Opportunities Growing for First Nations Partnerships

In today’s environment of heated competition for investment dollars, partnerships with Indigenous organizations and communities represent a new wave of business opportunities.

With access to capital that was not possible before, either from past successful business ventures, claim settlements, or new low-cost financial lending markets, communities and their economic development entities are able to take larger equity positions in business ventures. Rather than simply lending their name to a venture to build some capacity, they can now become active participants.

Whether it is an injection of capital, access to labour (Indigenous people represent Canada’s fastest growing population) or strengthening your reputation as a business, being able to build on a partnership can be rewarding to all parties involved, both profitably and intrinsically.

Real world proof: Flyer Electric LP is an Indigenous majority owned partnership providing commercial and industrial electrical work throughout the Canadian prairies. Terry Tessier, president and CEO of Flyer Electric LP acknowledges their success is “directly attributable to the support of all of its partners which comes from a solid and supportive relationship and regular communication on results and strategy.”

Keith Fonstad, MNP.

More than a business relationship: When partnering with an Indigenous community business, you are also building a relationship with the community itself, which entails understanding where they come from, where are they trying to go to as a community and what is culturally important to them. This level of relationship is enriching, as each community has their own story and reason for what it is doing.

While all successful business partnerships are based off a solid business case, there has to be a good relationship between the business group and the community itself. This will require more than meeting in a conference room or in a video meeting; this means spending time together in a social setting and getting to know each other on a personal basis.

That might mean attending a cultural activity if invited, providing support by giving back to the community through youth activities or events, etc. or simply showing an interest in the community by learning more about its history and people.

Establish clear communications: The tricky part with partnerships is they can be easier to set up then maintain. To help keep partnerships working successfully, communication is key.

Establish a framework on how all parties are going to work together. Communication may be formally defined such as written partnership or operating agreements, while less formal platforms include Board or management meetings, social events, etc. The framework should avoid ambiguity and consider important but often ill-defined or missing items such as how are key decisions going to be made, how is conflict to be resolved, and how to determine the end of the partnership, if that becomes necessary. Regardless of the form, it takes the effort of all partners for effective communication.

Robert Fincati, CEO of the Montreal Lake Business Ventures Limited Partnership and Wahpeton Dakota Developments LP recognizes the importance of communication in his relationships with not only business partners but also the First Nation communities and their members. “Open and regular updates is extremely important in a relationship with so many stakeholders. As an investor in a business, knowing operational strategies, results, and issues on a timely basis is important to make informed decisions as an active partner or passive investor. The community leadership and members also appreciate regular updates including presentation at Council and Assembly meetings, newsletter updates, etc.”

Know all the players: One of the nuances of working with an Indigenous economic development business is the partnership is with the entire community. Community members can take pride and an active interest in the operation of a partnership. Therefore, venture partners need to be aware they are opening up a relationship with a much broader group than other business ventures they may be involved with.

The governance and the people who make the decisions at the Indigenous community might not be just the management group or board of directors you’re dealing with on the business side: you also will be dealing with elected officials, potentially hereditary officials, elders and senators, and individual members.

Therefore, understanding the dynamics of who actually makes the decisions, and how likely that environment is going to change is key. Does it change every two or three years with an election, or is it more stable?

Working with an Indigenous organization or community can be incredibly satisfying, knowing the venture will make a positive difference, and being able to work with the community as they grow opportunities for financial independence. But as with any business venture, a successful partnership takes effort, understanding and commitment to achieve the desired outcome.

MNP works with First Nation, Métis and Inuit communities across Canada. We have learned much in our 40-plus years working with Indigenous communities and their business entities. And one of the biggest takeaways is First Nation, Métis and Inuit communities and businesses play an underestimated but growing role in Canada’s economic landscape.

For more information on building a successful partnership, contact Keith Fonstad, CPA, CA, CAFM, at 306.765.8585 or