Creating and nurturing Indigenous partnerships: Essential strategies for success

Editor’s Note: This is the first article of a two-part series on progressive Indigenous partnerships. Part 1 focuses on foundational components. Part 2 in the series will appear next week, and looks at how to measure, calibrate and govern.


Quality Indigenous partnerships are instrumental to the success of projects and strategies throughout Canada. As one of the fastest growing labour forces in the country, Indigenous peoples are becoming industry drivers in several business capacities including management, production, commercial enterprise and more.

Indigenous journalist and communications professional Stephanie Joe sat down with Bennett Jones partners Sharon Singh (commercial and regulatory law), Ashley White (corporate law) and Luke Morrison (corporate law) as well as Fluor Canada Ltd.'s Mark Brown (Vice President & General Manager) and (Director, Project Communications & External Affairs) to understand how their client’s Indigenous partnership strategies are working to create an equitable relationship for both Indigenous and non-Indigenous partners. What followed was a thorough discussion of client relations and Indigenous partnerships.

Bennett Jones is one of Canada’s premier business law firms and home to 500 lawyers and business advisors. Bennett Jones has been intimately involved in virtually every major energy development project in Canada in the past 20 years, representing project proponents, investors and other stakeholders. We provide complete ESG-related advice to clients that helps them seize ESG opportunities, minimize compliance gaps, and mitigate risks.

 

Fluor has provided engineering, procurement, fabrication, construction, and project management services to Canada’s energy industry for 72 years. Its 43,000 employees globally (and 3,000+ across Canada) deliver comprehensive services — from conceptual design through to commissioning and maintenance — for all types and sizes of facilities. Fluor applies its broad expertise, extensive experience, and proven technology to benefit Canada’s energy transition in areas such as liquefied natural gas, carbon capture, hydrogen, renewable fuels, small modular reactors, and minerals mining. Fluor is committed to positively contributing to Canada’s energy tomorrow by focusing on safe and sustainable solutions today. This commitment includes focusing on diversity, equity, and inclusion to ensure opportunities represent the diversity of Canada’s population and support reconciliation, partnerships, and benefit-sharing with Indigenous peoples.


PART ONE: Foundational components of progressive Indigenous partnerships

Q: When it comes to Environmental, Social and Governance (ESG), is it a board level discussion?

Bennett Jones (BJ):  The discussion around ESG, its importance as a driver of an organization's performance, its implementation, measurement and reporting, typically permeates through the entire organization. It is neither limited to nor driven by the board. Our clients, their investors, employees, regulators, and other stakeholders are either very aware, or are raising their awareness, of the importance of ESG to their long-term sustainability and performance. The importance of meaningful engagement and partnerships with Indigenous peoples is an integral component of a company's ESG performance. Meaningful inclusion of Indigenous peoples and including their perspectives is not limited to the “Social” pillar. Rather, Indigenous peoples are important drivers of all three ESG pillars.

Factoring ESG considerations into corporate decision-making is not new, including from a legal perspective where legislation and jurisprudence has existed for decades. However, companies are increasingly being scrutinized on their ESG performance by shareholders, investors, and stakeholders. Indigenous peoples have been factoring and scrutinizing investment opportunities with an ESG lens before the term was created. We work with our clients to understand the inherent rights of Indigenous peoples, and how this should factor into their corporate decision-making, and help clients identify, develop, and implement ESG-related solutions and strategies in connection with policy changes at the governmental level.

Fluor (F): Our leadership makes it a priority. Diversity, Equity & Inclusion (DE&I) are a big part of the “S” in ESG. We often use EDI as a dialogue in communities including with our client base, peers, competitors, subcontractors and vendors. When we ask people to involve themselves as a provider of a product or service, that “S” is a big part of what we ask about now. There's a value chain, not just from our leadership through our governance and our execution, but also those that we do business with.

Q: Sovereignty and self-governance are significant in Indigenous communities. Are there any steps taken towards training members of the community?

F: We’re about building capacity, leaving a legacy and sharing success with those in the community. To that end, we are continually seeking ways to leave long-lasting positive impacts in the communities we serve.

BJ: In addition to the growing sophistication of mutual benefit agreements, there has been an increase in opportunities for meaningful equity ownership. The goals of these partnerships is to create community resilience and prosperity. This includes providing capacity building and meaningful avenues to the Indigenous community partner to participate in the governance and affairs of the project. Meaningful partnerships help communities become self-reliant and generate additional economic opportunities which are driven by Indigenous values and worldview.

Q: How are companies investing in making Indigenous partnerships a priority versus an afterthought?

BJ: Companies that are making this a priority are embedding it as a core value, similar to safety. Companies that do not view Indigenous partnerships as creating potential opportunities and are not proactive in finding pathways to partnerships will leave value on the table. 

Investment in these partnerships includes companies creating a culture of inclusion, educating employees, contractors and other constituents to understand the inherent rights, history of, and current realities of Indigenous peoples. These companies understand that they, and each Canadian, have a role in reconciliation.

F: When you invest in health, safety and environment, it’s an equalizer. I see Indigenous partnerships in the same light. It’s about people helping people that would generally be competing to share each other's learnings.

We have a progressive Indigenous relations strategy at Fluor — it’s not like we're going to get to an equilibrium point, and then we're done with our Indigenous relations strategy. It has to progress to a point where it becomes second nature, like thinking about safety.

Q: How does materiality come in to play with all partnership developments?

F: One example that allows us to demonstrate materiality is when we invest in our project orientations; every person that comes to a worksite is required to go through orientation and cultural awareness. It’s an hour and a half of listening to an Elder and an external facilitator as they take you through the land you're sitting on and why it's important. And it’s for all individuals, regardless of their role on the project.

When you ask people, ‘how was orientation?’ They say two things, ‘very comprehensive training for safety, and what an impact’ — and they hold up their reference materials that explains things like the Indian Act, cultural rights and some historical presence. It leaves such an impact from a materiality viewpoint.

BJ:  Materiality is a strategic business tool — it is used to assess both risk and opportunity. We use it to identify trends, policy changes, legislative developments, and potential areas of interest that are relevant to how a company operates.

On the other hand, we also use materiality as a means of describing the baseline requirement for ongoing transparent, purposeful, and proactive or timely disclosure of information to Indigenous partners and communities. Timely sharing of relevant information is critical to decision-making.


Fluor Canada 

Mark Brown, Vice President & General Manager 

Lori Janson, Director, Project Communications & External Affairs 

Bennett Jones 

Ashley White, Partner, Calgary

 

Luke Morrison, Partner, Calgary 

Sharon Singh, Partner, Vancouver 

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