Indigenous partnerships picking up momentum: Second annual PEP business conference in Sudbury touts successes.

Author:McKinley, Karen
Position:INDIGENOUS BUSINESS - Conference news

After 150 years of living in a system plagued by social welfare, Indigenous people are looking at managing wealth rather than managing poverty.

The starting point is how they approach and negotiate relationships with potential partners, with inclusion for their traditional values and history.

The second annual Procurement, Employment and Partnership Conference and Tradeshow brought hundreds of delegates, businesspeople and students to Sudbury Jan. 22 and 23 to take in panel discussions and keynote addresses, browse business booths, and exchange ideas on how to nurture more partnerships between Indigenous and non-Indigenous businesses.

Mutually beneficial collaborations are built into Indigenous culture, noted independent accountant Helen Bobiwash.

In a keynote address, Bobiwash said the First Nations have always looked to natural relationships when considering partnerships with a focus on either zero harm or both parties gaining together.

"In the past, the Indigenous and non-Indigenous relationships have been negative," she said. "Governments and society have seen themselves as superior to Indigenous culture. The thing is, a relationship is one-sided; it breaks down."

The country is in a perfect position to learn from its past and figure out a way to use reciprocity going forward, Bobiwash said.

JP Gladu, president and CEO of the Canadian Council for Aboriginal Business, talked about his experiences during his featured fireside chat with Melanie Debassige, executive director at Ontario First Nations Technical Services Corp.

Their topic was economic reconciliation, and they discussed the mutual benefits for non-Indigenous businesses to actively seek out Indigenous business and hire First Nations.

"There are many of our communities that are doing well, but others that are not doing so well. It's all in how they manage their assets," Gladu said.

He added sometimes it can take years, but carefully negotiated partnerships will pay off.

Gladu relayed the story of Fort McKay, a reserve in Alberta that has had a 37-yearlong business relationship with Suncor, an oil and gas company. The agreement has created numerous jobs and generated millions in revenue, with residents earning an annual average of $70,000 in income.

One major issue hangs over many Indigenous communities: infrastructure. Debassige said so many communities lack basic infrastructure, and so government and communities have to work to solve those problems so they can have a stable base...

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