The Canadian Council for Aboriginal Business (CCAB) and Sodexo Canada are pleased to announce this year’s recipient of the Award for Excellence in Aboriginal Relations is Phil Fontaine O.C., O.M. He was recognized for his lifelong dedication to the Aboriginal community at CCAB’s 11th annual Vancouver Gala held on September 23, 2013.
The Award for Excellence in Aboriginal Relations is presented to a Canadian who has personally contributed, through his or her professional and voluntary commitments, to building bridges between Aboriginal people and Canada’s business community.
Phil Fontaine has been instrumental in facilitating change and advancement for First Nations people from the time he was first elected to public office as Chief, at the age of 28. He is a proud member of the Sagkeeng First Nation in Manitoba and still plays an active role in the support of his community.
In the early 1980’s he was elected to the position of Manitoba Regional Chief for the Assembly of First Nations. When his term expired in 1991, he was elected Grand Chief of the Assembly of Manitoba Chiefs where he served three consecutive terms. In 1997 he stepped onto the national stage where he was elected National Chief of the Assembly of First Nations for an unprecedented three terms in office.
Sodexo Canada is pleased to partner with CCAB to create an award that recognizes Aboriginal and non-Aboriginal leaders who have championed positive change for the Aboriginal community through business. Dean Johnson, President of Sodexo Canada, says “Phil Fontaine is an articulate advocate for the future of Canada and for our indigenous peoples. We are proud to recognize his tenacious and solution-oriented leadership with this award.”
JP Gladu, President and CEO of CCAB says, “Phil Fontaine has been a role model for the Aboriginal community as well as the Canadian population. CCAB is proud to be recognizing Mr. Fontaine for his dedication to building bridges across sectors. He truly is the kind of leader the Award for Excellence was designed to honour.”
Phil Fontaine has seen many changes over the years and he has been part of many of these changes. Aboriginal business has taken giant steps in the last ten years, one could say that more has been done for Aboriginal Busines in the last ten years than was hot accomplished in the last 200 years. Sitting in the Fairmont-Waterfront. Phil was happy to answer questions about the future of Aboriginal business.
How does the current state of Aboriginal business differ from 20 years ago?
There has been a dramatic shift and more of our people see economic development, the private sector, as the way forward and more of our people are engaged in business development and now there is an estimated 30,000 businesses owned and managed by Aboriginal people in various sectors. They are involved in oil & gas, pipeline, mining, construction; and the language has changed significantly. Our people talk about equity positions, partnerships, joint ventures, ownerships, IBA’s (Impact Benefit Agreements), and this was language that was seldom heard 20 years ago, and that’s the major transformation we’ve witnessed in the past 20 years.
Who do you see as making a change in Aboriginal Business?
Our people involved in the various sectors; Just the other day I was reading about the West Bank First Nations and Chief Robert Louie and the creation of a private hospital, who would’ve thought 20 years ago that there would be this distinct possibility that this would occur in a First Nation Community. It’s communities like Moose Factory that have 25 per cent equity position in four major dams. First nations are involved in oil and gas, mining and construction developments, but all this is not to suggest that our people have walked away from the environment or have become less concern about water or less concerned about protecting the land, it’s about responsible development with our environment.
Thoughts on winning the award?
I’m honoured, I never thought I would become as involved as I have in the private sector – I’ve spent 40-plus years in the public sector as a chief, a public servant and as National Chief.
What has been your highlight as Special Advisor of the Royal Bank of Canada and Norton Rose?
Definitely the 2010 Vancouver Winter Olympics, as RBC was a major sponsor, the torch run was the longest in history with 119 First Nation Traditional Ceremonies, the Aboriginal people played a significant role and presented a positive image in Olympic history.