Opinion: 40 years of change: Canada's New Aboriginal Advantage
- Perrin Beatty, President and CEO of the Canadian Chamber of Commerce | August 18, 2015
One of the most critical issues facing the natural resources sector is engaging and involving the Aboriginal communities that live near or on the land where projects need to operate.
This is one of the first steps companies must take in achieving the legal and social licence needed to extract and transport our resources to markets. Unfortunately, a history of legal uncertainty and mistrust has plagued many efforts to advance projects.
The resulting confrontations between Aboriginal communities and resource companies have been the subject of intense media focus.
But this confrontation narrative has hidden another important side to this story—the increasing numbers of successful collaborations.
The Canadian Chamber of Commerce is releasing a report today that outlines these success stories, entitled Aboriginal Edge: How Aboriginal Peoples and Natural Resource Businesses Are Forging a New Competitive Advantage. Industry and Aboriginal interests align in a growing number of areas, and many successful projects are emerging from these collaborations.
Our report noted that there are already more Aboriginal people employed or owning businesses in the natural resources sector than in any other sector, and this engagement has positive impacts in communities across the country. The increased role of Aboriginal communities in the development of natural resources fosters leadership and gives these communities increased financial power and influence.
In Québec, for instance, a joint venture between the Atikamekw Council of Obedjiwan and Resolute Forest Products has resulted in the construction and operation of the Opitciwan sawmill. The mill provides jobs to 80 members of the community and generates $20 million, which also goes back to the community. The mill even times shutdowns to coincide with important community events.
Our report profiles many businesses like this, controlled by aboriginal managers and owners who see the opportunity to build self reliance and prosperity.
The examples also extend into education and training projects. Funded by Syncrude and the Government of Canada, a new college program will provide Aboriginal students with training on mobile simulators in four remote northern Alberta communities. The project is planned to provide training to 145 people in the high-demand field of Heavy Equipment Operations over the next four years. Initiatives like these are vital to tapping into the workforce of 30 000 Aboriginal people aged 20 to 35 in Canada.
That is not to say that everything is perfect. The lack of clarity around the duty to consult with Aboriginal peoples is one of the most serious problems in natural resources in Canada. Governments pass the task to companies, which struggle to earn the trust of the Aboriginal communities. Those communities try to protect their natural legacy while finding economic development opportunities and confronting an intimidating array of corporate representatives and regulators. Everyone looks to a complex legal system to try to understand their rights and responsibilities.
Everyone wins when a successful collaboration is established between natural resource companies and Aboriginal communities. The trend we are noting in this report could become a historically significant one for Canada.
As the federal election day approaches, we will continue our efforts and work with political parties to develop proposals on how best to move forward with Aboriginal engagement in resource projects. Practical solutions, rather than windy rhetoric, are what is needed now for us to create a vision of how we can all move ahead to secure our prosperity together.