Monday, September 22, 2014
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Potash may show the way for First Nations to tap into resource based opportunites

JP Gladu

Business/ Financial Post

Community, local and regional initiatives can often be lost in the larger dialogue of multinational corporations and the work they do.

The Canadian Council for Aboriginal Business hopes to change that by providing the opportunity for that dialogue to happen between big business and the entrepreneurial spirit of the First Nations people through a series of aboriginal business luncheons.

At a luncheon in Regina on March 5 at First Nations University, the keynote speaker will be Alex Archilla, asset president for BHP Billiton Potash, who, this past summer took charge of the $2.6-billion Jansen Project in the Treaty 4 Territory of Saskatchewan.

Potash plays a vital role in feeding a growing and hungry world population. And Jansen, the world’s best undeveloped potash resource, is capable of supporting a mine with capacity of 10 million tonnes a year for more than 50 years.

There is a significant opportunity to create stronger business ties through potash development in Saskatchewan, which would strengthen long-term certainty for business, as well as create new platforms from which Aboriginal communities can thrive.

Corporate Canada understands the positive impact business development in concert with Aboriginal communities can have on their bottom line. So having a solid strategy for engaging Aboriginal communities is crucial to developing resource projects in Canada. The key to getting that right is understanding community values, including health, safety, environment and cultural concerns. Aligning these concerns with corporate approaches to sustainable development can go a long way toward building mutual trust.

While there is no one size fits all approach, forward thinking companies such as BHP Billiton are developing strategies that reflect local community circumstances, as well as their aspirations. BHP Billiton Potash cemented ties with the three key First Nations in the Treaty No. 4 Territory of Saskatchewan by signing an Opportunities Agreement at the Jansen Project making it the first agreement of its kind in the potash industry.

This is a fundamental shift in the relationship between business and Aboriginal Nations, and will allow them to participate in the entrepreneurial opportunities that arise from Jansen and similar projects.

The Certified Aboriginal Business Program, or CAB, launched last fall by the CCAB was created to assist Aboriginal entrepreneurs in obtaining more business. The online national Aboriginal business directory and a procurement tool were designed to create more bid opportunities for Aboriginal businesses looking to partner with industry on the local and nation stage by being easily identified by industry, government and other organizations.

BHP Billiton Potash has committed to assisting in the building of First Nations business capacity and has provided entrepreneurs and community-owned business development corporations with an outline on how to access opportunities directly related to the Jansen Project.

The seeds for success lie in the ability of big business and Aboriginal communities to work together on the resource projects that affect the local community and the companies’ bottom lines.

JP Gladu is president and chief executive of the Canadian Council for Aboriginal Business.

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