Business Ethics

15 Coming together, Indigenous Business Relationships and Ethical Sustainability

Learning Objectives

  • Compare and contrast Indigenous and Industry world views on sustainability.
  • Implement strategies for ethical business collaboration with Indigenous communities that will not harm their way of life.

Article 26

  1. Indigenous peoples have the right to the lands, territories and resources which they have traditionally owned, occupied or otherwise used or acquired.
  2. Indigenous peoples have the right to own, use, develop and control the lands, territories and resources that they possess by reason of traditional ownership or other traditional occupation or use, as well as those which they have otherwise
    acquired. (United Nations, 2008)

The Clash of Indigenous and Industry World Views

The Indigenous view of projects flowing through British Columbia to the ocean is the opposite of the industrialized view. Indigenous people have a strong relationship with the land and water; they used the earth as a source of food and as a way of subsistence that extends back thousands of years. As such, Indigenous people believe they are caretakers of the earth, and any action that would affect their relationship to the earth is of great concern to them and their well-being. Researching Industry’s main goals reveals a few key items, such as profit, excellent service, and employee retention — protecting the land and water is not a priority for most corporations.

Many Indigenous communities live in resource-rich areas with revenue-generating potential for extracting oil, gas, and minerals. In the past, resource extraction projects were sometimes in direct conflict with First Nations lands and territories. In December 2015, Prime Minister Justin Trudeau promised to address the 94 recommendations from the Truth and Reconciliation Commission, including the establishment of a federal regulatory process for protecting the environment in Canada that supports First Nations engagement and input on the environmental effects of Industry on First Nations land and territories. Part of their process includes cooperation and communication with Indigenous peoples regarding environmental assessment, a vital component of the Impact Assessment Act. This Act recognizes the importance of including consulting with Indigenous peoples in impact assessments.

Here is a list of effects that projects may potentially have on Indigenous Peoples and must be considered when completing an Impact Assessment:

  • “quality and quality of resources available for harvesting (e.g., species of cultural importance, traditional and medicinal plants);
  • access to culturally important harvesting areas or resources of importance;
  • experiences of being on the land (e.g., changes in air quality, noise exposure, effects of vibrations from blasting or other activities);
  • current and future availability and quality of country foods (traditional foods);
  • the use of travel ways, navigable waterways and water bodies;
  • commercial and non-commercial fishing, hunting, trapping and gathering and cultural or ceremonial activities and practices;
  • commercial, non-commercial and trade economies; and,
  • cultural heritage, and structures, sites or things of historical, archaeological, paleontological or architectural significance to groups” (Impact Assessment Agency of Canada, 2020, s. 19.1)

To learn more about consent and consultation, see Who Does the Consulting?

Strategies for Creating Business Relationships that Include Ethical Sustainability

Starting environmental assessments early in planning a project will assist the Government of Canada in discharging its legal duty to consult and — if appropriate — accommodate Indigenous peoples when Industry activities may adversely impact established or potential Aboriginal and treaty rights.

Understand Indigenous views of sustainability: protecting the land is the number one priority for Indigenous people.

Respect Indigenous culture. This includes the practice of living off the land, as negotiations may be interrupted by the need to fish or pick berries. Keep in mind that an event such as a death in the community may slow down business dealings.

Remember: Free Prior Informed Consent is needed to proceed on any project on Indigenous land.


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Indigenous Perspectives on Business Ethics and Business Law in British Columbia Copyright © 2022 by Annette Sorensen and Scott van Dyk is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 International License, except where otherwise noted.

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