Aboriginal Business Gala Celebrates Independence And Prosperity

By Michelle Morning Star Doherty

The Canadian Council for Aboriginal Business (CCAB) held its eighth annual Vancouver Gala Dinner on September 16th. “This is an incredible time of opportunity in which we find ourselves,” said Assembly of First Nations National Chief Shawn A-in-chut Atleo. “Through relationship-building, education, mutual respect and the sharing of wealth in a sustainable, respectful manner, we can move forward to our return to independence.”
Chief Atleo articulated the sentiment of over 350 Aboriginal and non-Aboriginal business and political leaders at the gathering.

Clint Davis, President and CEO of the CCAB, embodies the spirit of the organization. An Inuk from Nunatsiavut, Clint was raised by his grandparents in Newfoundland and Labrador, and lived a fairly traditional life that included hunting, fishing, and trapping. They instilled in him strong cultural values and ethics that he carries in his work today by helping to create mutually beneficial and equitable opportunities for all.

“Over the last 25 years, we have adapted to the changing needs of stakeholders in Aboriginal Business, using a common sense approach. We help to facilitate sustainable relations between the Canadian business sector and First Nation, Inuit, and Métis people, and conduct relevant research that captures trends, best practices, and areas of opportunity for Aboriginal people and business. We also work with both Aboriginal and non-Aboriginal businesses to encourage economic sustainability, training and skill development, and recognition of Aboriginal business success,” said Mr. Davis. “Our programs and services support the Aboriginal business entrepreneur through the stages of education, business development, and leadership. As well, we share what we know and what has worked for others, such as Partnership Profiles of First Nations Partnerships, best practices in corporate Aboriginal relations strategies, and shining examples of business acumen.”

The CCAB began with two incidents in 1984 that served as a call to action for one of Canada’s most prominent corporate citizens. Mr. Murray Koffler, founder of Shoppers Drug Mart and co-founder of Four Seasons Hotels and Resorts, came across a homeless Aboriginal family living on a work site for a future Four Seasons Hotel. Later that day, he witnessed a security guard escorting a young Aboriginal boy from a Shoppers Drug Mart on suspicion of theft. Mr. Koffler decided to act. He assembled individuals from government, Aboriginal leaders, and a “who’s who” of Canada’s business world, including the Right Honourable Paul Martin, Maurice Strong, and Edgar Bronfman. He asked the group one question: “Is there a role for Canadian business to play in the economic development of Canada’s Native peoples?” Koffler believed business could share its resources and expertise to enhance opportunity for all Aboriginal people. His vision has generated impressive results in Aboriginal employment, business development, and positive community relations.

The CCAB is administered by a team in Toronto and governed by a 22-member national Board of Directors that meets quarterly. An advisory committee also meets on a quarterly basis to discuss regional business issues, community trends, and opportunities for membership enhancement. The CCAB designed the Progressive Aboriginal Relations (PAR) program to support and recognize engagement with Aboriginal businesses and communities as part of a company’s overall strategic plan. The PAR program framework enables companies to measure and report progress in employment, business development, capacity building, and community relations. Commitment to Aboriginal relations and continual improvement in engaging and involving Aboriginal people in these areas can make a company appealing to Aboriginal communities.

Companies that successfully complete the PAR process—including external verification and confirmation by a PAR Jury—will receive a PAR Bronze, Silver, or Gold level certification. PAR Bronze companies recognize the business case for working with Aboriginal business and communities. PAR Silver companies already have business partnerships in place and invest in community sustainability. PAR Gold companies demonstrate sustained leadership in Aboriginal relations through commitment to working with Aboriginal businesses and communities. Innovative programs and engagement of Aboriginal people have made an enduring impact on their business objectives and demonstrate best practice for companies beginning the PAR process. The PAR Program can help confirm that a company is committed to developing relationships with Aboriginal people. Companies are required to continually improve relationships with local communities, provide annual reports, and undergo verification every three years.

At the 2010 Vancouver Gala Dinner, CCAB celebrated the Gold recertification of BMO Financial Group, Cameco Corporation, ESS (a member of Compass Group Canada), and Sodexo Canada Remote Sites. Casino Rama entered the program at PAR Silver, while ARAMARK Canada’s Remote Workplace Services and Health Care Management Systems were awarded PAR Bronze. To commemorate the event, CCAB commissioned Nuu-chah-nulth artist Gordon Dick to design and create the annual PAR Award. Mr. Dick incorporated two wolves into his design, which Assembly of First Nations National Chief Shawn A-in-chut Atleo interpreted as representative of “family groups.”

The Aboriginal Business Mentorship Program represents another exciting opportunity for corporate Canada and Aboriginal entrepreneurs to build relationships for sharing and success by providing Aboriginal business owners with a mentoring experience that helps them meet business goals. Pairing Aboriginal entrepreneurs (protégés) with senior executives from Canadian companies (mentors) provides one-on-one advice in matters such as expanding into new markets, improving internal business functions, product/service development, and sustainable growth.

“We are honored to have the visionary support of ESS, a member of Compass Group Canada, for this venture, and we encourage all companies to participate in what promises to be a rewarding program,” said CCAB’s Clint Davis. “Compass Group Canada has a long-standing relationship with the Aboriginal business community through its bursary and scholarship program for students and its Gold PAR certification.” Jack MacDonald, CEO of Compass Group Canada and ESS North America said, “As champions of this new Aboriginal Business Mentorship Program, we have an exciting and fulfilling opportunity to work alongside Aboriginal entrepreneurs.” He added, “We are proud to be the founding sponsor of this innovative new program.”
The CCAB is non-partisan and receives no core government funding and is entirely supported through corporate funding, program and event sponsorships, and membership dues.