How to Take Meaningful Action on Indigenous Economic Engagement

NSBA - Indigenous engagement

The 2016 Canadian Census determined that 16.3 per cent of Saskatchewan residents—or 175,015 out of 1,070,560 individuals—identified as Indigenous (First Nations, Metis, Inuit, or other). The only province, not counting the territories, with a higher percentage is our neighbours in Manitoba with 18 per cent. All other provinces are in the single digits. With such a large Indigenous population, it is no surprise that Indigenous engagement and reconciliation has become a clarion call for everyone in Saskatchewan from government, indigenous, and community leaders to individuals, businesses, and non-profits.

The inclusion of businesses on this list is significant. Businesses have a key role to play in Indigenous inclusion in our economy. Governments can set policy objectives and community organizations can provide resources but much of the work that is called for in the Truth and Reconciliation Commission’s Call to Action #92 (Business and Reconciliation) must be driven by businesses, owners, managers, and employees.

Call to Action #92 focuses on the specific actions that businesses can take to help achieve economic reconciliation with a focus on creating connections and relationships, inclusion in the benefits of the economy, and education on Indigenous peoples’ history and relationship with Canada. For businesses and managers without experience in this area, the task of implementing meaningful change in line with Call to Action #92 may seem daunting. These calls to action can be broken down into specific actions that are easier for businesses to understand and implement.

Some actions available to businesses to promote Indigenous economic inclusion are obvious such as hiring a greater percentage of Indigenous employees, entering into benefits agreements with Indigenous communities, and working with suppliers and partners that have Indigenous ownership. These are “big ticket” items and have a corresponding level of time, leadership, and commitment required. However, many actions that businesses can implement make use of the tools that a company already has at its disposal, such as:

  • Professional development budgets – funding training and education programs for current/prospective Indigenous employees that allow individuals to upskill or become “job-ready.”
  • Philanthropy and community support – directing corporate donations to Indigenous community organizations, scholarship programs, or other institutions that promote Indigenous engagement.
  • Corporate and community knowledge – providing mentorship, advice, or guidance to Indigenous entrepreneurs and professionals.
  • Day-to-day administrative purchasing – considering and using Indigenous (whether ownership or workforce composition) suppliers for every purchase, from office supplies and furniture to catering and office artwork.
  • Direct employee training – adding training on Indigenous history, communities, and engagement to the existing training on company policy, health and safety, etc. to create more internal champions of Indigenous engagement within the business.

Aside from these specific actions, a great first step for any business that wishes to take meaningful action on Indigenous engagement is to make Indigenous engagement part of the business’ mission, principles, and/or guiding priorities and making decisions with an eye on this goal. By adding Indigenous engagement as a lens at the top levels of the organization and purposefully viewing decisions through it, leaders will be able to identify the specific actions that make the most sense for their organization to undertake.