PODCAST: Doing Indigenous consultation the right way

Bob Joseph of Indigenous Corporate Training discusses how to get it right when conducting Indigenous consultation on major energy projects.


Bob Joseph is the founder of Indigenous Corporate Training. In this video podcast, he chats with Energy Examined’s Tracy Larsson about the importance of understanding Indigenous history in Canada, and the nuances of cross-cultural communication when conducting Indigenous consultation for major energy projects.

Weaving in thoughts on reconciliation and UNDRIP, Joseph discusses how to get it right when it comes to consultation, how many oil and natural gas companies are already on the right path, and why better consultation can lead to a brighter future for all Canadians.

Full transcript of podcast:

Tracy: Hello and welcome to the Energy Examined podcast. We like to explore all kinds of topics affecting the oil and natural gas industry and those are topics that affect all Canadians, so if you’re interested in learning more, you have come to the right podcast. I’m your host for today, Tracy Larson. And I am happy today to introduce you to Bob Joseph. He’s the founder of Indigenous Corporate Training or ICT for short. Bob, thanks for joining us today.

Bob: Thank you.

Tracy: You started Indigenous Corporate Training back in 2002. Why? What was your motivation?

Bob: You know what? It was really a continuation of work that I started before that. I actually started doing this kind of work – Indigenous Awareness training – back in 1994 for a utility out West and managed to talk to over 4,700 employees. But along the way, the employer I was working for, we began to be benchmarked by other companies, and so sometimes as the viewers may have experienced, you may not be the only organization in a band office. There can be other organizations and it was at one of those sessions that one of the other organizations that was there noticed something about the people that we’d been training and they called us after the meeting and said, ‘can we come and talk to you about that meeting that we were all just in?’ They came over to our office a few weeks later and they said ‘say, hey, we were just at the same meeting and we noticed the guys you’re working with weren’t getting beat up as badly and we were wondering why.’ And so, I guess I’ll describe myself at that time as a bureaucrat, we began to train other people from other companies. That continued into 2002. And the neat thing about 2002, the company I was working for was in the middle of a reorganization and the whole department didn’t appear on the org chart. I’m not an expert on re-orgs, but not a really great sign, thought I’d better be ready to jump or get pushed so managed to leave and that reorganization but they needed to sell training to clients who were willing to pay for the service, take the learnings and apply them to their work with Indigenous Peoples, not just in British Columbia, Alberta, Ontario, all the way across the country, which we train all across the country. I have done work internationally – Peru, Guatemala, Caledonia and the South Pacific – those are really long airplane rides and so not sure that I’d like those anymore and so I stopped really doing the international stuff. I’ve just focused on Canada.

Tracy: Maybe you can tell us a bit more about your training. Who are you training and what are some of the topics that you cover?

Bob: Yeah, yeah so, who’s doing the training? I would have to say everybody. We’ve trained everybody from the Ontario SPCA to pulp mills and forest companies, mining companies and, of course, oil and gas. And petroleum, we’ve certainly done a number of those companies. I’ve even had the great fortune of going to Houston, Texas to talk to my counterparts about some of the differences in working with Indigenous Peoples in Canada versus, say, the United States or Latin America or other places like that. We typically go over a little bit of history for people and sometimes it drives the project managers a little crazy – why are we taking a history lesson? The reality is you need to know where people are coming from so that you can have effective communications with them. And people that study cross-cultural communications will say that whenever two parties come to the table, if they have different cultures, they bring their history and that history informs how we hear things. In some countries, it’s not a bad word to say, ‘that’s government propaganda,’ it actually just means the government is communicating with the people and in other countries ‘propaganda’ carries some connotations and so we go through, sort-of that history lesson going back to the Royal Proclamation and how King George said we’re supposed to negotiate treaties with these nations or tribes or purchase land from them and set out fishing and hunting provisions to the time and Canada becomes a country with the passage of the British North America Act. And shortly thereafter, the post-Confederation assimilation policies included residential schools, banning potlaches and all kinds of very restrictive legislation designed really forcibly culturally assimilate Indians on lands reserved for Indians. Historically that’s what they’re called and legally we’re working on reserve – those were terms that you’d hear, and they’d be appropriate in the context. Through today repatriate the Constitution and in there, there’s a section called Section 35. Indigenous Peoples look at the world through Section 35 and what it says is we’re supposed to recognize and affirm the existing Aboriginal treaty rights of the Aboriginal Peoples in Canada. I’m sorry, the national constitutional term which is Indigenous Peoples internationally. So, when it comes to big projects that people may want to build, we’ve got this duty to consult domestically that we have to go and work with communities to make sure we don’t infringe on their Section 35 rights. People always ask me great legal questions. One is, what is adequate consultation? What is meaningful consultation? When is it enough consultation? Who am I supposed to talk to? They’re all great legal questions. Give me five lawyers and I’ll give you five different answers. But, if you want to know what they’re thinking, they’re thinking that they’re supposed to recognize and affirm do these things, but you can’t take away our stuff. It’s really how simple it has to be in terms of say, the duty to consult.

