Building Aboriginal/Corporate Relationships Our call
Executive Vice President
Government & Community Affairs
RBC Financial Group
JEDI Luncheon and Roundtable
Fredericton, New Brunswick
Monday, March 25, 2002
Alex, thank you for the introduction...and for the
invitation to participate in JEDI's luncheon and roundtable
From Elder Maggie Paul, the Honourable Brad Green, Dennis
Wallace, Alex Dedam, Hermel Vienneau, Brian Dick and Pierre
Michaud, to various Chiefs, government officials, executives,
bankers and community representatives, (if only there was
time to single out each of you by name), it's gratifying to
see aboriginal leaders, federal and provincial partners as
well as members of the private sector at this forum. Since
the Joint Economic Development Initiative was established
seven years ago to identify and pursue projects that contribute
to economic development for aboriginal peoples in New Brunswick,
it's more than fitting (many might say, long overdue) for
the private sector to become the fourth pillar in what I often
refer to as our call to action.
It's great to be back in Fredericton - to see several friends
again and meet new ones. I'm always pleased to have another
opportunity to speak about a topic that's important to everyone
in this room...to aboriginal peoples, to the public sector,
to the private sector, to Canadians and yes, to RBC Financial
Group...and to me. As with the Atlantic Economic Summit in
Halifax last September, I'm here to help stimulate thinking
and action - to explore ways aboriginal peoples and corporate
Canada can better work together as spirited partners with
shared goals and responsibilities - to focus on the benefits
of building long-term relationships...of building a new aboriginal,
corporate and public sector business model for sustained economic
And speaking of spirited partners, working together and economic
development, my visit to Iqaluit and the Arctic Winter Games
last week was about all that and much more. The city was hot
with the energizing spirit of youth, teams, competition, partnerships...and
business! The cold temperatures were replaced with the warm
hearts of young people from Greenland, Russia, the United
States and Canada, particularly the territory of Nunavut.
My son Jonathan and I couldn't help but get caught up in the
spirit of the Games and the people of the North...and I couldn't
help but note the partnerships and relationship building at
work. Aboriginal, government, corporate sponsorships and commitments
- the legacies - were evident in every facet of this exciting
event...the pride was showing!
Of course when it comes to pride, some of you may be aware
of my strong connection to New Brunswick, as I was born and
raised in this province - in the upper Saint John River Valley
- in the town of Woodstock. My own experience with aboriginal
peoples has been along a path of learning and understanding.
It was when I led RBC Royal Bank in Manitoba thirteen years
ago, that I truly became aware of the issues facing aboriginal
peoples and the need, as a Canadian and a businessman - as
part of the corporate sector - to act.
So where does our relationship-building journey begin today?
Perhaps with the Royal Commission on Aboriginal Peoples report,
released in 1996. To this day, the final report represents
a significant piece of work - filled with research, analysis
and recommendations. Although the report provoked much discussion
among aboriginal peoples, the business community, with a few
notable exceptions, has said little about it in the last six
At RBC Financial Group, we see aboriginal issues as a matter
of concern for all Canadians and aboriginal economic development
as having a significant impact on the national economy and
the corporate sector. We may have changed our LOGO last summer
but we haven't changed our commitment to and support of aboriginal
We've all heard about the historical and contemporary inequities
of aboriginal peoples in our society - the painful costs that
have been borne by individuals and communities. RBC Financial
Group has also offered an analysis of the fiscal cost of doing
In the absence of a solid economic base, the dependence of
aboriginal peoples on social assistance has continued to grow.
In the Royal Commission Report: Nine Steps to Rebuild Aboriginal
Economies, Fred Wien of the Maritime School of Social
Work at Dalhousie University says "for the on-reserve population
in Canada as a whole, 45% were reliant on social assistance
in 1995. Projected into the future and taking account of anticipated
demographic change, the rate of dependence on social assistance
is expected to reach almost 60% by the year 2010. In the Atlantic
Region, we were already at the 74% level in 1992, with the
forecast for the year 2010 rising to a staggering 85% unless
something changes drastically".
These costs are significant and serious. They concern us deeply
- as individual citizens who care about society and as corporate
citizens concerned with broad and sound public policy. However,
our bank's interest in and advocacy about relationships between
aboriginal peoples and corporate Canada go beyond corporate
citizenship and public policy. Good relationships are also
We're aware that many business people don't always grasp the
business benefits of relations with aboriginal peoples and
communities. For us, the business benefits are clear. We see
a major and expanding market opportunity. The rapid increases
in the aboriginal population represent new customers. Land
claims represent increased economic and financial clout. The
aboriginal business sector, which has grown at a dramatic
rate in recent years and is steadily moving the aboriginal
population towards economic self-sufficiency, is generating
wealth and creating jobs.
