Weaving Indigenous engagement into the fabric of organizations is at the forefront of business leaders’ minds. It’s an important step toward embodying a more diverse, equitable, and inclusive workplace. However, what’s more important is implementing an Indigenous engagement framework that is authentic.
We had the pleasure of welcoming Thomas Benjoe, CEO of FHQ Developments, to our Deeper Insights webinar. Thomas is a part of the Muscowpetung First Nation in the Treat 4 territory in Saskatchewan and has a Dakota, Cree, and Saulteaux background. With a personal mission to enhance the livelihood and prosperity of First Nations through business, economic development, and governance, Thomas graciously enlightened us on how businesses of all calibers can incorporate authentic Indigenous engagement into their organization.
Thomas is educated in Indigenous Business, Economic Development, and Governance through the First Nations University of Canada. He serves on several boards and advisory committees with the purpose of enhancing Indigenous engagement efforts. A historic TEC member, you can read more about his story here.
Thank you, Thomas, for taking the time to share your Indigenous engagement strategy template and expertise with us. Enjoy his Indigenous engagement framework below!
WHY IS INDIGENOUS ENGAGEMENT IMPORTANT TO YOUR BUSINESS?
Typically, the drive to adopt an Indigenous engagement strategy is rooted in one of the following three elements:
TO PARTICIPATE IN THE TRUTH AND RECONCILIATION COMISSION’S 94 CALLS TO ACTION
These calls to action are for Canadians to come together in a concerted effort to help repair the harm caused by residential schools and move forward with reconciliation. Organizations wanting to be a better corporate citizen can commit to implementing some of these CTAs into their business.
Critical Tip: Allow yourself to be vulnerable and take the time to understand the truth of the history and acknowledge it first. This is where the calls to action come from and why they are so important. Once leaders understand the truth and can share this information with their families, communities, and employees, it will help with the reconciliation piece.
WORKING IN A SECTOR THAT REQUIRES A DUTY TO CONSULT
The government of Canada has a duty to consult and accommodate Indigenous communities when it considers activities that might adversely impact Indigenous or Treaty rights. It’s critical to ensure there is buy in from the community your actions might affect.
A DESIRE TO BUILD COMMUNITY RELATIONSHIPS
Perhaps you feel in your heart that learning and building stronger relationships with Indigenous communities is something that aligns with your personal mission or goals.
WHERE TO BEGIN? THE 4 STAGES OF ACTIVE PARTICIPATION
Not everyone is in the same boat or has the resources to do all of the things outlined in this Indigenous engagement framework. Through a dance-themed metaphor, explore the myriad of things businesses can start out with and use to set larger benchmarks for the future.
This is “being invited to the dance”; the first step, the low hanging fruit to starting your authentic Indigenous engagement journey.
Examples of this are land acknowledgements, visiting Indigenous held events, communicating with Indigenous communities, acknowledging these nations exist and start building relations.
This is “being asked to dance”; deepening the relationship with the individual or First Nation and setting early foundations for long term things you’d like to implement into your organization.
It’s crucial to build this foundation so when an opportunity does arise in your organization, the Indigenous individuals or community will feel more comfortable and included in the processes and can genuinely interact with your organization’s culture
Examples of this are Indigenous awareness training, hiring indigenous talent, community investment, and early-stage procurement.
Build a deeper understanding of who these individuals and communities around you are by asking questions about the history or the context of the relations that have occurred in the community.
This is “taking the dance lead”; creating Indigenous policy, building a formal Indigenous engagement plan, strategic investment in the needs of the Indigenous community, strategic Indigenous partnerships, and supporting Indigenous talent. It’s important to not only hire, but retain and promote Indigenous talent into executive roles. This requires investment, time, and mentoring—Indigenous talent often hit glass ceilings despite their best efforts, and therefore tend to move to an Indigenous-run organization.
The inclusion step requires being a bit more vulnerable. It’s important to have Indigenous participation in the process of creating Indigenous-specific policies (procurement from Indigenous run companies, engagements, investment in the community), to ensure they align with the needs of the community—there’s no use investing in something that is not helpful. Ask a Nation partner or individual to take the lead here, respect their time but request their feedback and insight—having an Indigenous voice behind your efforts allows for more authenticity.
This step will help you feel more equipped and comfortable in implementing deeper and more involved Indigenous engagement.
This is “owning the dance together”; having Indigenous ownership in your business or projects, making space for Indigenous people on the board, setting benchmarks and goals with Indigenous people/opinion/feedback involved, and working together to accomplish goals.
This is the biggest and most vulnerable step.
It involves Indigenous partners having an ownership stake in your business strategy, planning, etc. and providing input into the greater impact you want to create in your community. They have true structure to the role they play and know that their voice is valued.
It’s about creating a sense of belonging, so everyone owns the strategy together.
HOW DO I ENSURE MY BUSINESS IS TAKING THE RIGHT STEPS?
Consider the following three engagement elements to ensure you are actively participating in an authentic strategy and holding yourself accountable.
LEARN WHAT YOU NEED TO KNOW
- Enroll yourself in the free Indigenous Awareness Training – 4 Seasons of Reconciliation with the First Nations University of Canada
- Gain an understanding of the Nations surrounding your community
- Understand some of the historic relationships those Nations have had with your community
- Is there someone from the surrounding community (an Indigenous leader?) who can help you gain a better understanding of the history? Be sure to respect their time.
- Expose yourself to Indigenous events held in your surroundings so you can be an active member of the community and better understand who plays what roles
ESTABLISH A PLAN
- Ensure there is Indigenous participation in establishing your engagement plan. Ask for feedback from someone in the Indigenous community.
- Determine the measurable outcomes—be realistic to the size/scale of your organization and the resources you have available.
- How does this plan align with what you learned from the Nations you share territory with? What are the gaps and needs of the community? How can you help? Can you volunteer time, build relationships, or share your new knowledge with the community to spread awareness?
Thank you, Thomas Benjoe, for taking the time to enlighten us on how to adopt an authentic Indigenous engagement framework.
For more information and a deeper look into the process, watch Thomas’ Deeper Insights Webinar below—Authentic Indigenous Engagement: What Business Leaders Need to Know.