Tracy: So, part of your training, you’ve written a number of books as well. So, I just want to let people know: Working Effectively with Indigenous Peoples, Twenty-one Things You May Not Know about the Indian Act, and Indigenous Relations – Insights, Tips and Suggestions to Make Reconciliation a Reality. So, if it’s okay with you, that is where I’d like to focus today, is on the topic of reconciliation.

Bob: Oh sure, yeah, for sure.

Tracy: Maybe start by giving people a better understanding of what does that really mean? What are we talking about?

Bob: So, for reconciliation, if you look it up, Google it, it’ll tell you that it’s the act of sort-of reconciling maybe two different sets of beliefs and it also talks about the restoration of good relations. Those are, I think, you know, top of Google search results for what that’s worth. I didn’t check the Merriam Webster to see how closely it aligned, but I’m sure there’s got to be some there. And that’s really what reconciliation is about. We need to take a look back and realize that things happened in the past – residential schools and banning of potlatches – that weren’t actually great things, that we actually as a country hung a pretty big hat on being a great, forward-thinking humanitarian, human rights-based country. I think we were globally seen that, on the international stage, but when we brought it back to residential schools and those kinds of things, that there’s definitely a different perspective. So, I think Canadians are starting to see the picture of that now. I mean, when I first started doing training in the mid-90s, I can remember about three workshops in, I was doing a presentation for a group of people out in Abbotsford. On the first break, a lady came up to me after we’d been talking about residential schools and she was crying. She had tears streaming down her face. And I say, ‘hey, what’s wrong?’ And she said, ‘well, I can’t believe anything that you’re telling me because I don’t believe my church would be involved in this, what you’re talking about.’ And I said, you know, ‘I get it, it’s not sort-of wide, common knowledge, but it is the truth. This is valid and reliable information that I’m sharing with you. And in the coming years, I can tell you it’s going to come way more to light for Canadians. But you know, you’re welcome to stay. You’re welcome to leave if you feel uncomfortable. Our intention is actually to create a safe environment. We really try to work on that very hard for people – a safe environment to learn that history and cultural perspectives.’

Tracy: So, when we’re talking about reconciliation, why is that important for Canadians?

Bob: I think, first of all, restoring the friendly relations, that’s going to be important for Canadians. We look at other countries where they really haven’t been able to do that and if you think about the Middle East, peace has really been elusive. They’ve been at it now for 1,000 years and they’re no closer, and actually they just keep getting more and more divided over the decades, you know, over the millennia. So, I think that’s an important thing, certainly in my family’s perspective. We can’t put our kids or anybody else’s kids through that animosity without really making a good effort. It doesn’t have to be like that, and I think that Canada definitely has some good values that certainly today, we’re set up constitutionally. We can respect each other. We can live alongside each other and it doesn’t have to be us versus them. Those, I think, are important values for reconciliation and that’s really the important piece. The other piece is, reconciliation was tied into the United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples and I think that’s important for the viewers, especially of this podcast because it really sets the stage for what the future looks like for development and most of the people watching, I’m just going to assume want some kind of economic certainty. They want to know that we can build stuff in a timely fashion without project delays and legal challenges and all of that kind of stuff. I think to sort that stuff out, gives us that opportunity to do it in the future, but it’s reconciling two sets of beliefs here, right? That’s what’s going to have to happen. It’s not going to be our way eventually or their way. Those are very divisive comments. I think we’re going to plow some road here in the next decade or two that will really shape the country for years to come and maybe in a much more sustainable way. Why are we working 40, 50, 60-hour weeks? We’re a pretty rich country, you know. Why do we need to do that? And I think there’s some things there, our beliefs, that we can teach people that maybe they would find appealing and set a trajectory for a much longer development time and a much safer and sustainable way. And I’ve always heard Indigenous people say, ‘we’re not against development. It just can’t be development at all costs.’ I’ll give you a good example. There’s a group of people in northwest British Columbia, we’re talking about mines and they signed on and did a partnership with a mining company. That was a great partnership and the province assumed that, ‘oh, this is a group of people that like mines. Let’s go build a power line and we’ll have 15 mines instead of just the one that’s going in there now and that community said, ‘sorry, you misunderstood us. We like mining, we’re not against mining, but why would we build 15 mines and have the last one burn out in 40 years? Why don’t we build one mine, get to completion and reclamation and build another mine and this can go on for hundreds of years instead of just a short, 40-year window.’ So, just some of the different philosophies around development that I think are out there for conversation.

