“We’re all in this landscape together trying to find a way forward,” says J.P. Gladu, President and CEO of the Canadian Council for Aboriginal Business (CCAB).

With many major natural resource projects occurring on First Nations, Inuit, and Métis lands, business partnerships with local entrepreneurs and organizations have become an essential part of the development process.

“There’s a huge opportunity now for corporate Canada to re-establish its relationships with Aboriginal Peoples,” says Gladu. “The key is mutual benefits.”

Working together

Both parties bring benefits to the table: with corporations, it’s the wealth of experience, the capital, and the know-how. 

With the Aboriginal businesses, it’s the growing population and the local knowledge. “Locals know the landscape, they know the region, they’re invested in the community, and they’re the ones who are going to grow the community,” says Gladu.

Employable demographics

With occupational shortages and baby boomers retiring, Canada’s youthful and growing Aboriginal population may be the answer. “The Aboriginal population is the fastest-growing employable demographic in Canada, at something like four times the average Canadian population growth, and the average age is around 27,” says Stephen Lindley, VP of Aboriginal and Northern Affairs at SNC-Lavalin.

Business partnerships foster what Lindley says is known as social license: the unwritten social contract and acceptance that exists between a community and a resource company.

Another business case for local partnerships is that resource companies typically spend big bucks flying in skilled labour for their projects.  “The advantage of the Aboriginal workforce is that it’s local. You can actually save money,” says Lindley.

Aboriginal careers

“There’s a huge opportunity now for corporate Canada to re-establish its relationships with Aboriginal Peoples”

Aboriginal entrepreneurship is thriving, but there aren’t always local Aboriginal companies in place to take advantage of the opportunities generated by a resource project.

A joint venture can bridge the gap or be the boost to break through a ‘glass ceiling’ to the next level of business. Partnerships can also reverberate throughout the community resulting in what Gladu calls “brain circulation.”

“We take the best and brightest in our community and get them educated and trained and then they have to leave the community to find work,” says Gladu.

Partnerships can be the force to bring the brains home. “As partnerships develop around major resource projects, corporations could work with communities to find out who’s out there and bring them back home to work.”

Respect the land

Trust, respect, and a long-term commitment are essential to any corporate-Aboriginal partnership, says Lindley. It’s also about “respecting the Aboriginal community’s relationship to land. It’s very important when you come into an Aboriginal partnership that you share those values.”

He says these partnerships have become imperative.

“Resource development companies have to work effectively with the communities they are impacting. You have to make it good for the community or they won’t support your project,” says Lindley.