Healing Aboriginal History

Jean Paul Gladu empowers the underserved at the Canadian Council for Aboriginal Business

If Canada were a person, she would have radiant skin, a contagious smile, a humble personality, a sharp mind, and a sturdy constitution. Unfortunately, she’d also have a large scar running down the front of her face. The shameful remnant of a gash in Canadian history, it would remind everyone who saw it that she twice made a terrible mistake: passing the Gradual Civilization Act of 1857 and the Indian Act of 1867, which stripped indigenous peoples of their legal rights and required them to embrace “Canadian culture.”

“Going back to the time of colonization, US policy was to exterminate indigenous peoples; in Canada, it was to assimilate them,” explains Jean Paul “JP” Gladu, president and CEO of the Canadian Council for Aboriginal Business (CCAB), a member-based organization whose mission is creating economic opportunities for Aboriginal businesses in Canada.

ABORIGINALS
BY THE NUMBERS

1M+

There are 1,172,790 Aboriginals in Canada

45%

Ten-year growth rate of Canada’s Aboriginal population; the ten-year growth rate for Canada’s non-Aboriginal population is just 8%

65.8%

The Aboriginal employment rate; the non-Aboriginal employment rate is 81.6%

33%

Aboriginals aged 25 to 54 with less than a high school education, compared to just 13% of non-Aboriginals in the same age group

$22K

The median income for Aboriginals aged 25 to 54; the median income for non-Aboriginals is $33,000

33%

Federal adult prisoners who are Aboriginal, although Aboriginals constitute just 3.1% of the general adult population.

Source: Statistics Canada, “2006 Census: Aboriginal Peoples in Canada in 2006: Inuit, Métis, and First Nations”

According to Gladu, Europeans established peaceful treaties with indigenous tribes when they arrived in Canada—then promptly broke them by passing discriminatory laws that stripped Aboriginals of their land and voting rights, segregated them on tiny reservations, forced their children into abusive residential schools, and limited their economic potential. “Once European colonists had power, they put policies in place to disenfranchise our people,” continues Gladu, a member of the Bingwi Neyaashi Anishinaabek First Nation in Thunder Bay, Ontario. “It was an awful path.”

Prime Minister Justin Trudeau agrees. “Our goal, as we move forward together, is clear: it is to lift this burden from your shoulders, from those of your families and communities. It is to accept fully our responsibilities and our failings, as a government and as a country,” Trudeau told an audience of residential school survivors in December 2015.

Although Trudeau has pledged to work toward full reconciliation with Canadian Aboriginals, his commitment is only possible because of decades of advocacy by indigenous communities and the groups that assist in empowering them—including CCAB, which was established in 1982 to leverage business in pursuit of economic parity for indigenous peoples, whose disadvantages in Canadian society have left them with disproportionately high rates of unemployment, incarceration, and illiteracy.

“While all of these ugly statistics still exist, we are finally coming out of this dark history. And business is one of the lenses through which we’re doing that,” explains Gladu, who attributes modern-day progress mostly to legal victories: Aboriginals have won more than 200 major court cases against government and industry in the last 40 years, he says, including many land-claim cases restoring their rights to traditional lands and resources coveted by corporations in industries such as forestry, oil and gas, and mining. “Long gone are the days where we can just be brushed aside. If companies want to develop any kind of natural resources, they have to now build relationships and negotiate with our people.”

CCAB facilitates and brokers those relationships through its various programs and initiatives, which are designed to develop Aboriginal businesses and entrepreneurs on the one hand, and to educate and engage non-Aboriginal businesses on the other.

Its signature program, is its Progressive Aboriginal Relations (PAR) program, which certifies non-Aboriginal companies that integrate Aboriginal relations into their strategic planning across four key performance areas: employment (achieving equitable representation of Aboriginal persons in the workplace), community investment (donating time, money, or support to Aboriginal communities and causes), business development (working with Aboriginal-owned businesses as suppliers and partners), and community engagement (dedicating resources to creating or maintaining constructive relations with Aboriginal communities or groups).

“It’s a program that builds not only the business case for companies when they’re operating in the traditional territories of our communities and businesses but also a community case, as our Aboriginal communities understand that certified companies are very cognizant of Aboriginal issues and looking to advance relationships that have been so desperately needed for a very long time,” explains Gladu, who offers as an illustration Bruce Power, a CCAB (Gold) PAR-certified company that operates Canada’s first nuclear power generator in Ontario. “They are reengineering their procurement policies to make sure their supply chain understands the importance of Aboriginal relationships. The PAR program and efforts by companies participating in it are really changing the way business is done in this country to be more inclusive of indigenous people.”

Other programs of note are the Certified Aboriginal Business  program and the Aboriginal Business Mentorship Program. The former certifies indigenous businesses as Aboriginal-owned and helps them identify procurement opportunities with government and industry. The latter connects Aboriginal entrepreneurs with experienced business mentors who can help them plan and execute business growth strategies.

“If companies want to develop any kind of natural resources, they have to now build relationships and negotiate with our people.”

“Our end game is making sure that Aboriginal people are on the front lines of business in this country and that we’re not excluded from opportunities,” remarks Gladu, who says CCAB’s work also includes research, events, and awards. “Indigenous people and businesses want to be part of the economy, and we have the capacity for it. We just need a level playing field to equitably participate and the opportunity to produce results.”

Speaking of results, CCAB’s work has yielded plenty. Its membership, for instance, has more than doubled in the past three-and-a-half years. Meanwhile, a recent CCAB survey concluded that 15 percent more Aboriginal businesses were profitable in 2014 than in 2011. TD Bank even projects that Aboriginal businesses across the country will generate over $13 billion in income this year, which is more than triple their income in 2001 and more than double their income in 2006.

“At the end of the day, when Aboriginal businesses and people become stronger, Canada becomes stronger,” Gladu concludes. “That’s really, really important, but it’s not going to be done without building progressive relationships and building understanding of Aboriginal communities and people. Which is exactly what CCAB has been in the business of doing for over 30 years with great success.”