Jordan Hatton Q&A

What do you find most interesting, exciting, or surprising about the future of economic partnerships between Indigenous and non-Indigenous businesses or organizations?

What I find most interesting, exciting, and, yes, surprising about the future of economic partnerships between Indigenous communities and non-Indigenous businesses is that now more than ever, non-Indigenous businesses realize the important role that First Nations play in the success of their business or industry. Take mining and exploration companies, for example. Over the past several years and following many victories at the Supreme Court with respect to First Nation consultation and accommodation, these companies realized that the days of ignoring Indigenous communities were over and that they had to come to the table for discussions, including ones related to financial commitments to communities. However, recently, there has been a noticeable, positive shift in these companies’ attitudes. Now, many companies realize that First Nation support for their developments is, in fact, a critical element whose importance cannot be understated. This support could come in several ways: support for permitting, positive media coverage, local contracting and employment opportunities that prevent the need to ship in outside products and labour, local knowledge regarding important environmental or economic matters for the companies, and the list goes and on. 

 So to summarize: whereas companies used to “have to” work with communities, and may have done so reluctantly, companies are now “wanting” to work with communities, as they realize that at the end of the day, having that proactive support and engagement is helpful to their bottom line – and is, in fact, many times what their shareholders are demanding. This leads to a bright and productive future for Indigenous – non-Indigenous partnerships going forward.

If there was any advice you could provide Canadian businesses interested in (or in the beginning stages of) partnering with Indigenous communities, what would it be?

Bingwi Neyaashi Anishinaabek is a very progressive First Nation, always willing to look at ways to better its community and membership. Therefore, we work with our neighbouring First Nations to move in this similar direction and, wherever possible, work with them on agreements and processes that lead to positive arrangements and partnerships with local industries and businesses. This leads to positive developments within our First Nations concerning environmental protection, training and employment, contracting and business development, member entrepreneurship, and own-source revenue arrangements. This leads to the continuing empowerment of our First Nation communities and their members. Blossoming multi-First Nation partnerships can also have ripple effects in developing additional opportunities throughout the region.

Outside changes that would support this important work include government funding for regional partnership development work for groupings of First Nation communities and encouraging businesses in the forestry, mining and exploration, and other regional resource industries to work collaboratively with Indigenous Communities for their projects and to look at true partnership opportunities wherever they may be.

If there was any advice you could provide Canadian businesses interested in (or in the beginning stages of) partnering with Indigenous communities?

The advice for Canadian businesses interested in, or in the beginning stages of, partnering with Indigenous Communities would be to not be afraid to approach the community and commence the discussions. This should start at the staff level, approaching the Economic Development folks within the First Nation’s organization and asking to set up a meeting and discuss their thoughts and ideas. Progressive communities will rarely shut out a good idea. While not every community is ready for every opportunity that is brought to them, they will hopefully be interested in at least having the initial conversation and seeing where it goes from there. However, companies should be prepared to listen to the ideas of the communities as well, as what they are interested in receiving from the partnership may differ substantially from the company’s vision. Having aligned visions are critical to the successful execution of a partnership arrangement.

The most critical piece of this is to listen and come to the table with arrangements that would provide significant benefits to the community in question if it were to move ahead. These benefits will vary depending on the community in question. Some will see employment as their number one priority. In BNA’s case, we are developing a First Nation from scratch that the government previously destroyed. Therefore, revenue generation is our most important priority. It is important to find out what those priorities are and find ways to assist communities as they continue to strive for economic reconciliation.

Fast forward to the future, what would a successful Indigenous Economy look like?

A successful Indigenous Economy will be different for every First Nation. However, common pillars include:

  • Full Employment: First Nation members can provide a good life for themselves and their families, not relying on the government or their First Nation but rather on a good, solid well-paying job for their success. 
  • Own-source revenues: Partnerships, entrepreneurial businesses, investments, agreements, and other arrangements are formed by communities both on and off-reserve to ensure that multiple revenue sources can be achieved. This lessens the reliance on government and ensures that the First Nation can move forward with its priorities on its terms. 
  • Financial Stability: A successful Indigenous Economy depends on a strong and stable financial backbone. Financial policies that consider proper budgeting, conflict of interest and confidentiality measures, accounting best practices, and involvement of outside financial bodies like the First Nation Financial Management Board and the First Nation Finance Authority. 
  • Separation of Business from Politics: A successful Indigenous Economy must consider the need to create separate entities for its economic development activities. The creation of arms-length Economic Development Corporations and LPs is not easy. They require significant community trust and member involvement. However, they provide the outside business with the certainty that partnerships will survive beyond the next Chief and Council election cycle and ensure that decisions are made in the best interest of the business at hand. 
  • A diversified economy: First Nations must think beyond the one industry or business operating in its vicinity, especially resource-based opportunities. There is no question that mines and forestry mills are great economic drivers when located near a community, both for employment and revenue generation. However, these opportunities are often cyclical and may not provide the long-term economic stability that a diversified economic base can provide. Therefore a successful indigenous Economy should include many opportunities for community development and not rely on anyone regional player.
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Jordan Hatton

Director of Economic Development , Bingwi Neyaashi Anishinaabek

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