Posts tagged ‘Values-Based Approach’

Successful Aboriginal Consultation requires partnership

partnersThere are many corporations that are looking for the right formula for successful consultation with First Nation, Métis and Inuit people in Canada.  You may have a critical project in First Nation’s traditional territory that requires work with local communities.  Legal counsel, government officials and your own Aboriginal Affairs advisors assure you that there are Treaty and/or Aboriginal Rights implications in your project.  There is a very compelling case that you will need to work with First Nations in order to move your project along.

As I’ve stated earlier, the best approach to developing an Aboriginal Engagement strategy is to use a respectful approach.  It’s part of something I call the values-based approach to building relationships with First Nations, Métis and Inuit communities.

The “values-based approach” to building relationships means adapting your engagement approach from beyond your business goals, to listening, learning from and beginning to understand the values of your First Nations, Métis or Inuit partners.

Among the most essential parts of the values-based approach is to evolve from treating First Peoples as mere “stakeholders” in your project to respecting them as Nations and as “rights-holders” in their traditional territory.  This means taking real steps to recognize our people as true partners.

In my experience, companies are eager to develop an Aboriginal consultation strategy for whatever project may be in the works.  They’ll spend plenty of time on the process and work planning – filling in all the details of the who, how and when of consultation.  But so often they’ll often overlook one of the most important parts of successful consultation: substance.

In today’s day and age, First Nations, Métis and Inuit communities are quite sophisticated.  Gone are the days of exchanging blankets, beads and trinkets.  Today, First Nations are being lead by well-educated leaders, experienced legal counsel and shrewd business advisors.  They are going to expect capacity funding for engagement activities.  They will be seeking impact benefit agreements, accommodation agreements, revenue sharing arrangements and even equity in your natural resource project.  They’ll also want to see a tangible and measurable basket of social benefits, including jobs, skills training programs and contracts for their Aboriginal businesses.

Companies that are not prepared to consider these types of economic benefits, or think that a smoke-and-mirrors consultation process is sufficient to satisfy First Peoples, usually have to go back to the drawing board.

You may want to consider formalizing a role for your partner in project decision-making.  I’d recommend negotiating a protocol that includes provisions for information sharing, communications and liaison, defining their role within project management and within environmental assessment oversight, etc.

I’m not saying to offer up full control, or provide a veto to your entire project.  But as with any investor, joint venture partner or shareholder, you shouldn’t expect to go very far without the support or consent of your partners.

The rational for bringing First Peoples into natural resource projects such as developing of the new vaporizer pen as partners is both complex and quite simplistic.

The reason is simple.  You are seeking to most efficient and effective means of moving your project forward.  You need to avoid any delays in project development and approvals that can lead to any significant cost overruns.

It’s the business case that can be quite complex.  There isn’t one set of formulae and variables in determining the cost of relationships building, engagement, negotiation, partnership and benefits vs. the cost of delays and other intangibles.

I encourage companies to invest in studying that business case.  I assure you, this is part of the new way of doing business with Aboriginal people.  There is a cost of doing business with First Nations, Métis and Inuit people.  The question of Aboriginal consultation is no longer just a mere formality or work flow process on your project Gantt chart.  It is now a critical business decision.

Unfortunately, we’ve seen billion dollar legacy projects being mothballed because First Nations haven’t been brought to the table.  Legal actions are leading to million dollar delays in project development.  Threats of direct action from unhappy and unwilling grassroots people can take your project out of favour with your investors, shareholders, the media and the public.  These are all today’s realities.

The sooner you are prepared for these realities and consider adapting to this new way of doing business with Aboriginal People, the better your interactions will be with Canada’s First Peoples.

————————————

Bob Goulais is Vice-President of Communications and Public Affairs for Ishkonigan Inc.  Ishkonigan is a firm that specializes in consultation and mediation services to Indigenous communities, all levels of government, and business.  Reach Bob Goulais at (416) 770-8567 or e-mail: info@bobgoulais.com. 

