On November 23, 2023, the Ontario Chamber of Commerce (OCC) and the Canadian Council for Aboriginal Business (CCAB) published a report called Sharing Prosperity: An Introduction to Building Relationships for Economic Reconciliation in Ontario

The report is a response to the Truth and Reconciliation Commission’s 92nd Call to Action, which declares, “We call upon the corporate sector in Canada to adopt the United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples as a reconciliation framework and to apply its principles, norms, and standards to corporate policy and core operational activities involving Indigenous peoples and their lands and resources.” 

The report is designed to guide non-Indigenous-led businesses in Ontario to work toward economic reconciliation, including recommendations on working with Indigenous-led businesses, employing Indigenous staff, cultural competency initiatives, and respecting Indigenous nations and treaty rights. 

What issues does the report address?

Sharing Prosperity recognizes that the economies of Indigenous Peoples are robust and expanding. The report notes that over 75,000 Indigenous entrepreneurs and enterprises operate in Canada, generating close to $50 billion in revenue for the country each year. In an email statement to The Varsity, the OCC’s Senior Manager of Public Affairs, Andrea Carmona, notes that supporting these businesses is, therefore, “both a moral and an economic imperative.”

However, the OCC’s 2024 Ontario Economic Report points to noteworthy disparities between Ontario’s economic reconciliation pledges and the reality. According to a provincial survey, Carmona noted, only 27 per cent of businesses operating in Ontario report feeling “confident in their ability to take meaningful action” towards economic reconciliation. 

Furthermore, the businesses making up this percentage are mostly non-profits, publicly traded companies, post-secondary institutions, and “diverse-led” businesses, which Canadian regulations define as businesses whose managements are made up of a majority — meeting the 51 per cent mark — of traditionally marginalized or minoritized employees. Meanwhile, the report notes that businesses in the construction, manufacturing, transportation, warehousing, and wholesale trade sectors are significantly less likely to feel equipped to pursue economic reconciliation. 

The report notes that businesses failing to take action towards economic reconciliation cause serious and specific harms. For example, a company might undermine Indigenous sovereignty by neglecting their duty to consult Indigenous Nations and get free, prior, and informed consent whenever they engage in actions that potentially threaten Aboriginal and Treaty rights. 

The United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples Act affirms the importance of “free, prior, and informed consent” (FPIC) throughout, stressing the importance of acknowledging and protecting Indigenous Peoples’ rights, and ensuring opportunities for Indigenous communities to effectively participate in choices that impact them, their communities, and their territories. As stated on the Government of Canada website, “FPIC describes processes that are free from manipulation or coercion, informed by adequate and timely information, and occur sufficiently prior to a decision.”

The report also notes that failing to respect Indigenous sovereignty rights can end up hurting both Indigenous-led and non-Indigenous-run businesses overall. Such risks include “project delays and/or cancellations, increased costs and resources, legal challenges, regulatory intervention, investment uncertainty, reputational damage, and broken trust.”

What solutions does the report propose?

By contrast, the report notes that closing the socioeconomic gap between Indigenous and non-Indigenous communities will be hugely beneficial for the overall provincial economy — filling labour shortages, encouraging foreign investment, growing provincial businesses’ productivity, and creating long-term stability in economic growth. 

The report notes that businesses can promote Indigenous cultural awareness by exchanging territorial acknowledgments, educating their staff about the issue of economic reconciliation and how to pursue it, providing staff training on Indigenous cultural competency — which the report notes allows non-Indigenous organizations to “better understand Indigenous cultures and histories” — and attending and participating in community and business events in Indigenous communities.

To promote equitable employment and business opportunities for Indigenous community members, some strategies the report suggests for businesses are establishing an Indigenous Advisory Committee in their governance structure, using HR strategies that specifically aim to recruit Indigenous candidates and create an accessible workplace for them, audits of workplace policies and procedures to encourage reconciliation, linking a company’s top executives’ pay to specific performance metrics indicating economic reconciliation the company has achieved, and providing free or reduced-price events, memberships, and training for Indigenous businesses and individuals.

The report notes that businesses can engage with Indigenous communities and support economic development by developing strategies for building partnerships and fostering engagement with them, obtaining certification or accreditation in Indigenous relations, developing a Reconciliation Action Plan, and entering into agreements with Indigenous businesses and/or communities that share revenue or equity.

The report declares that these strategies align with the Seven Grandfather Teachings, a collection of Anishinaabe tenets that are universally accepted and serve as a framework for “good relationships, peace, and harmony.”

Outreach efforts

It is unclear how effectively the report’s recommendations have circulated to businesses across the province. In her email, Carmona wrote that 150 local chambers and boards of trade in Ontario operate within the OCC and shared this resource with their members through social media and email. Carmona noted that the OCC and the CCAB also directly shared the resource with their followers and members, including posts on their websites and social media. 

Carmona also pointed to the OCC’s corporate partners in the Sharing Prosperity initiative — Lead Partners, Hydro One, BMO, Bruce Power, CN, Meridian, the Canadian Association of Petroleum Producers, and Ontario Power Generation. Carmona said that these partners have also helped to distribute this resource through their own networks. 

The OCC has not yet produced any case studies or other concrete examples of businesses improving their policies and operations towards economic reconciliation. According to Carmona, this report is only the beginning of more initiatives to pursue economic reconciliation with Indigenous businesses, communities, and nations. Carmonda wrote that a second resource is underway, which the OCC plans to include case studies from across Ontario for businesses to follow and more specific economic reconciliation strategies for various industries.