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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

1. Introduction

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.

1. Introduction

" 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 benefits.

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 "
Pope John 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 both ways.

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 benefit.

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 mine.

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 in development.

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 achieved.

Corporations must seriously consider three possible options:

  1. 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 people;
  2. becoming directly involved with Aboriginal people, their governments, organizations, institutions and communities to achieve mutually beneficial economic objectives with a minimum of government regulation; or,
  3. 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 a difference.

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 following:

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: Recognizing Achievement
4.8 Aboriginal Economic Development
4.9 Access to Capital: Investing in the Future

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, etc.).

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 provide.

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 needs.

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 crucial.

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 capacity building.

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 become self-reliant.

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 role.

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 costs.

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 in Canada.

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 database.

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 them.

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 requirements.

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 from self-employment.

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 where appropriate.

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 document.

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 entrepreneurs.

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 employment programs.

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.

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10/02/2009 19:39:14