Respect & the Values-Based approach to building Aboriginal Relationships

Bob_Comms

Bob Goulais is Vice-President, Communications & Public Affairs for Ishkonigan Inc.

Social media and the blogosphere are full of delightfully, simplistic advice on how best to reach out and develop business relationships with First Nation, Métis and Inuit people.  But like many articles on the web, not everything is real or as simple as it seems.  Without experience and proven advice, many well-meaning companies fall flat and unprepared to work with Canada’s First Peoples.

I’d like to share my vision of a New Way of Doing Business with First Peoples.  This will include understanding the values-based approach to building relationships.

A Values-Based Approach:  The “values-based approach” to building relationships means adapting your engagement approach from beyond your business goals, to listening, learning from and beginning to understand the values of your First Nations, Métis or Inuit partners.

The foremost value that needs to be understood is respect.

In the wise words of my teacher and uncle Bawdwaywidun, the first thing you need to bring to the table is Respect.  Then, the next thing you need to bring Respect.  Finally, the last thing you need to bring is Respect.

In other words, respect cannot be underestimated.

For example: you’ll need to learn very quickly why First Nations, especially those who have signed Treaties, are Rightsholders – not mere “stakeholders”.  In fact, if you even use the term “stakeholder” in the course of your discussions, you can expect your meeting to shut down fairly abruptly.  Subtleties in terminology can mean the difference between respect and disrespect.

To be respectful, you’ll need to consider First Peoples as Nations.  You may need to study what that truly means.  History, governance, languages, cultures, spiritual beliefs, land and territory, legal rights… all the components of what makes up a nation are all there.  Why they may not be necessarily “nation-states” at this point in history, First Nation, Métis and Inuit people are indeed Nations within Canada.

First Nations respect for Mother Earth is also an important value for natural resources companies to appreciate.  One of our most fundamental teachings, coming right from our Anishinaabe Creation Story, is that human-kind was given two very unique gifts that were not provided to any other living being: intellect and free-will.  We were told that with these gifts, the Creator provided us with the sacred instructions to look after Mother Earth and be “stewards of the land and the waters”.  We were asked “to speak for those things that cannot speak for themselves”. I’m providing quotations because those are very specific and profound words right from our teachings.

First Peoples cannot expect corporations to fully understand these teachings and why we have such a close, spiritual connection to the environment.  However, in order to successfully do business with First Peoples, companies will need to appreciate and make decisions based on this perspective and worldview.  You may need to integrate traditional knowledge into your project considerations.  You may also need to mitigate or accommodate any negative project impacts to the satisfaction of the Elders, the Women and community leadership.

Another few words of advice…

  • Don’t lump all First Nations into one melting pot of pan-Aboriginal disrespect.  Each Treaty is unique.  Each First Nation, Métis and Inuit community is unique.  They are very different from neighbouring communities, with unique circumstances and ways of doing business;
  • Each engagement strategy should be customized to every community.  Consultation activities should be developed with the community, for the community;
  • Make use of custom consultation processes and communications protocols;
  • Be knowledgeable and respectful of cultural practices and beliefs;
  • Most of all, respect that First Peoples have a tremendous and complex spectrum of legal rights that are constitutionally protected.

There are many other values and value-systems that First Nations hold sacred.  From the houses of the Pacific west coast, to the Great Law of the Haudenosaunee to the Seven Grandfather Teachings of the Anishinaabe – there is much to know and understand.  Don’t be afraid to listen and learn.

I’ve seen first-hand, Senior Executives wanting to demonstrate their profound experience, or an Aboriginal Relations consultant wanting to justify their fees – by speaking or responding to every thing that is being shared with them.  They make the mistake of defending their project or person-hood in the face of criticism.

But sometimes being respectful, is to simply listen and learn.

————————————

Bob Goulais is Vice-President of Communications and Public Affairs for Ishkonigan Inc.  Ishkonigan is a firm that specializes in consultation and mediation services to Indigenous communities, all levels of government, and business.  Reach Bob Goulais at (416) 770-8567 or e-mail: info@bobgoulais.com.