Economic reconciliation: B.C. showcase highlights Indigenous business success

Membertou First Nation Chief Terry Paul speaks about lessons learned from the Clearwater Seafood deal at the. Global News

A Vancouver conference is highlighting stories of economic reconciliation through successful Indigenous business partnerships in a variety of sectors all over the country.

The 2022 Indigenous Partnerships Success Showcase began Thursday at the Fairmont Pacific Rim. Speakers from First Nations, government and industry discussed a range of topics including pipelines, fisheries, environmental stewardship, court cases and the art of negotiation.

Chief Terry Paul of the Membertou First Nation in Nova Scotia shared lessons learned from his role in securing the $1-billion Clearwater Seafoods acquisition with a coalition of Mi’kmaq Nations and B.C. company Premium Brands.

“We knew we weren’t about to do it ourselves, we needed a partner to come in with us,” he told Global News. “I think an important part of doing business with anybody is having a really good relationship.”

Read more: First Nations chief calls $1-billion Clearwater deal a “generational acquisition”

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To companies that want to partner with Indigenous communities, Paul advised approaching communities early with honesty and respect, rather than at the “eleventh hour.”

“Come in at the beginning of the idea or the project,” he explained. “The message that I can give to people is, please understand that Indigenous business is good business.”

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Paul was asked to make the keynote address by Squamish Hereditary Chief Sekyu, Ian Campbell. Campbell is the first Indigenous person to chair the 2022 Indigenous Partnerships Success Showcase.

He said the annual event is about highlighting “what’s working” when it comes to Indigenous business partnerships and enterprises in a variety of sectors across Canada and the world.

“Now that we’re in an era of reconciliation, these types of gatherings are very important to really enlighten Canadians as to why reconciliation matters to us collectively,” he said. “It’s not just what Canadians are doing for Indigenous, it’s what we’re doing also for Canadians.”

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Read more: Squamish Nation signs services agreement with Vancouver for Kitsilano development

Economic reconciliation is a “burgeoning” area, he added. For decades, racist colonial policies grounded in the Indian Act — such as a historical ban on Indigenous land ownership and access to post-secondary education — prevented many Indigenous people from fully participating in the economy.

In its first day, the showcase spotlighted success stories such as Paul’s Clearwater deal, the progress of Salish Sea Indigenous Guardians Association, and the Squamish Nation’s landmark independent impact assessment process for the Woodfibre LNG project.

Industry participants included FortisBC and Coastal GasLink, real estate developer Beedie, and more. Former federal justice minister Jody Wilson-Raybould was scheduled to speak Thursday evening at a separately-ticketed fireside chat.

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