Indigenous investment is good for business

By Lorraine Graves

Published 2:23 PDT, Wed October 2, 2019

Last Updated: 2:11 PDT, Tue October 22, 2019

Investing in Indigenous, Métis and Inuit commerce makes solid business sense. That was the word at the Sept. 26 Canada Council for Aboriginal Business (CCAB) meeting at River Rock Casino.

Discussing a detailed research report co-authoured with the Shareholder Association for Research and Education (SHARE), Randy Moore, vice-president of strategic development and Aboriginal relations for Bee-Cleen Building Maintenance, spoke of CCAB’s business certification program. 

“With the Progressive Aboriginal Relations program (PAR), investors know that the corporations have been vetted for financial responsibility so they will be solid business partners. (They have) employment policies (that make them) great places to work (and) solid commitment to prosperity in Aboriginal communities.”

PAR director Luanne Whitecrow says, “PAR is the only Corporate Social Responsibility program with an emphasis on Aboriginal relations.”

The chief strategy officer for SHARE, Shannon Rohan says of the report titled, Moving Capital, Shifting Power, that Indigenous business was worth $31 billion to Canadian economy in 2016. By 2024 that’s expected to reach $100 billion. Aboriginal, Métis, and Inuit workers are the youngest and fastest growing demographic in Canada. 

Whitecrow says, “The supply of Indigenous talent abounds and the research was done because we wanted to understand the demand for it.” 

More than just encouraging firms to employ First Nations workers, the report looked at the next step, supporting businesses that support or are owned by Indigenous people.  

“The research set out to see what role investors can play for Indigenous employers, Indigenous people on boards, and in the workplace, as well as direct investment in Indigenous-owned businesses,” Rohan says. “Where can those investors actually amplify their voice in terms of outcomes?”

Rohan was clear that asset owners such as endowments, mutual funds, pension funds and trusts need to understand that investing in a vetted PAR-certified venture is not only good business, but also a way to walk the walk towards reconciliation. 

 “In Canada we are talking about $2 trillion dollars in investment funds held by pension funds and $1.5 trillion in mutual funds. Indigenous trusts, by conservative estimate have $9 billion themselves and that is expected to grow,” she says. “We are talking about enormous power at the end of the day. How does that capital move into the economy and invest in businesses? How can we enhance the outcomes for Indigenous peoples?”

Max Skudra, director for research and government relation for CCAB, says, “There is an opportunity for the big banks and other invest firms to have an outsized impact throughout the Canadian economy and that will really reshape our economy.”

Vickie Whitehead, senior manager working in Aboriginal client services at Deloitte Vancouver (one of the world’s largest accounting and professional services corporations), told the assembled business leaders, both Indigenous and settlers, “Use your purchasing power. We all have RRSPs and money invested. It’s time to start talking about it.”

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