A demand for financial services - and increasingly sophisticated
financial services, is one result of the demographic, political
and economic changes within the aboriginal community. RBC
Financial Group needs to respond to these demands and work
with aboriginal peoples to build win/win relationships. To
do less would be a disservice not only to our customers, but
also to our shareholders.
The business reasons for building good relations with aboriginal
peoples go beyond market opportunity. Aboriginal peoples are
becoming a vital source of new entrants to and new skills
for, the workforce. Many companies are benefiting from having
long-term and reliable employees on board. And economic relationships
- employment, contracting or joint ventures - are contributing
to community support for resource development. Our bank's
new recruits from Big Cove First Nation were a welcomed addition
to the Royal Direct Centre team in Moncton last year.
Relationships with aboriginal peoples can bring new knowledge
and values into the corporate sector, especially in terms
of respect for land, traditional knowledge and sustainable
development. And a track record of establishing mutually beneficial
relationships with aboriginal communities can even open international
opportunities for Canadian companies. It's clear that the
potential business benefits of relations with aboriginal peoples
and communities are aligned with our underlying business objective
of creating value for our shareholders.
Many businesses also face a practical challenge - that of
developing corporate strategies and day-to-day business practices
that create win/win business benefits. Learning, adapting
and change are the order of the day - prerequisites to corporate
survival and growth.
At RBC Royal Bank, we sometimes need to step back and remind
ourselves that long-term business relationships with aboriginal
peoples and communities - our banking, lending and other financial
services - are part of a holistic set of relationships where
education, training, employment, partnerships and community
leadership work together to form a basis for mutual benefit
and ongoing results.
First, we want to help aboriginal youth as they prepare to
be the future leaders in their communities:
We introduced our Native Student Awards
Program in 1992 - a program that provides five Aboriginal
students with up to $4000 for each year of their post-secondary
education. Brian Muise from Nova Scotia, earned one of
the awards in 2001 and also worked in our Yarmouth branch
last summer. I'm told he enjoyed his time with us...and
we're hoping for a return engagement in May, when Brian
takes a break from his studies at the University of New
Brunswick. And if you want to see the real value of the
program this afternoon, please chat with one of our former
"graduates" and employees, who just happens to be in the
room - the JEDI manager herself - Debra Alivisatos.
Our bank's Aboriginal Stay in School Program
provides aboriginal high school students with a chance
to earn and learn during the summer. We believe that the
more young people know about the business world, the more
motivated they will be to obtain the education required
to succeed. Since 1996, more than 400 returning aboriginal
students have been trained at RBC Royal Bank branches.
Atlantic Canada is well represented in this program every
RBC Royal Bank has partnered with the province
of New Brunswick, the Atlantic Canada Opportunities Agency
(ACOA) and Ulnooweg Development Corporation, an Aboriginal
Capital Corporation, to establish a loan fund for youth
(under the age of 30) wanting to establish or expand a
business here. We contributed resources, including a $50,000
loan capital pool, to the project.
Members of our Atlantic team are also involved
with the Joint Economic Development Initiative (JEDI) Committee
in New Brunswick. We want to increase aboriginal education
and employment opportunities...we're making headway in New
Brunswick, Atlantic Canada and across the country.
Second, we are committed to assisting aboriginal
communities in their efforts to achieve and sustain economic
RBC Royal Bank was one of the first banks
to open a full-service branch in a First Nation community.
We now have seven such branches and one branch in each
of the three regions of Nunavut. There are also two RBC
agency outlets where First Nations run their own bank
utilizing Royal Bank technology, support, and training.
Our bank has supported First Nations in
Atlantic Canada through housing assistance projects. These
programs help build several housing units in New Brunswick.
Royal Bank's specialized lending program allowed First
Nations to purchase additional houses, outside the Canada
Mortgage and Housing Corporation (CMHC) program and without
Recently, RBC supplied a First Nation community
in New Brunswick with financing to complete a sewage lagoon
project and to complete paving of roads. We've also provided
another First Nation in this province with capital financing
for the construction of a health, community centre and
band administration offices.
Since more than half of aboriginal Canadians
live in urban centres, we've placed a focused effort in
this area. Our bank's partnership with the National Association
of Friendship Centres has led to the support of more than
120 centres across Canada, including the one right here
in Fredericton, under the leadership of Sharlene Paul.
RBC Financial Group has also established
lending criteria and guidelines to help First Nations
and aboriginal companies with financing requirements.
Royal Trust is the only major financial institution to
have established a national First Nations' Advisory Service
for aboriginal communities in terms of investment, trust
and land claim settlements.
These activities are more than doing business
- they're critical to aboriginal economic development moving
forward. And some of them also serve as employment opportunities
for aboriginal peoples in various industry sectors.
