Engaging indigenous businesses is crucial to economic reconciliation

Suncor took a significant step towards working with Aboriginal Peoples to create opportunities for economic and social reconciliation in 2017 when Fort McKay and Mikisew Cree First Nations completed an acquisition of a 49 per cent partnership interest in the company’s East Tank Farm Development. Signing the agreement, from left, are Fort McKay First Nation Chief Jim Boucher, Suncor president and COO Mark Little, and Mikisew Cree First Nation Chief Archie Waquan.  SUNCOR ENERGY INC.

Suncor took a significant step towards working with Aboriginal Peoples to create opportunities for economic and social reconciliation in 2017 when Fort McKay and Mikisew Cree First Nations completed an acquisition of a 49 per cent partnership interest in the company’s East Tank Farm Development. Signing the agreement, from left, are Fort McKay First Nation Chief Jim Boucher, Suncor president and COO Mark Little, and Mikisew Cree First Nation Chief Archie Waquan. SUNCOR ENERGY INC.

Without empowered, enabled and thriving Indigenous communities, Canada’s attempt at reconciliation will suffer.

That’s the blunt message in a 2018 report by one of Canada’s economic strategy tables, an industry-government collaboration to support economic growth in six key sectors: advanced manufacturing, agri-food, clean technology, digital industries, health/biosciences and resources of the future.

“Indigenous communities are a cornerstone of Canada’s economic growth and competitiveness. Integrating Indigenous businesses into the supply chain, with government acting as the catalyst along with continued industry support and partnerships, will be a significant step towards economic reconciliation,” according to the resources of the future table’s report.

An increasing number of Canadian companies agree and are making good progress towards integrating Indigenous businesses into their operations, which pleases JP Gladu, president and CEO of the Canadian Council for Aboriginal Business (CCAB). 

“Any time you tap into a new market that you haven’t tapped into before – which is largely the Indigenous business community as well as its workforce – it ultimately adds to the bottom line, and that’s good for the businesses involved and for reconciliation,” he says.

Mr. Gladu points out that Canada already has more than 43,000 Indigenous businesses competing in all sectors of the economy, including the export market, and contributes approximately $12-billion to GDP. However, he believes more needs to be done to increase that contribution, which is only 1.5 per cent of the national total.

To close the gap, Mr. Gladu wants to see more companies recognizing the benefits – to their own bottom lines and to Canada as a whole – of a robust and growing Indigenous business community, which is why CCAB focuses strongly on its Progressive Aboriginal Relations (PAR) certification programme. 

Introduced in 2001, PAR confirms corporate performance in Aboriginal relations and signals to Indigenous peoples that PAR-certified companies are good business partners, great places to work and committed to the prosperity of Aboriginal communities.

There were more than 90 certified companies in the PAR program in 2018 and another 200 going through the introductory process to join the program. Bruce Power in Ontario is encouraging over 100 of its suppliers to join the CCAB and the PAR program, and energy company Suncor is awarding more points on its procurement scorecard to suppliers in recognition of PAR-certified companies.

Suncor received gold level PAR certification in 2017. In his 2017 letter to shareholders, the company’s CEO, Steve Williams, says while Suncor is honoured by this recognition, it also knows there is much more work to be done to earn the trust and support of Aboriginal Peoples and communities.

“Suncor’s socially focused sustainability goal targets the increased participation of Canada’s Aboriginal Peoples in resource development,” he says. “It’s about changing the way we think and act – and working with Aboriginal Peoples to create opportunities for economic and social reconciliation.”

Mr. Williams points out that Suncor took a significant step towards this goal in 2017 when Fort McKay and Mikisew Cree First Nations completed an acquisition of a 49 per cent partnership interest in the company’s East Tank Farm Development – the largest business investment by a First Nation entity in Canada at the time of the deal. 

In the company’s 2018 Report on Sustainability, Eric Axford, Suncor’s chief sustainability officer, says the company is trying to play a supportive role in the ongoing reconciliation process. 

“We are looking for ways to collaboratively support Aboriginal youth, the fastest growing segment of the Canadian population. We are working with our supply chain, trying to increase revenues to Aboriginal businesses and communities. We feel we have the opportunity to make a difference and, while I’m proud of what we’ve done so far, I believe we need to do more,” he says.

Mr. Gladu believes there is strong support for the sentiment that Canadian businesses can and should do more to promote economic reconciliation.

“Research we conducted in partnership with Sodexo about 18 months ago showed that 81 per cent of Canadians agreed that corporations should procure from Indigenous-owned suppliers whenever possible because they perceived that as a pathway to reconciliation. Another 73 per cent agreed that the private sector needs to embrace Indigenous entrepreneurs to help us take our businesses to the next level, because again, a healthier Indigenous community means healthier outcomes for everybody,” he says.


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Tanya Camp