When an Aboriginal-related story hits the airwaves or the headlines, chances are that there’s usually a negative angle to it with Indigenous people once again facing a loss of rights or decimation at the hands of government, big business or both.
But, what about those within Canada who have made a concerted effort when it comes to being progressive with Aboriginal groups for the sake of mutual benefit?
Believe it or not, there are many prominent national and international companies operating in Canada that have gone the extra mile to turn back the clocks on formerly racist policies and embrace Aboriginal clientele. The problem is that those stories never make the headlines, until now.
The non-profit group, Canadian Council for Aboriginal Business (CCAB), has spent 25 dedicated years building relationships between companies and First Nations communities and in turn offers side programs, knowledge and resources.
Back in 2001, the CCAB began the Progressive Aboriginal Relations (PAR) program that was developed to help integrate Aboriginal communities fully into the economy. The program requires that participating companies set goals and assess themselves in four areas: employment, business development, individual skill development, and community relations. Since the creation of PAR, 38 major companies have participated in the program and worked to improve their relations with Canada’s Indigenous communities.
In celebration of its 25th anniversary, CCAB decided to release a report analyzing the data submitted by those participating companies and award gold, silver and bronze merit awards to those companies who excelled in improving their relationships.
According to Hayden King, a McMaster University professor and director of the CCAB’s PAR report, 12 of the 38 participating companies have achieved the gold status since the program’s inception almost a decade ago.
“There is no one-size-fits-all for these relationships between companies and communities, it’s time and not simply money that makes strong relationships. The increasing economic importance of First Nations communities means that effective community relations are critical at this moment in time,” said King.
In analyzing the PAR data, King and his colleagues found four hallmarks or general themes that these “gold” companies illustrated. The use of systematic communication processes, the existence of robust consultation mechanisms, a willingness to observe cultural differences and an understanding the importance of mutual benefit were those four themes.
The report lists many examples of how these companies have presented these themes such as that of the Bank of Montreal. During the time it has participated in PAR, BMO created a unique program that enables First Nations individuals and families to own their own homes on-reserve, without the need for a government guarantee, a feat made practically impossible by the Indian Act. Though under the act, financial institutions are prohibited from accepting reserve land as security, as a result of this 2003 BMO program, Aboriginals can now obtain mortgages to finance the purchase or renovation of a home with First Nations governments now serving as guarantors. At the same time, BMO was able to increase its own market share.
According to King, BMO changed their course with First Nations communities after they were sued by numerous groups for discrimination in regards to loans. Since that time they have gone above and beyond the cause, particularly with their marketing strategies.
“BMO was one of, if not the only company to say, we are not going to use feathers or eagles in our promotional campaign because we know in the grand scheme of things that it reinforces and compounds these stereotypes of Indians and we don’t want to be a part of that. As I say in the report, it’s a small yet important step towards achieving genuine respect,” said King.
For their various projects and programs, Alberta-Pacific Forest Industries, Cameco, Diavik Diamond Mines, ESS, Higgins International, Manitoba Lotteries, Savana Energy, Sodexo, Syncrude and Xerox have all achieved PAR gold status over the years.
“We often hear about all of the bad news stories but the reality is that everybody is interested to get into the game and promote economic development,” said King.
With the release of the report and the upcoming additions to it, the CCAB is hoping to get more companies on board.
For their 25th anniversary, the CCAB also held two days of special events in Toronto on February 18-19 in conjunction with the release of the study. To obtain a copy of the study or to find out more about the CCAB, visit their www.ccab.com website.