The month of September was one in which the economy dominated the news. The stock market plunged, the Canadian Dollar was devalued and unemployment was rising. Some European countries continue to be in dire, dramatic straits. Despite the world financial condition, in Indian Country, there was much activity that was aimed at providing information on capacity development in economic development, illustrating best practices as a way of assisting First Nations in how to do their own businesses and sharing expertise in various aspects of business development. People who want to do good business know that First Nations are the key to successful business. There are so many initiatives being developed that you really wonder what if a more comprehensive collaborative strategy would be more beneficial. So what is going on out there? What methods are people utilizing to help achieve sustainable economies?
THROUGH EDUCATION: I attended an advisers meeting of Ch’nook and a networking Reception. Ch’nook is a business education initiative that provides opportunity for community members and aboriginal people in business schools to get training and additional education on doing business in First Nation Communities. It also includes programs for high school students to introduce them to business and create interest in getting further education in business. There is no doubt that our communities need further capacity development to be successful in business. Ch’nook has created business partners, educational partners and aboriginal community partners that are involved and work hard on making this initiative successful. A highlight last year was the signing of a Memorandum of Understanding with 24 business deans and this year, sending a delegation of aboriginal business students to see how business is done in London England. You can find more information at http://www.ch-nook.ubc.ca/
THROUGH CONFERENCES: The second event that occurred in September was the National Aboriginal Business Opportunities Conference (NABOC) at the beautiful Spirit Ridge Lodge in Osoyoos. Almost 300 people attended the conference to network and listen to various presenters ranging from using technology in your business to natural resource opportunities. Chief Clarence Louis as the Co-host of the conference offered some very sage advice to conference delegates “You have to be a student, always be student, there is always more you can learn. I got to school on success, that is how you become successful.” The technology panel challenged everyone keep their business messaging simple. What do you want to say and is anyone listening. What is the vision of where you are doing and most importantly, are you relevant, that is, does anyone care? Conferences like NABOC provide good practical information, a chance to talk with other people in business and meet potential funders and partners in business.
THROUGH SHORT COURSES AND HIGH LEVEL DISCUSSIONS: The First Nations Energy and Mining Council in partnership with Clean Energy BC sponsored a day short course on Clean Energy entitled “from application to electrons.” The course was aimed at providing on the ground information and not just high-level information. Informative conversations were held on the prefeasibility, construction and operations and shared/overlap territorial issues. Delegates then remained for the Clean Energy Conference and were provided with more information on the BC Hydro Review. One presentation from London Economics provided information that if BC Hydro operated on average water levels, in 38 of the past 60 years, BC Hydro would have been short of power. So if the government proceeds to amend the Clean Energy Act to average water levels as I mentioned in my last blog, BC will be buying a lot of power from outside of BC. The conference provided opportunity to question the CEO of BC Hydro and a few Ministers about what is happening with amending the Clean Energy Act. It was great to see the press release from Canadian Wind Energy Association this week that stated that Ontario was getting all the business for wind energy because of the industry uncertainty in BC. Hope the government got that message.
THROUGH CERTIFICATION PROGRAMS, DINNERS AND AWARDS: The next big event was the Canadian Council of Aboriginal Business (CCAB) gala dinner and workshop. The workshop focused around Progressive Aboriginal Relations (PAR) and how it has benefitted companies. PAR is an online management and reporting program that certifies companies in their corporate performance in aboriginal relations at various levels of bronze, silver and gold. PAR revolves around four performance areas-employment, business development, community investment and community engagement. Companies who go through the certification process are independently assessed by an independent, third party verification and finally reviewed by a jury of aboriginal business people before they achieve level certification. Highlighted in the workshop that I had the privilege of moderating was Manitoba Lotteries Corporation with their innovative employee programs, Cameco who have provided a lot of business, employment and support to northern Saskatchewan First Nations and IBM who has been very innovative in their technology and assisting in aboriginal communities. All three companies are at the gold level and there are many more out there and can be found at http://www.ccab.com/par_companies. It is easy to say that “we have good relations with aboriginal people” but how you measure that is not as easy and PAR is one program that does that in a credible way.
The dinner was to honour Paul Martin who received the first ever Award for Excellence in Aboriginal Relations and the companies who achieved gold PAR status. I wanted to mention that Higgins International achieved gold, Higgins is run by a very successful aboriginal woman Brenda LaRose who is known to many of us and that PAR involves aboriginal businesses as well. The Right Honourable Paul Martin was very powerful in his keynote speech. One thing that has stayed with me is he said that when he was Finance Minister/Prime Minister, If he was going to do business with the Japanese, or Chinese, he went through a training program of up to a month on how to follow protocol and do things right. He wonders why companies in Canada don’t feel that they have to learn to do business with aboriginal people in the same as other countries. Also of note, he mentioned how the business world has changed. Paul Martin was one of the original people with Murray Koefler who started CCAB in 1984. He said that back the corporate Canada had no idea about aboriginal people, let alone doing business with them. Now when he meets with business leaders, they know more than he does and it is a different world out there. It is a well-deserved honour for Paul Martin who has certainly been a champion for Aboriginal People.
GOVERNMENT INITIATIVES: Well, least week was certainly filled with a lot of the Premier’s hype on her new JOBS strategy/Canada Starts Here and how it will help BC. All I could think was that her new jobs strategy sounded like a lot of problems for First Nations communities. The premier wants to cut red tape and open up development in BC especially with mines, LNG plants and other like developments. (I just have to mention that all of these projects she is supporting need energy and the recommendations to cut back on power production could backfire.) Has the Premier forgotten that there are environmental processes, First Nations Consultation and consent and public support before she starts turning the province into a developmental nightmare? With the announcement of a Joint Environmental Assessment process for Site C, you know that she is serious about major developments and little regard for First Nations rights and title. Along with the jobs strategy, the Premier announced an Aboriginal Business and Investment Council. There is few details on this council as to who will be on it and what its mandate will be and if there is any resources to go along with it. Stay tuned…
I also wanted to mention another government initiative, the Aboriginal Internship program. As part of the New Relationship, one of the initiatives that was started was the internship program that would bring aboriginal youth into government for 9 months, then an aboriginal orgnization for 3 in order to build the capacity of aboriginal youth. There is a need for aboriginal people to be within government to help them understand how to work with aboriginal communities as well as to develop skills and training on how government works so we have greater understanding within our communities. I was on the Leadership Council at the time and we also hoped that these youth would be hired by our organizations as well. I attended the completition ceremony of the 4th cohort. 86 aboriginal youth have gone through the program and i understand that only 4 of those youth have remained in government and a lot of them are unemployed. This is an approximate numbers, but if one of the objectives of this program was to retain aboriginal people within government, it has not worked. I am not sure how many are working with aboriginal organizations but due to the financial capacity of many, hiring on new employees does not happen that often. A good evaluation is needed to see if the objectives of this program have been reached, and if not, how can they be achieved, or the training and experience of these youth will not be utilized.
All in all, September was an interesting month in the province. First Nations are serious about creating revenue and jobs for their communities as the federal government is taking the knife to many programs to save billions of dollars and we know cost-cutting measures will affect our communities. Education, Conferences and Awards, short courses and high-level discussions, certification programs and government initiatives are all mechanisms to facilitate First Nations economic Development. There is still a lot of work to do to create sustainable economies in all First Nations economies and many challenges and barriers to overcome but that does not stop anyone, in fact, it seems to be an impetus to do more and move forward despite the gloomy economic forecasts.