Kelly bio picKinder Morgan Canada is committed to building and sustaining respectful relationships with Aboriginal communities. Creating a meaningful Aboriginal engagement process is an important component of the Trans Mountain Expansion Project. Our people are guided by policies for Aboriginal relations, employment, training and procurement related both to our existing operations and the Project.

In January 2016 we launched a new initiative — the development of the Trans Mountain Expansion Project Cross-Cultural Training Program that will be delivered to Project team members, once complete.

The program will cover topics such as the history of Canada’s Aboriginal Peoples, reserves and traditional territories, traditional land and marine resource use, treaties and Aboriginal rights. The curriculum will also touch upon partnerships, shared environmental stewardship and Aboriginal inclusion as part of our Project planning.

After responding to a Request for Proposal from Trans Mountain, the Aboriginal Human Resource Council (AHRC), a national non-profit organization founded in 1998, was awarded the opportunity to partner with Trans Mountain to develop and deliver the program. The Council helps companies build prosperous partnerships with First Nations, Metis and Inuit communities, leading to mutually beneficial employment and business opportunities.

Cross-cultural training is one component of the Council’s services. It has a range of advisory services to help companies build up their Aboriginal recruitment efforts and workforce and offers online and instructor-led training. The Council also provides support and advice for negotiations, Aboriginal relations and communications-based services.

We recently caught up with Kelly Lendsay, President and CEO of the AHRC. Lendsay, whose ancestry is Cree, Metis and European, spoke with us about the Council and its work, beginning with its roots in Saskatchewan.

You launched the first Aboriginal Business Education program in Canada, at the University of Saskatchewan. How did the program get started?

I graduated from the University of Saskatchewan with a degree in kinesiology. I always wanted to do an MBA. It was two years full time and was a great move, gave me new thinking skills, new knowledge. That’s where I started to focus on Aboriginal issues. The focus for my major research paper was how to get Aboriginal people into more business education programs in Canada. Soon after, I was involved with the launch of the program at the University of Saskatchewan and spent four years as professor and program director.

What sort of services does the Aboriginal Human Resource Council Offer?

I was hired as the first president and CEO and even though we have evolved and changed over 17 years, our focus has never changed.

Our focus is on employers, helping them build their competencies, their know-how and their expertise around Aboriginal issues so they have inclusive workplaces, are able to build workplace strategies with Aboriginal communities and can build partnerships with Aboriginal businesses.

If you were going to international markets, China, Brazil, Australia, you would spend a lot of time and money as a company developing a strategy. I keep saying to companies we are doing the same thing with you, just at home in our own backyards with First Nations, Metis and Inuit people.

How has the Council’s approach worked out?

Thousands of Aboriginal people have gone to work, more companies have become engaged, more partnerships have been built and workforce solutions have been created and designed.

You’re known as a bridge-builder between Aboriginal and non-Aboriginal peoples. How did you develop that reputation?

If you look at what’s needed in Canada, it’s always about jobs, business opportunities and corporate social responsibility. Every community, Aboriginal or non-Aboriginal, really wants those three things.

We’ve been able to have one foot in the corporate world and one foot in the Aboriginal world. We’ve not only created economic capital, we’ve created social capital — the partnerships, the trusts, the bonds and linkages. That has been a huge contribution to Canada and both Aboriginal and non-Aboriginal folks.

What do Aboriginal communities want?

First Nations, Metis and Inuit communities are like any other Canadian community. They want education and jobs, some business activity and they want corporate social responsibility actions — support for development of recreation facilities as well as extracurricular school programs for their communities. I think when you simplify it like that for people you start to draw them to the similarities, not the differences. We have many, many more similarities.

What do you see as the biggest obstacles for Aboriginal people who want to enter the workforce?

In terms of the Aboriginal workforce, there are four impediments. I call them the four Es:

  • Education — You can’t compete and achieve excellence without good education. A stronger education system is going to lead to a more productive nation.
  • Employment — A big obstacle for many Aboriginal people is that many employers do not see them as an exciting, viable workforce. They do not know there is an Aboriginal baby boom under way. They do not know there are Aboriginal economic development corporations doing millions and millions of dollars of business.
  • Economics — Socio-economic advantages include safe housing, safe water, having social systems and health care in place. What is the obstacle to this? Poverty.
  • Self-esteem — How people feel about themselves is important. You can find people who have grown up in some pretty difficult circumstances, native or non-native. If they have been able to develop their self-esteem, their sense of worth, their sense of resilience, they are able to overcome all kinds of obstacles and be successful.

How can business support Aboriginal Peoples in these challenges?

You need good leadership on the Aboriginal side and on the corporate side. When you have both, things happen. You create partnerships; you create innovation and solve those four Es.

As labour becomes tighter and tighter in the future, say over the next 15 years, those who have developed good, solid partnerships and a good social license to operate with Aboriginal people are going to have a source of dedicated labour that other industries won’t have.

What will your company’s role be with Trans Mountain?

Kinder Morgan Canada already has in place an Aboriginal Relations Policy that includes a statement of principles to guide the actions of the company, as well as an Aboriginal Engagement program for the Trans Mountain Expansion Project.  We will work collaboratively with them to create a custom, cross-cultural training program that incorporates our curriculum and their policies and programs. It will be a combination of online and instructor-led learning.

AHRC covers Aboriginal People, their history and issues so employees have an understanding of who Aboriginal peoples are, their diversity and a review of the issues and why those issues evolved in the first place. It gives everybody a solid foundation on Aboriginal people’s political, legal and historical background and stories. We impart this knowledge with the goal that people are going to be inspired to want to learn even more.

What sort of feedback do you get when you provide cross-cultural training programs?

For companies at the very early stage on the workplace inclusion continuum, we hear amazement at the history they did not know about.

As companies go up the continuum, what they like is learning about the real practical strategies and practices that are making a difference — and then actually building them with their companies, with Aboriginal communities and businesses.

There is a third category, the marathon runners such as Kinder Morgan Canada. They have been doing this work for a long time and they are at the frontier of innovation. They are trying new things with their Aboriginal relations and strategies. They want to push the envelope, look at innovation in terms of higher Aboriginal worker retention and advancement rates. They’re looking at how we create more Aboriginal businesses, how we get people into vice president roles, into the C-suite and right into the boardroom.