Sustainable Enterprises and Indigenous Peoples

As part of a series of breakfast sessions hosted by the communications consultancy for which I toil, I chaired a discussion today about building and enhancing organizational relationships with aboriginal communities. The speakers were Bernd Christmas who heads our aboriginal affairs practice and Clint Davis, president and CEO of the Canadian Council for Aboriginal Business.

I began the meeting with an explanation for why building and enhancing organizational relationships with aboriginal communities is an issue of "sustainability" which seemed necessary given that we (in North America at least) tend to equate sustainability with ecological stewardship or as a panacea for global warming.

However, according to a study (requires an access pass) by the American Management Association called Creating a Sustainable Future the goal of sustainability is:

"Ensuring that whole systems remain healthy so that people -- as individuals, societies and organizations -- improve their overall chances of well-being."

In other words, sustainability is about more than environmental stewardship. It is about social and human renewal as well as mitigating the harmful social consequences, at home and globally, of development and short-sighted economic planning. The connection between this broader interpretation of sustainability and the situation faced by aboriginal communities in North America is self-evident.

There are at least four principles for creating a sustainable enterprise that also make sense for how companies can enhance their relationships with First Nations, Inuit or Metis peoples in North America. They must:

  1. Create collaborative and dialog-based relationships with aboriginal communities
  2. Focus attention on long-term prosperity and human rights rather than short-term margins
  3. Take action on human rights, education and poverty alleviation locally and globally even if they are not related to a company's core business
  4. Commit to the renewal of natural, manufactured and human resources locally and globally

As an aside, although still apropos, Canada, the United States, New Zealand and Australia were at the time (September 2007) the only four countries not to support the adoption by the United Nations of the Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples. Just this month Canada's House of Commons voted to endorse the declaration. That's a decent step towards improving the public policy environment for encouraging the sustainable enterprise. 

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