The changing demographics of our business community has brought an exciting change in perspective for business relationships with our First Nations, Inuit and Métis communities. No one knows it better than Clayton Desjarlais, Co-founder of Mâwandônan Consulting, a Regina-based consulting company. For the past two decades, Desjarlais has been a catalyst for change as he has dedicated his career to bridge the non-Aboriginal industrial and business world, government and Indigenous organizations.
While completing his Masters Degree, Desjarlais was guided by two extraordinary mentors, the First Status Indigenous man to attain a Doctorate in Saskatchewan, Dr. Oliver Brass, and Tom Dore, a Mohawk lawyer. “It was a privilege to get in-depth understanding of the Treaties and the Indian Act from these two great men,” says Desjarlais, with visible emotion. Today, although his heart and home are right here in Saskatchewan, Desjarlais spends time consulting in Alberta where he has built a reputation as a strong negotiator who always manages to bring the right people to the table. He has much advice for the business community on working with First Nations, Inuit and Métis communities.
As we explore the need for greater collaboration, companies can begin taking simple but important steps. “One thing is constant from the majority of my non-Indigenous clients, they genuinely want to work with our Indigenous communities but they do not know where to start or how to even address their leaders,” says Desjarlais. His solution is unpretentious: “pick up the phone after hours and call the First Nation’s Band Office you are trying to connect with and listen to their voice message. You will learn the proper pronunciation and how the people of that First Nation call themselves.”
After 300 years of co-habitation with our First Nations, Inuit and Métis peoples, business owners must return to Communications 101. As businesses continue to develop their HR policies, hiring practices and training strategy, they often forget to gauge their welcoming factor. “Let’s take the time to look around the coffee room, who are you inviting for coffee or lunch? As a business owner, are you taking the time to get to know your Indigenous employees, to find out about their family and kids?” asks Desjarlais.
Businesses will gain such an advantage once they understand that “one size fits all approach” does not work with our Indigenous population. Getting to know each nation separately and apart from the other is one key to success in building a trusting working relationship. “Our people are not just disparate but diversified in terms of culture and languages. What may work with one group will not necessarily work with another,” Desjarlais often reminds his clients.
So, what will it take to bring our business owners to work together with Indigenous businesses? “First, they must do their research on the Indigenous group they are looking to work with, as they would with any other organization,” says Desjarlais. “You would not look to do a joint venture with a company without due diligence and investigation. So why would you consider a joint venture with an Indigenous organization in any other way?” he adds.