Patience Key To Partnerships Between Indigenous Nations And Energy Sector

Building strong relationships between Indigenous nations and the energy sector takes time, a four-person panel agreed during the North American Women in Energy Forum on Wednesday.

While trust, collaboration and cultural understanding were key themes, it was the issue of patience that permeated the discussions.

 “Our impatience that is inherent to global corporations needs to be toned down for those relationships to work,” said Céline Gerson, president Schlumberger Canada Ltd.

Gerson said it is vital for both parties to get a good grasp on these cultural differences when building partnerships.

A partnership is a “give and take” where both parties are taking a risk, she said. For example, Schlumberger recently closed a venture with Fort McKay Nation for a chemicals business in the Wood Buffalo region.

“On the other side of the coin what can make [the relationship] derail is the lack of understanding of cultural differences, goals set by one party only and lack of patience,” said Gerson, who assumed the Schlumberger president role in January. “I looked back … it took two years to close this. Good grief what is going on here?”

She said understanding the intricacies of how deals work, the community and how the project is explained, and the timelines are crucial to building a strong relationship.

Barrie Robb, vice-president Mackenzie Aboriginal Corporation and CEO of business development for Fort McKay First Nation, echoed Gerson’s thoughts about understanding the community and listening to different perspectives.

“Sometimes those messages of trust and building a business of equal partners [can get] lost in the messaging ... the message here is if you are going to drive change or drive to form a business you are going to need a lot of patience … Patience, yeah, you need lots of it and we both do.”

Tim Heins, manager community engagement, Royal Camp Services Ltd., said the first thing to building a relationship is “to understand then to be understood.”

Heins spent 18 years living and working in an Indigenous community in the Northwest Territories. Heins said one of the first things he did was to challenge himself to understand what was going on around him and to open up to learning.

“So when I think about engagement with Indigenous communities, the first thing you have to open yourself up to is the possibility that there is somebody else’s voice with a very different perspective than your own that you are going to need to be listening to,” he said.

Heins said his recent partnership with an Indigenous community in northeastern British Columbia took nearly four years of conversations even though he knew the chief for 12 years.

“My experience coming down south in 2005 taught me … that organizations big or small actually need to understand their company in relation to the engagement,” said Heins. “I think it is very important that you understand who you are as a company, as a person in a company … why you are actually walking out the door to have a conversation as an organization. There are a lot of platitudes that get thrown out that I think people don’t take into account seriously before they engage with Indigenous communities.”  

Sandra Sutter, manager Aboriginal partnerships, Tarpon Energy, CGT Industrial, said Indigenous engagement in this country is not only important, it is imperative to our success of a planet and to our continual existence as a species because the Indigenous people have the knowledge of the land. Sutter said you need to have commitment, shared values, patience and mutual respect on that solid grounding so you can move forward in that relationship.

“This is all about human relationships,” said Sutter. “We’re all humans within our teams ... be who you say you are in your relationships.”

Among the issues, panelists also discussed the kind of qualities that First Nations communities should look for when looking to partner with companies. Gerson said groups should look for the company’s key initiatives, which truly demonstrate its culture toward diversity and inclusion.

“That to me is the starting point because it demonstrates it is not just a paper exercise,” said Gerson. “That company has a demonstrated interest in culture towards diversity and inclusion. That to me is the starting point of partnering with that company because there is a pursuit of giving back to the community. To me that is the core and key principle that I would look for.”

Sutter added respect and interest in education and awareness is paramount. Both parties should be educated about who they are doing business with.

Heins said it is a good idea to read the company’s policy on inclusion, engagement and diversity. As well, the company should be able to clearly communicate what it does with Indigenous communities. For example, 48 per cent or 450 people from 100 First Nations across Western Canada are of Indigenous heritage make up the field work workforce at Heins’s current company.

 “Can you see that or hear that from a company that you are thinking about engaging with?” said Heins. “How do they care about it?”