operating on or off reserve in
Canada. One unique aspect of the product is the special alliance
with CESO Aboriginal Services to provide management support which
includes mentoring and business counseling following loan approval.
The BDC has also partnered with financial institutions, such as
RBC Royal Bank and CIBC, by way of a formalized Memorandum of Understanding
The RCAP report recommendations stress the need for a concerted
effort by government, the financial community and the Aboriginal
communities to finally address some of the fundamental and structural
problems in a collaborative way. The barriers to access to capital,
as outlined by the Commission, are the Indian Act, socio-economic
conditions, the size and location of the communities, and the
characteristics of the businesses, the entrepreneurs and the lending
institutions. These are major challenges on their own, but must
be viewed in a holistic manner to really make a difference.
While financial institutions have made great strides in meeting
the financial needs of Aboriginal Canadians, they are the first
admit that they have a long way to go, much more to do.
Community-level initiatives have been undertaken through credit
unions, micro-business lending and support programs, and revolving
community loan funds. As well, the government of Canada established
33 development lending institutions called Aboriginal Capital
Corporations (ACCs). They fill a crucial niche that banks cannot
and should not fill. These are Aboriginal-controlled lending sources
for Aboriginal businesses that are unable to secure conventional
financing. They have an average capital base of between $4 and
$5 million. For the most part, their operating expenses must be
covered by the interest revenues earned from performing loans
less the cost of loan losses. Their agreements with the federal
government restrict their operations and the services they can
offer. As a result, the intended higher-risk client under their
mandate is not being served sufficiently.
Approximately two-thirds of the ACCs are unable to manage within
the terms of such a restrictive mandate for development lending.
In all cases, they require assistance to improve their administrative
capacity through acquiring qualified staff, separating politics
from business, minimizing operational costs and paying attention
to revenues. The formation of a formal ACC Network is a positive
sign of institutional development. The banking industry should
support them in any way reasonably practical.
As part of Industry Canada, Aboriginal Business Canada (ABC)
continues to provide assistance for Aboriginal entrepreneurs to
establish and expand their businesses. The four main focus areas
for business development assistance from ABC are: trade and market
expansion and tourism, new technologies and innovation, youth
entrepreneurship and Aboriginal business institutions. Since its
inception in 1989, ABC has recognized the changing needs of Aboriginal
business people and has contributed to improving opportunities
for Aboriginal entrepreneurs and communities. ABC benefits from
the direct involvement of a national, private-sector board that
sets program policy, provides strategic direction and, in certain
cases, reviews and recommends proposals for support. Board membership
consists primarily of Aboriginal individuals and involved leaders
whose backgrounds are in business development and finance. This
board is currently chaired by Chief Roy Whitney of the Tsuu T'ina
Nation, near Calgary AB.
Corporations, particularly financial institutions, may assist
by investing in the ACCs' capital base. The National Aboriginal
Financing Task Force report on "creative solutions toward
empowering Aboriginal people to access capital," has as one
of its key recommendations that the private sector and the chartered
banks participate in the financing and development of the next
round of capitalization and evolution of Aboriginal Capital Corporations.
Other ways of assisting are: providing expertise and training,
as well as mentoring new loan recipients.
The Commission believes the ACCs' structural problems must be
solved due to the vital role they play in fostering economic development
at the community level. The National Aboriginal Financing Task
Force recommended the establishment of a working group consisting
of the Canadian Bankers Association, the Institute of Canadian
Bankers and the Business Development Bank of Canada and others
to find practical solutions to the ACC challenges.
Some individual banks, such as RBC Royal Bank, are already working
at the community level with the ACCs on a loan capital fund and
"peer lending" circles through the Calmeadow Foundation.
A $50,000 loan fund in support of Aboriginal youth wanting to
start a business was established with Ulnooweg (an ACC serving
eastern Canada), the Atlantic Canada Opportunities Agency and
RBC Royal Bank.
The National Aboriginal Financing Task Force identified a number
of suggestions for financial institutions such as: assisting in
recapitalizing the ACCs; offering their financial management training
capabilities to Aboriginal communities as well as the Canadian
Bankers' Association Entrepreneurship Training Course through
colleges; involving private sector businesses in mentorship and
training for Aboriginal people; and, developing continuing education
programs from existing training programs on finance (to be offered
at the local level to community members). A number of financial
institutions have implemented or will be implementing many of
the suggestions of this task force.
There are success stories. Various banks are taking different
approaches to the Aboriginal market. The TD Bank, in partnership
with the Saskatchewan Indian Equity Foundation (a Saskatchewan
ACC) and the Federation of Saskatchewan Indian Nations, has established
the First Nations Bank of Canada. The Bank of Montreal has begun
to make loans to some ACCs and in conjunction with other banks
has proposed the creation of the First Peoples Trust that would
make capital available to ACCs for loan purposes, as well as to
individual Aboriginal communities for housing and infrastructure
projects. RBC Royal Bank is financing infrastructure programs in many
First Nation communities.
The growth in the Aboriginal sector of the economy due to its
growing population, land claim settlements and increasing jurisdictional
authority through self-government and institutional development
means that developing positive business relations with the current
leadership and the next generation will make for better business
opportunities in the future.
5. Conclusion: Making a Commitment to Change
Most of the messages in the Commission's report are not new. What
is new is the significance of the RCAP report and its potential
as a watershed in the changing relationship between Aboriginal and
non-Aboriginal people in Canada. It is time to take notice, to listen,
to learn and to do the right thing.
The Commission calls for a 10-year initiative on training and employment
to address the unemployment crisis in the Aboriginal community.
This is a challenge for corporate Canada to become a leader in Aboriginal
employment creation through active involvement with Aboriginal organizations,
particularly employment placement agencies, Aboriginal development
and capital corporations, various levels of governments and individual
Every nation needs a strong, capable labour force and business
community. In Canada, the young Aboriginal population represents
a tremendous human resource that wants to participate equally in
the economy of this country. For resource companies, in particular,
Aboriginal people represent a local labor force that has a much
lower mobility rate than imported labour. After years of chronic
unemployment and dire living conditions, Aboriginal people and their
leaders are eager to work hard, develop business relationships,
strive for success and achieve mutually beneficial business objectives.
It is in the interest of corporate Canada that Aboriginal people
of this country are given the opportunity to recapture their entrepreneurial
spirit and apply their talents in business development and employment
as business owners.
The Commission calls for increased access to lands and resources
through land claim settlements and co-management agreements on traditional
lands. In the interim, corporate Canada is encouraged to provide
access to land and resources by sharing the benefits of development
with Aboriginal people through proactive business development and
The RCAP report provides an opportunity for corporate Canada to
build meaningful and effective partnerships with Aboriginal leaders
in government and economic development in a common cause to improve
the lives of all Canadians by creating opportunities for Aboriginal
people to become productive participants in the Canadian economy.
Only corporate Canada is capable of creating opportunities and effectively
addressing the unemployment crisis in the Aboriginal community.
Now is the time to for corporate Canada to act in a shared commitment,
together with Aboriginal communities and various levels of government,
to really make a difference.