I get asked all the time why certain business partnerships work and why others don’t. In any partnership, the foundational base is the relationship that has been established by all participants involved. In the resource industry, many of us can tell early on which partnerships will add value to all stakeholders and which partnerships will have trouble growing. In the past, the great majority (I would say higher than 90%) of resource companies have completely ignored Indigenous communities. Indigenous communities fought hard to ensure their voices were heard when development affected their traditional way of life, so the federal governments were forced to enact the Duty to Consult. This has led to two different types of community engagement.
One type of community engagement which has emerged is one where companies meet with communities only to check off the regulatory box. There are still far too many resource companies following this practice. This process is driven from the regulatory, legal and cost side of the business. This practice does not see the value that Indigenous communities can bring, but sees them as a hurdle and a risk which needs to be managed. It is short sighted at best.
The second type of community engagement is driven from a long term view – one that sees shared value amongst all stakeholders. Creative Fire is a company that strives to build these exact types of relationships. Too often I hear that only the “big” resource players can play in this game. This is completely false. Creating relationships is built on honesty, transparency and robust conversations, not on how deep your pockets are. In all instances, when you create a long term partnership, you find more similarities than differences and you create shared objectives, even at the early stages of projects.
Our experience shows that it makes good business sense to work together on shared objectives such as local business development that identifies opportunities, from local communities to Indigenous education and infrastructure. Why? Because the resource sector is the leading driver in local Indigenous employment, and because investment in education leads to better career opportunities for local residents, which thereby raises firms’ ability to hire local people. Communities that have better infrastructure have a lower cost of living and are more attractive to outside professionals who are needed to provide health care and other necessary services. Better communication also opens up new avenues for education programming through initiatives such as online and distance learning models. As our resources move further into remote regions, resource developers need the same infrastructure, which would lower the costs of development.
You cannot understand or create shared objectives without proactive and robust community engagement. It’s time to see Indigenous communities as valued contributors, and not a risk to be managed.