Tracy: What are some of the steps that you would say we need to go through at this point?

Bob: Well, I think, mostly for the audience, just in terms of the association’s members, I think the steps that we can do – first of all, a lot of the reconciliation calls to action. Go take a look if you’re in petroleum development, there’s a call to action for you. If you’re a church group or an educator, I mean there’s a call to action for everybody, 92 or 94 calls to action. So, go find that call to action and start working towards it. Most of them say, ‘we shall learn about the history and the culture and UNDRIP,’ you know, all of those kinds of concepts, we’ll make resources available. So, we’re going to spend money educating our employees and our people on that important historical piece. Beyond that, to implement the declaration, there’s a thing in there that says we’re supposed to get the free, prior ad informed consent piece. I think developers, it would be, I mean, certainly what we’re seeing today with some of the big conversations, is that if you go the legal route, you can get things done, but it’s never going to be in the time that you’re told it’s going to be done or when you think it’ll be done. It’s always going to take longer because of acrimonious, sort-of power relationships that are going on there, whereas I think, if a developer is looking for economic certainty, let’s go work it out with the communities first and then we’ll trigger legal or regulatory process once we have a community that’s supportive of us. I think that’s where things are right now. That’s the best place to be if you’re looking for economic certainty, I’d rather spend a couple of years finding out if they’re onside rather than, ‘I wonder how long this is going to take to get this process through to actually put machinery on the ground and do that kind of stuff.’ So, I think it’s how we look at it. There’s two ways: the legal way or the friendly relations way. If you go the legal way, I always tell the developers I work with, I would look at it like handing over the keys to your business to the lawyers and the judges, which is great if that’s how you want to manage your business or if you want more control, which is usually what people are more interested in – more control gets better economic certainty – then let’s go work it out with them first and we’ll do all of that other stuff later on, rather than the other way around. And some of it has to do with governments, ‘oh, don’t worry about it, they can’t veto consultation.’ It’s true, in law they can’t veto consultation, they have to participate meaningfully and that kind of stuff, but it is also true they can tie projects up for three to five years if they’re unhappy with the consultation. So, that’s the legal route. The other way is to go and talk to them and try to figure it out. And certainly, from a business case perspective, I think it’s cheaper to do the relationship-building way. I’ll give you an example: a $400 million bridge upgrade with a completion date of May 2021, the project delay fees, $5 million a month beyond May 2021, I’ll ask them to do things. I’ll say, ‘go work with them, go work on employment and procurement and the environment, all of the things they want to talk about, go work on them with them.’ And people say, ‘why do I have to do that Bob? Why don’t I just treat them like I treat everybody else?’ And I’ll say, ‘ here’s the big reason: because unlike everybody else, they can tie your stuff up for three to five years in legal wrangling.

Tracy: I think that we’ve seen some great examples of oil and natural gas companies who have taken that initiative to go out and work with Indigenous communities and want to partner with them and get involved in those communities, and they’ve had – you know, there’s some successful stories in there. But, building that relationship, is that part of the move to reconciliation in the broader sense then, right?

