Business Ethics

16 Working with Indigenous Communities Ethically

Learning Objectives

  • Understand and interpret Free, Prior and Informed Consent.
  • Design a strategy using the three R concept when engaging with Indigenous communities.

Article 32

  1. Indigenous peoples have the right to determine and develop priorities and strategies for the development or use of their lands or territories and other resources.
  2. States shall consult and cooperate in good faith with the indigenous peoples concerned through their own representative institutions in order to obtain their free and informed consent prior to the approval of any project affecting their lands or territories and other resources, particularly in connection with the development, utilization or exploitation of mineral, water or other resources. (UN General Assembly, 2007)

This article recognizes the Indigenous people’s rights affecting their land and territories; therefore, researching the communities you would like to partner with and understanding their cultural, political and societal position will be helpful. Understanding Article 32 specifically knowing that Industry needs to obtain free informed prior consent on any projects on Indigenous territory. Companies need to recognize that they must operate ethically in business dealings with Indigenous communities. In previous chapters, we learned about companies trying to make side deals and bribing individuals within the community. This practice is not ethical and goes against UNDRIP Article 32 — “free” consent means giving consent without being manipulated, coerced or pressured.

The environmental issues that impact Indigenous people need to be recognized as a priority if Industry wants to succeed in getting its product to market. The modern assessment of projects must integrate science and traditional knowledge into data collection and planning processes to enable better decision-making and responsible governance.

Furthermore, common Industry practice was and still is in some cases start projects on territories without adhering to Article 32. If you want to form a good relationship with Indigenous communities, the Industry needs to inform, consult and seek consent for the project prior to conducting any business. Suppose Industry fails to consider the impact of their projects, and it negatively affects Indigenous land and their sources of food and livelihood. In that case, Indigenous people will withhold their consent because of the environmental concerns because this affects their whole being, spiritually and physically.

The Three Rs

Moving forward, is there one correct way to work with Indigenous People? One strategy that will fit all business dealings that will result in success? Unfortunately, that is too easy for such a unique and complex group of people. In their 2019 book Indigenous Relations: Insights, Tips & Suggestions to Make Reconciliation a Reality, Bob Joseph and Cynthia F. Joseph introduce the concept of the three Rs, which are needed to create a path forward to working effectively with Indigenous peoples and their communities.


Recognition is to recognize that the Indigenous Peoples of Canada have constitutionally protected Indigenous rights. When Industry acknowledges and respects these rights, they start with building transparent, trusting relationships with the Indigenous communities. To ensure the whole community is informed, relationships must be developed with community members outside of specific project assessments. There must be meaningful, inclusive engagement and discussions with all partners, rights holders, and stakeholders for success.

Another way to practice Recognition is to respect the uniqueness of individual Indigenous Peoples and their cultures. We have learned through this course that each community operates differently from its neighbouring communities. Each community has their form of governance and practices; conducting business with a view that all Indigenous communities are the same will result in disaster.


Respect means addressing the uniqueness of individual Indigenous peoples, their cultures and their constitutionally protected rights.


There are many definitions of Reconciliation. Bob Joseph and Cynthia J. Joseph say, “Reconciliation means to restore harmony between Indigenous and non-Indigenous people.”

Respecting Indigenous people and their rights by researching and learning about them will help build trust and ethical business relationships.

Living in an instant world seeking immediate results, Industry may feel frustrated in acknowledging and respecting Indigenous rights as it takes longer to establish a good business relationship. For example, in the business world, when someone dies, the company still operates; when someone dies in a community, the community stops most operations and makes the death of a community member a top priority, which may hold up business processes for days, even weeks. However, honouring this will save your relationships and time, as you will not be trying to repair a severed relationship.

Reading this chapter and incorporating Reconciliation at a personal level will ensure that you, as an individual representing your company, will establish and maintain a mutually respectful relationship with Indigenous peoples. When you have this respectful relationship, conducting business with Indigenous communities will be successful.


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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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