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By Karl Zadnik and Shawn Corrigan

The findings of the 2015 Truth and Reconciliation Commission (TRC) presented some stark facts to Canadians about our history. The path forward is reconciliation, which is more than overcoming conflict or settling differences. It means mutual respect and positive relationships between Indigenous and non-Indigenous peoples. As the TRC stated, reconciliation requires “awareness of the past, acknowledgement of the harm that has been inflicted, atonement for the causes, and action to change behaviour.”

The TRC helpfully outlined more than 90 calls to action to advance reconciliation. Among them, Call to Action 92 was a call upon Canada’s business community to adopt the United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous People as a reconciliation framework and commit to meaningful consultation and respectful relationships with Indigenous Peoples. It is incumbent on businesses to conduct meaningful consultation, engage in respectful relationships, and obtain consent of Indigenous Peoples before proceeding with economic development projects.

On December 13, Calian Ltd. and Saulteaux Tribal Nation L.P., a First Nations-owned and operated company in Manitoba, announced a partnership agreement to deliver emergency management services and best practices to other First Nations in Manitoba. This partnership is the culmination of three years of collaboration between Calian and the Interlakes Reserves Tribal Council (IRTC), which represents six First Nations in Manitoba’s Interlake region and led to the creation of Saulteaux Tribal Nation L.P. Together, Calian and Saulteaux Tribal Nation L.P. will be working to help Indigenous communities in the province build their emergency management capabilities and improve community resilience. The work Calian and Saulteaux Tribal Nation L.P. will complete together will be culturally relevant, understanding that the legacy of residential schools has made access to cultural knowledge and practices complicated, but necessary.

This is critical work. In recent years, First Nations in Manitoba and across Canada have faced evacuations and states of emergency due to wildfires, storms, and floods, highlighting a clear need to increase local resilience and preparedness. Isolated or remote communities can be disproportionately affected by emergencies or disasters, facing additional logistical challenges. After a flood or storm, roads, electricity and telecommunications networks and other infrastructure can take longer to bring back online in isolated communities. One aspect of colonization is the displacement of Indigenous people from their traditional territories into remote, restricted, and suboptimal lands, alongside treaty negotiations often marked by fraud and coercion. Today, this leaves many Indigenous communities in the path of emergencies, like floods or fires, and with limited entry and exit points that could facilitate mitigation, or in the worst cases, evacuation.

Calian and IRTC did not build a trusted relationship overnight. Both partners were open to innovative approaches and acknowledging the importance of local needs. Calian attended social events, learned about the communities, worked with emergency managers, community leaders, and elders to understand how the communities wanted to prepare for and respond to emergencies. All work was tailored to meet that need. IRTC accepted to visit Calian’s headquarters in Ottawa, participated in guest speaking opportunities with Calian, and welcomed Calian staff into the communities to ensure they would have the chance to learn.

The resulting partnership shows what can happen when non-Indigenous businesses and Indigenous communities, businesses, and leaders engage in a meaningful way to build a partnership. It shows that businesses and Indigenous communities can collaborate for mutual benefit and social good.

Building partnerships like this takes time and requires flexibility. Canada’s legacy of colonization demands that we take time to invest and build trusting relationships through meaningful actions. For private sector leaders, it means listening to chiefs, elders, and community members and actively seeking to understand their points of view.

Calian’s relationship with the communities of the IRTC has already delivered clear benefits. Since 2016, the IRTC has aligned its emergency plans to the risks and hazards in their six communities. Emergency activation and response plans were updated and exercised, and search and rescue training was delivered to community members and leaders.

Our partnership is just one example of a small step toward reconciliation. It is an achievement in the spirit of the TRC’s Call to Action 92, addressing business relationships; and it is the culmination of work from both parties to build and sustain the relationship. Our partnership is real and sustainable. We look forward to moving into the next phase of our relationship: to deliver lasting outcomes for other communities in Manitoba, improve resilience, and generate economic opportunities.

Karl Zadnik is Chief Executive Officer of Saulteaux Tribal Nation L.P. and Executive Director of the Interlake Reserves Tribal Council (IRTC), a partnership of six Manitoba Interlake communities. Shawn Corrigan is a British Columbia-based Emergency Management Executive with Calian.