Bob: I think so yeah. It absolutely is. In some ways, there’s a belief system, right? Let’s say I’m a pipeline construction company. I want to build a pipeline from here to there. And along the way, I encounter some farmer land, right? So, there’s a belief at least, and maybe even some law and some policy and regulation that says if I’m going to take up some of that farmer’s land, I’ve got to compensate them. And, whatever, if I’m taking away a bunch, I’ve got to pay cash or maybe do land swaps or whatever that mechanism is, but it doesn’t translate to Indigenous Peoples who actually do have the same legal interests, where the court has actually said it carries an inescapable economic component. So, that’s part of what reconciliation is about, understanding that Indigenous Peoples may have treaty rights, they may not have treaty rights, but the courts have been very clear: those are legal interests and they carry an inescapable economic component. That’s sort-of the next hurdle for big companies to put our heads around that. Once you acknowledge that and accept it, life gets much easier. And those are the guys that fly below the radar and you hardly hear about them at all. They don’t make the papers. We don’t seem to focus on good news stories enough. It’s always the conflict, right? But, there’s a great many companies in every sector out there, they’re flying below the radar. They’re doing big stuff, crossing, you know, many, many nations, territories and you never hear a thing. Just crickets. Some of them in Alberta, they’re going back 35 years of ongoing mutually beneficial relationships with Indigenous Peoples. They’re listening to their concerns and working with them to address them. When you get into the legal stuff, there’s no trust, right? ‘Oh, don’t worry about it, the environmental impacts are really minimal.’ You know? If that’s a corporate lawyer telling that to a community, what are the chances of that being accepted on its face value, right? Where, if we’re doing the relationship-building stuff, we’ll work with the nation, ‘hey, you’ve got an environmental concern? What do you say we jointly select somebody who can do some research for us? We’ll put up the cash. We’ll jointly select three and we’ll decide on one. And they’ll give us a response that meets both of our interests and we’ll see if this does make sense.’ So that would show you sort-of the difference between the two approaches.

Tracy: You kind-of touched on trust in a way in that answer, too. And so building that trust, is that not also a huge hurdle because we have to go back to the history and all of the things that come from that?

Bob: It can be done, though, but you can’t do it in a very transactional setting. You’ve got to get this done in three years. I’ve seen projects die because of a 180-day assessment window or something like that. There’s nothing you can do. All you’re doing is just forcing things along, hoping it sticks at the end. And, if it were like an old Clint Eastwood movie, you’re just ‘feeling lucky,’ right? Do you feel lucky? I don’t know if you remember that show, so if you want to create that certainty, you’ve got to work it out with them. And, it’s ongoing. We don’t just go when we need stuff. We actually gotta sit down and work with these people that have a legal interest that actually carries an inescapable economic component, talk to them, you know, like they deserve to be and expect to be. And, if you can do that, like you pointed out, there’s many great companies that fly way below the radar, none of this ever becomes a big issue.

Tracy: So, let’s broaden it out a little bit and talk about Canadians. So, for people listening and watching, everyone has a role in reconciliation, and we’ve talked a little bit about industry. What can Canadians pay attention to or should be doing or how this works going forward?

Bob: Yeah, that’s neat thing. With Prime Minister Harper’s apology and the baseline compensation and his Truth and Reconciliation Commission, he really left the door open. It’s not a prescriptive process. It was left deliberately open for Canadians to sort-of sort that out for themselves. And I think for Canadians, some of it is personal reconciliation. What can I do about this stuff? The easiest thing to do is go start to learn about some of the myths and misconceptions and why they’re there. Go to, you know, the Calgary Stampede where the First Nations have been involved and integrated since the mid-1920s. There’s already some really great things. So, that would be on the personal reconciliation side. And with our families as well and our communities, then there’s the organizational stuff and all of the big companies are doing the calls to action, and you know, some pretty cool stuff. We’re starting to see protocol acknowledgements at the start of meetings and certainly in communities, we’re seeing, you know, reconciliation moments where they have a safety moment at the start of every workday before they go out and do the hard work, they have their reconciliation moment to go with it, where they just get a little chance to learn about the history and the culture. There’s economic reconciliation, which many groups are calling for. There’s groups of people here in the province [Alberta] who want to be a part of a pipeline. And certainly, the governments are all engaged in different ways and there are some people that haven’t drank the Kool-Aid. They don’t believe that all of this stuff should be happening, and they still believe that Canada is like this melting pot. That we’re all equal and we should all be the same, but really, we’re not. Canada is actually – if we were to look at it from the outside and go, ‘what the heck are we? Are we a melting pot?’ And that was certainly an eighteenth, nineteenth century belief process that we’re all the same. But the reality is we’re not. We’re a cultural fruitcake made up of a whole bunch of nuts and raisins and all kinds of stuff. And so, that’s probably a more accurate reflection of who we are and certainly for Indigenous Peoples, that’s part of that cultural fruitcake. Now, one of the neat things about Canada, when we think about Indigenous Peoples – the Crees, the Blackfoot let’s say, in Alberta, the Nisga’a in British Columbia – one of the big differences between them and other Canadians is that they didn’t come here from anywhere. They were already here and when we think about, say, the Nisga’a, there is not other place in the world where there’s Nisga’a people. So, it has to happen in Canada. It has to happen here because it’s not going to happen anywhere else. When we contrast that to other Canadians, let’s say the Italian people, the Italian culture, there’s still an Italian land base and religion and political institutions and churches and all kinds of things are still somewhere else in the world. For Italian people coming to Canada, they don’t have the same challenges as the Nisga’a, the Cree, the Blackfoot do because there’s still a whole diaspora and the culture’s still alive and strong somewhere else. For Indigenous Peoples in Canada, they’ve got to figure out how to do that here and Canada actually set itself up that way structurally, constitutionally, to acknowledge those differences. So, we’re still left with a little bit of a hangover that we’re going to be a melting pot. We’re going to be this gray goopy mass of things that we threw into a big pot and stirred up, but really, we’re not. We’re a cultural fruitcake.

