How the Truth and Reconciliation Committee’s Calls to Action and Indigenous influence is changing Canada’s business landscape.

There is change on the horizon of business in Canada. Change that is long overdue, the need of which has been illuminated in the 2015 Truth and Reconciliation Commission’s Calls to Action (CTA). In Call to Action 92 on Business and Reconciliation, the report calls on corporate Canada to adopt the United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples as a framework for reconciliation. In doing so, it identifies, among others, the need to: commit to meaningful consultation and informed consent with Indigenous peoples; ensure access to jobs, training and education underpinning sustainability of Aboriginal communities; and initiate programs to educate and inform corporate Canada of the issues and challenges that must be addressed to help realize reconciliation between the Indigenous and non-Indigenous peoples of Canada.

The Dhillon School of Business at the University of Lethbridge has already been working in this area for over three decades. Professor Don McIntyre, a member of the Wolf Clan from Lake Timiskaming First Nation, notes that what is identified in the CTA around business and education has been at the core of what has been offered through the University of Lethbridge for over 30 years. “We’ve been supporting Indigenous business people since 1987. Long before the TRC, we recognized there was an essential need to fill the gaps of where business was and where it needed to be within an Indigenous context.”

The outcome of the CTA suggest that if you want to work in business in Canada today, your work is going to intersect with some level of Indigenous interest. “While previously you could get away without a certain level of mandatory knowledge in Indigenous business and governance,” today, McIntyre notes, that world has disappeared. McIntyre explains that a business which seeks to operate near Indigenous land, such as mines in northern Alberta, or franchises looking to operate on Indigenous land, need to understand how to better and more appropriately engage in Indigenous conversations. They also need to understand the exceptions to traditional western business and government rules or practices to avoid undesired consequences. “Because some businesses are unwilling to recognize a shift in the Indigenous business territory that they’re trying to grow roots in,” McIntyre asserts, “their businesses fail.”

Indigenous Governance and Business Management (IGBM) offered through the Dhillon School offers solutions for this shift in business. IGBM seeks to provide insight into these exceptions for business and government, provide a safe place to ask questions which some may have been afraid to ask, and where IGBM alumni can be turned to for understanding in terms of the complexities of working with, for, or as Indigenous businesses and nations. The IGBM program, all of which is currently online and available to students and community members alike, inform individuals of the complexities of Indigenous exceptions. Courses include Canadian Indigenous Negotiations, Canadian Indigenous Project Management, Canadian Indigenous Tax Issues and Indigenous Leadership and Management, a course that teaches strategic planning through an Indigenous lens. McIntyre argues that IGBM courses start to fill the gaps and encourage people to explore and uncover the exceptions; the areas of wise practices while also integrating best practice. “Case by case, we arm students with the tools and techniques to find what would work best in each situation.”

University of Lethbridge alumna Rhonda Crow (Mgt Cert '97, BMgt '99), is the ‘Dhillon School of Business’ Indigenous Learning & Program Coordinator and Coordinator of the IGBM program. Crow, who is Blackfoot and from the Blood Tribe and the largest reserve in Canada, says that students taking the IGBM courses are able to advise on Indigenous practices and protocols, an important aspect of reconciliation as identified in the CTA. “Our Indigenous and non-Indigenous students know how to handle meaningful consultations in the Indigenous community, addressing barriers that others don’t even know are there,” Crow says. “Furthermore, students are taught by a diverse group of experienced Indigenous business and governance professionals from across Canada who are often currently working in the sectors they’re teaching about.”

As for the future of business and reconciliation, McIntyre says that business is about certainty and in the case of Indigenous businesses, it is essential to be speaking one language that everyone can understand. “This is why Reconciliation is so essential. Whether you are part of an Aboriginal business, working in partnership with Indigenous nations or part of a governance structure, to work effectively in Canada you must know how to communicate and work both the rules and the exceptions to those rules. This is the key to reconciliation.”