Dec '09/Jan '10

Social capital key to Aboriginal inclusion

Kelly Lendsay further challenges mining companies

By H. Ednie


Kelly Lendsay (left) receives the CIM Distinguished Lecturer Award from CIM past president Jim Gowans.

CIM Distinguished Lecturer Kelly Lendsay is delivering an important message through his presentation Mastering Aboriginal Inclusion in the Canadian mining industry: leadership – responsibility – opportunities. His auspicious aim is to make people acutely aware of their leadership responsibility and the challenges in fostering a workplace culture of Aboriginal inclusion.

Recognized as one of Canada’s foremost innovators on the topic of Aboriginal inclusion in Canada, Lendsay began his current position as president and CEO of the Aboriginal Human Resource Council (AHRC) in 1998. A proud Canadian of Métis, Cree and European ancestry, Lendsay earned a B.Sc. in kinesiology and an MBA from the University of Saskatchewan.

CIM: Mining companies speak a great deal about their relationships with Aboriginal communities. From your point of view, has there been progress within the industry on the topic of Aboriginal inclusion?

Lendsay: Throughout the 1990s, I worked with employers, consulting on First Nations and Métis inclusion. Since the Council started in 1998, we’ve seen an increasing amount of work with companies, especially those in the mining industry. Around half of those we work with are resource-based.

If you look at the trajectory of Aboriginal inclusion efforts, from the 1960s onward, every decade has witnessed great change. In 1960, there were 60 Indians in Canadian universities and there were emerging social, education and employment gaps.

In Canada, the mining industry has a 25- to 30-year history of working with Aboriginal people, since the first Impact and Benefit Agreements beginning in the 1980s. Companies were in the “backyards” of Aboriginal communities and working on Aboriginal land. Mining companies take a long-run view of development, a mining cycle that can easily extend to 30 to 35 years. Today, approximately 4,000 Aboriginal people work in the mining sector.

Mining companies are invested and really engaged in growing the Aboriginal workforce. They are no longer seeing Aboriginal people as a legal impediment, but rather as employees and partners — they understand the benefits and together are working to eradicate the social deficit. The Council is working with all industrial sectors to emulate what has happened in mining.

CIM: What are the main points you’re covering in your Distinguished Lecture?

Lendsay: The focus of the lecture is to understand the business imperative and to build the business and social cases for Aboriginal inclusion. We’ll [AHRC] be drawing out a roadmap and together we’ll discover solid practices and strategies companies can implement to make a difference.

We have a number of products and services to help companies climb our Inclusion Continuum — a seven-stage employer roadmap to an inclusive workplace. These tools help companies improve organizational performance and their ability to advance Aboriginal recruitment, retention, advancement, procurement and career development. Our products include the Mastering Aboriginal Inclusion in Mining training program; Inclusion Works ’10: Voices of Change recruitment fair and professional development — our national signature event — taking place in Toronto on April 27-29, 2010; the Leadership Circle program, bringing together national leaders that are paving the way for inclusion and how they are making it work; The Inclusion Network online job site; the Guiding Circles career development program; and, finally, Mastering Aboriginal Inclusion Online, coming in 2010.

Right across the country you see very good examples of Aboriginal inclusion at work. One such company is Cameco, which has done a tremendous job in Saskatchewan. Currently, Cameco is one of the largest industrial employers of Aboriginal workers in Canada with between 800 and 900 Aboriginal employees, making up 50 per cent of its operating workforce. Ten years ago there were just a handful of companies doing really well. Today, the majority of mining companies recognize the importance and necessity of doing business with Aboriginal communities and they are creating partnerships and strategies to drive economic development opportunities. It is no longer seen as a “social handout.”

CIM: How will companies benefit from increased Aboriginal inclusion in their operations?

Lendsay: Aboriginal people are the fastest growing demographic in the Canadian labour force and the fastest growing consumer group. Strong relationships with those communities just make good sense for Canadian companies. We’re creating critical mass as our people are trained and gain experience.

CIM: You always seem incredibly upbeat and positive. Is today’s current situation really that optimistic?

Lendsay: The facts are so dismal. The statistics are still shocking — 52 per cent of Aboriginal children live in poverty and many Aboriginal people lack adequate drinking water. Then, consider the effects of something like the H1N1 epidemic on the communities. There are huge social gaps in the country, and to move people forward, you have to bring reality and optimism together with a vision of hope and change to inspire an agenda that will make a difference.

We are seeing a shift in attitudes in Canada. Yes, there are the negative sterotypes and naysayers and racism is alive. We also see an emerging Aboriginal workforce ready to make a significant contribution in workplaces across Canada.

CIM: In the future, what should be the main priorities for mining companies aiming to improve their relationships with Aboriginal communities?

Lendsay: You can have all the financial capital, strategies and tools, but without social capital — real relationships — you won’t have what is needed to really make things work. I’m looking forward to challenging the mining companies to focus on the next steps. They have achieved certain levels of progress; now it’s time to advance in other areas, such as Aboriginal leadership in board rooms and Aboriginal procurement and inclusion into higher professions.

One thing that will really make a difference in terms of accelerating this inclusion is education. Aboriginal education gaps are large and must be closed if we are to accelerate employment and economic outcomes.

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