11 insights about successful Indigenous resource partnerships: Canada West Foundation

Fort McKay First Nation Chief Jim Boucher, Suncor Chief Operating Officer Mark Little, and Mikisew Cree First Nation Chief Archie Waquan sign a milestone joint venture agreement for Suncor's East Tank Farm in 2017. Image: Suncor Energy

The Canada West Foundation says that there is a rise in successful partnerships between resource development companies and Indigenous communities, but their stories are often untold.

The foundation says it has embarked with Indigenous partners on an initiative to change this, starting with a series of roundtables held this year in Western Canada to share experiences and ideas.

"Our goal in this project is to tell the stories that aren't being told about what real success in all its forms looks like,” Canada West Foundation vice-president Colleen Collins said in a statement.

“That has value for resource firms to develop new relationships, for governments to determine how to create a better policy environment, and for Indigenous communities themselves to grow self-sufficiency and economic sustainability in ways that align with their own values."

The foundation published a series of insights about successful Indigenous resource development partnerships in the first report of its Success in the Making project, a result of roundtables with senior Indigenous leaders and industry leaders, in Edmonton, Calgary, Saskatoon and Winnipeg.

The insights are separated into “elements important for business to understand,” “elements important for Indigenous communities to understand,” and “elements important for government

to understand.”

Here’s a look from a high level; click here for the full report.

Elements important for business to understand
  • "The rationale for developing true partnerships goes beyond corporate social responsibility – they are fundamental to doing business….It can be challenging for a corporation to align its values with those of Indigenous partners. Doing so may require partners to reconsider how to apply core values. But a successful partnership is worth it – it will generate a return on investment to both the community and the company."
  • "Successful relationships require buy-in throughout the entire organization, from the board room to senior executives to employees to unions and on-site contractors."
  • "Resource projects may span 10 years or 100 years, from planning and approval through operations and reclamation. This long-term timeline requires a sustained commitment that goes beyond any single business leader and is reflected throughout the organization."
  • "Traditional Knowledge and understanding of the land is foundational and an asset that is brought to the table by the local Indigenous communities. This knowledge can be used to help a project succeed environmentally and ethically and it can provide value beyond a single project.
    "Partnerships between Indigenous communities and private industry can stimulate two-way knowledge transfer. These exchanges help both parties understand the importance of perspective and values which ultimately support business success."
  • "When an Indigenous group has difficulties in responding to an opportunity or a request for engagement, often the problem does not stem from a lack of competency or capability – rather the problem may be a lack of capacity, as personnel may be inundated with other requests. To avoid this problem, early engagement is paramount."
Elements important for Indigenous communities to understand
  • "It is important to understand that communities need to prepare for partnerships, and this takes both time and leadership. This is particularly true if the community has not had any or much experience in business partnerships, particularly in the natural resource sector.
  • "Capacities have grown in the last 30 years, especially on the professional and technical side, in many Indigenous communities. It can be useful for Indigenous communities to connect and learn from each other to enhance self-sufficiency and self-determination."
  • "Strong political leadership is critical in a number of ways…but good leaders do not work alone – leadership involves seeking expertise from a variety of perspectives: technical, legal, business and spiritual, and includes relying on Elders and using Traditional Knowledge. In addition, help is available from the outside."
  • "Both politics and business are critical to the well-being and vitality of Indigenous communities. However, business decisions need to be de-politicized to be able to maximize economic benefit."
  • "Because of the political and administrative structures in place within Canada, accessing capital can be a real challenge for Indigenous communities and businesses, and may be stifling economic opportunities."

Elements important for government to understand
  • "Government can help facilitate partnerships between Indigenous communities and natural resource businesses, as Saskatchewan did in mandating procurement requirements for northern communities in the uranium mining context.
    "As those efforts arose from Treaty Rights and efforts toward reconciliation, it is not clear why they have not been duplicated in other areas of the country. There is some progress being made (for example, on new regulations for Indigenous participation in oil and gas in Alberta), but many programs are not sustainable and are built to fail with too little money and too little local input. "