Third, we support training initiatives for aboriginal communities
Many aboriginal enterprises face the same
challenges of other small and medium businesses...as Canada's
leading lender to small business, we work with entrepreneurs
not only to offer financial products and services, but
also to provide the information and tools that help businesses
grow. We also offer financial/risk management training
to aboriginal peoples.
Our contributions to the Council for the
Advancement of Native Development Officers (CANDO) are
helping to develop entrepreneurial training seminars and
the certification program for Aboriginal Economic Development
RBC Royal Bank is also a founding sponsor
of Canadian Executive Services Organization (CESO) Aboriginal
Services, including its MBA program, offering economic
development assistance in aboriginal communities.
Have we achieved our goals? Not yet. Do we
have a distance to go? Absolutely. Are we on the right path?
We believe that we are. So what will it take for corporate
Canada to become more committed to building business relationships
with aboriginal peoples? We see progress in the number of
companies making commitments and introducing initiatives.
We see results in New Brunswick and from coast to coast. The
fact remains there simply aren't enough businesses doing this.
And, there are costs associated with failing to act.
How many businesses in Canada are looking at themselves and
asking: are we removing the barriers - solving the problems
- creating solutions - and providing the opportunities that
will enable aboriginal peoples to become full participants
in our society and in our economy? There are practical ways
to proceed and best practices to follow. Many ideas will be
shared at this forum and in the months ahead.
Those businesses - the ones that are more experienced and
knowledgeable - those that have begun to see the business
benefits of constructive relationships, must continue to speak
up and share success stories - convince others they have a
role to play and much to gain from building relationships:
Paul Theriault and NB Power, Mike Whalen/Beaver Paul of Maritimes
& Northeast Pipeline, Bob Pinnette of J.D. Irving, Ian
Hurst from CHIP REIT Hospitality (this Sheraton hotel), Jerry
Pond of Q1 Labs, to mention just a few...
The federal government (and provincial/municipal governments)
has its own role to play. We're encouraged by efforts to renew
relationships and chart new courses with aboriginal leaders.
There's much to do...justice, land claims, treaties, health/social
conditions, taxation, economic development...
The Atlantic Investment Partnership (the five-year initiative
announced by the Prime Minister in June of 2000) goes a long
way in supporting aboriginal peoples' interests in innovation,
community economic development, trade and investment, not
to mention entrepreneurship/skills development initiatives,
as does the work of Indian and Northern Affairs Canada, under
the stewardship of Minister Bob Nault. Partnerships at work...
The National Aboriginal Economic Development Board, which
oversees Aboriginal Business Canada and reports to Industry
Minister Allan Rock, continues to make a significant contribution
to the growth of aboriginal business opportunities. I serve
on this Board with the likes of Chief Misel Joe from Conne
River in Newfoundland...and we want to push the envelope on
the progress that's already been made on "re-building the
aboriginal economy" - on corporate/aboriginal relations.
RBC Financial Group is also involved in the Aboriginal Human
Resource Development Council of Canada. Led by Kelly Lendsay,
this council fosters partnerships among industry, government,
and aboriginal partners. Our best measure of success is the
creation of new jobs in aboriginal communities.
The Council on Corporate-Aboriginal Relations
(CCAR), established by the Conference Board of Canada (with
RBC membership), is one more example of the benefits of building
relationships. The Council's approach and activities emphasize
an improvement in understanding the strategic importance of
aboriginal/corporate relations. More partnerships at work...
These are challenging times for aboriginal peoples and aboriginal
leaders. Economic development is but one area where aboriginal
peoples are working to re-establish control as a means of
fostering healing and political/social/economic well-being.
I'm sure Betty Ann Lavallée (the New Brunswick Aboriginal
Peoples Council) knows what I mean. Within this context, aboriginal/corporate/government
partnerships hold tremendous promise. Perhaps there should
be a more formal partnership or business model in our communities
- a partnership and model that reflects shared goals - a partnership
and model that enables us to work together towards tangible,
Congratulations to the Joint Economic Development Initiative
for planning this forum and moving forward with its agenda...and
special thanks to Debra/the JEDI team for coordinating this
event. When skimming the recent annual report of the Aboriginal
Affairs Secretariat, I was most impressed with the work, the
achievements and the support to JEDI/youth - the commitment
to the future of this province. I invite all of you to stay
in touch with me and with Tom MacDonald, RBC's head of the
New Brunswick/P.E.I. region, whose office is right here in
Fredericton...there are best practices to share and much knowledge/understanding
to gain. Let's keep the pride showing!
In closing, we've learned it's possible for corporate Canada
to create wealth with aboriginal peoples and for aboriginal
peoples. It's in the national interest to do more. It's in
the business interest to do more. It's in all of our interest
to help ensure aboriginal Canadians take their rightful place
in Canadian society and in the economy. There's a cost to
doing nothing and a cost to not doing enough. It's our call
Thank you...now let's hear from you.