One of the most important issues facing Canada and our economic and social future is reconciliation with aboriginal communities and peoples.
Why Should Companies and Organizations Consider Reconciliation Agreements?
In Canada the courts have been clear that it is the responsibility of the Crown to act honourably in upholding treaty rights and aboriginal rights and title. While the Crown can infringe these rights it must have a strong justification for doing so.
Companies and other organizations that want to undertake resource projects on aboriginal territories must consider the legal uncertainties that are created by the obligations that the Crown must carry out. Companies can play a significant role in reducing the legal uncertainty surrounding projects and other activities that are being carried out within aboriginal territories.
Over the past fifteen years or so companies have made significant progress in reaching agreements that relate to joint venture busi¬ness partnerships, impact benefit agreements, revenue-sharing agreements, and education, training, and job opportunities. Aboriginal Business Match
While these types of agreements and arrangements do contribute to the broader process of reconciliation in Canada, they may not lead to the sustainable long term relationships that I believe many companies and organization will need to have with aboriginal communities.
What A Reconciliation Agreement Can Contain And What It Might Look Like?
I think that the Truth and Reconciliation Commission described the process building sustainable reconciliation well when they stated in their final report:
“In the Commission’s view, sustainable reconciliation on the land involves realizing the economic potential of Indigenous communities in a fair, just, and equitable manner that respects their right to self-determination. Economic reconciliation involves working in partnership with Indigenous peoples to ensure that lands and resources within their tra¬ditional territories are developed in culturally respectful ways that fully recognize Treaty and Aboriginal rights and title.”
Any company or organization that is working with aboriginal communities will need to establish a record of trust and mutual respect before commencing discussion on agreements. A reconciliation agreement could be the foundation for not only addressing specific projects but also path for developing and maintaining a long term sustainable relationship. These agreements can be both aspirational and also bind the parties to specific commitments, such as supporting resource development. The parties can outline the mutual benefits that are agreed to, this can include on the part of companies commitments work with aboriginal businesses in ways that are compatible with their identity, cultural values, and world views as Indigenous peoples. Companies can commit in the agreement to proactively addressing systemic racism and inequity within their organizations and to make understanding and developing positive relationships with aboriginal communities part of the DNA of the company.
I have used the analogy of DNA because many people have mistakenly believed that the DNA with which we are born is the sole determinant for who we are and will become, but scientists have understood for decades that this is a flawed theory. As individuals and organizations we can change how we think and how we act through learning and experiencing the world around us in new ways.
I have provided a link to a generic sample of what a Reconciliation Agreement could look like and what it might contain: Sample of Reconciliation Agreement
Building A New Landscape Of Partnerships
Overall, these types of agreements can be a significant part of building a new landscape that can lead to mutually beneficial relationships and partnerships with aboriginal communities. As part of Canada’s overall effort to reconcile with aboriginal communities companies and organization can contribute to their economic growth, improve commu¬nity health, and ensure environmental sustainability that will benefit aboriginal peoples and all Canadians.