Tracy: And how do you think that makes Canada a better country?

Bob: Hey, you know what, it’s all about respect. We just have to respect differences and beliefs and people. If we can do that, it’ll be a country that lasts. And, it’ll be prosperous. If we can’t do that, the we’re going to struggle. We’re not going to achieve the things we want to achieve. The prosperity won’t be there. We think about treaties as a way to — modern treaties — as a way to deal with this stuff. If we’re looking at the benefits to Canadians, reconciliation will make this a dramatically different country. And I’ll just – I’m not promoting the Nisga’a Treaty model, it’s just an example that I share with people. Before the Nisga’a Treaty, it was estimated in British Columbia way back in the 1990s, the province of B.C. commissioned the firm Price Waterhouse Coopers to do an economic impact of land claims or land issues on the economy, and what the firm Price Waterhouse Coopers came back with is we lose a billion dollars a year of direct investment plus 1,500 jobs just in forestry and mining – just in those two sectors because we hadn’t figured out what to do with this. It’s festering because, why are we treating them differently then we’re treating everybody else? And that kind of stuff so, and in 1995, the Vancouver Sun published an article, Indian land claims could cost taxpayers $10 billion. I can remember I was going off to do some training that day and I was stepping over the paper on the way to the session and I looked at the whole page, it was Indian land claims and I thought, ‘man, it’s going to be a tough day at the office today. I’d better bring this article with me.’ And so, we were working through the presentation and somebody said, ‘hey Bob, even if I thought this was the right thing to do, and I’m not sure it is, there’s a deficit and the debt and the economy’s in a tailspin, now we’re going to have to pay you $10 billion. What do you think of that?’ And I said, ‘it’s a great article, let’s talk about it,’ and I pulled it up and it said five billion in cash would be transferred from the feds, five billion from the province over this 20-year estimated negotiating period. And we’re past the 20 years now and it’s still going on and it hasn’t been that successful, but they’re still chipping away at it. But so, $10 billion, that’s what it’s going to cost taxpayers. You guys should be concerned with this. That’s a lot of money. I can’t imagine what it would look like one toonie stacked up on top of the other – it’s a lot of cash, but I was disappointed in the article because it didn’t talk to taxpayers about the cost of not changing, and there is a cost, and they just have to accept it or they don’t.

Tracy: Bob, we’ve really only scratched the surface on all of these topics, so for people who want to find out more, can you tell them about your website?

Bob: Yeah, you bet. It’s Indigenous Corporate Training. It should come up on top of Google search results. That’s my hope. Or ictinc.ca – Indigenous Corporate Training Inc, ICT Inc. And there you’ll find information about our company, but we have a blog and our blog has over 700 articles. You can download free eBooks: 27 Things to Say and Do at Your Next Meeting with a Community Person or a community; 23 Things To Not Say; guidebooks to terminology. We’ve got a whole bunch of free eBooks that people can download, over 700 articles. At our high, sort-of late last year, over 130,000 people coming a month coming to the website and reading articles and sharing and commenting and doing all of that fun stuff. So, it’s a great resource for people that just want to learn and maybe aren’t fortunate enough to have their employers pay for our training, which we have, which is our core business.

Tracy: Right. Okay, thank you so much, Bob Joseph. Thank you for joining the Energy Examined podcast today.

Bob: Thank you.

Tracy: Thank you for tuning in and we hope to see you again soon.

In this article, Context speaks with: