05/07/2015 12:54 EDT | Updated 05/07/2016 05:59 EDT

Closing the Gap Between Aboriginal Business Leaders and Corporate Canada

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Last week, we hosted the first of two joint Summits in Vancouver between our organizations, The Canadian Council for Aboriginal Business (CCAB) and The Canadian Board Diversity Council (CBDC). Both Summits focus on board governance, kick starting a critical national dialogue about the merits of strengthening these communication lines between Corporate Canada and aboriginal business leaders.

Maybe it was a product of Vancouver's spring in full bloom, but there was a definite sense of optimism in the room. Or perhaps it was, as we suspected, that Corporate Canada is interested and eager to close the gap between these communities, they just aren't certain of the "how."

In order for this to be a true collaboration, that "how" has to be created through open dialogue, first to raise awareness and then to problem solve based on ideas and models from both sides.

The Vancouver Summit brought together aboriginal leaders, academics and Corporate Canada, all with the mindset of figuring out how to work together toward a common goal of equitable sustainable prosperity for all Canadians.

The event began with a dynamic panel, including Kim Baird, Founder of Kim Baird Strategic Consulting, Dave Tuccaro, Founder, President & CEO of Tuccaro Inc., and Cliff Fregin, CEO of New Relationship Trust. The talk was moderated by Dr. Mark Selman, Director, Executive MBA cohort for Aboriginal Business & Leadership at Beedie School of Business.

"We've provided some ideas around where our First Nations are, economically and capacity-wise," said Cliff Fregin afterward in an interview. "The more [everyone] understands what's happening in First Nations traditional territories around business, they're going to realize First Nations are open to business, to being involved in activity, especially if that's happening in their traditional territories."

Relations between aboriginal communities and Corporate Canada are rapidly evolving. The Prince Rupert-based Lax Kw'alaams band recently received a billion dollar offer from a joint venture led by Malaysia's state owned Petronas to approve the Pacific Northwest LNG project. Significant benefits naturally come along with such a project, including job training and employment for the area. But Petronas was, just a year ago, cited as having no idea how to successfully operate in Canada with Aboriginal Peoples. Canada cannot expect to see a real impact of economic growth on deals like this without all sides coming together to bridge the gap.

Ground-breaking change is needed. And the time is now. CBDC's Annual Report Card found that less than one per cent of directors on FP 500 boards were aboriginal, even though the aboriginal community in Canada is the fastest-growing segment of the Canadian population, representing 4.3 per cent of the overall population in 2011 . This growth, combined with the rich natural resources of aboriginal communities and their traditional territories, makes it essential for Corporate Canada to understand the needs of this demographic.

And so, after a powerhouse panel of experts in aboriginal matters in our evolving business landscape, we opened up the conversation to those in attendance during two breakout sessions. We posed the questions: How can Corporate Canada effectively engage aboriginal stakeholders in this new environment? What are some diverse governance models? The ideas about how to answer these came flooding in.

"I think the future of Canada's economy is dependent on us figuring out how to have better relationships between First Nations people, government and industry," said Kim Baird. "These dialogues are a critical start for those future directions and a safe way to start collaborating and identifying some opportunities for filling the gap."

Attendees were clearly engaged in this critical start, offering up their experience and brainstorming ideas that were not only taken back to the larger group but also to their companies, some of the country's top employers.

Aboriginal peoples have used their entrepreneurial skills to build their businesses against a backdrop of institutionalized social and economic challenges. What was clear throughout the day was that it makes sense to combine this wealth of experience from diverse and alternative perspectives with Corporate Canada's current governance models and achieve even greater success together.

At this Vancouver Summit possibility was blossoming. In Calgary, on May 14, we hope to keep the conversation going with even more individuals and companies during our second summit. Just like spring time, change is indeed in the air.

J.P. Gladu, President and CEO, CCAB, and Joint Summit Partner Pamela Jeffery, Founder, CBDC

We welcome the public to join us on May 14 for our second Summit in Calgary, featuring a panel discussion with John Carruthers, President, Enbridge Northern Gateway Pipelines, Regional Chief Jody Wilson-Raybould, British Columbia Assembly of First Nations, Thomas Isaac, Partner, Osler Hoskin and Harcourt's Aboriginal Law Group, Mel E. Benson, Corporate Director, Suncor, Dr. Marie Delorme, CEO, The Imagination Group of Companies, and our moderator Deborah Yedlin, Business Columnist, Calgary Herald.

Click here to find event details


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