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Building reciprocal relationships with Indigenous communities

December 19, 2023
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Much of mining and supporting construction projects operate on the traditional territories of, and in close proximity to, Indigenous communities. As a player supporting the mining and construction industries, SMS Equipment's relationships with Indigenous communities have been growing organically and the company’s values highlight a commitment to creating and fostering relationships. Leanne Hawco, SMS Equipment's Program Manager for Sustainability, explains how SMS Equipment works with Indigenous communities and what this means for the company.


Why are relationships with Indigenous communities important?

The answer is simple: we are committed to participating in the advancement of Truth and Reconciliation. Understanding the truths of our past and present and working together to build a better tomorrow is the only path forward. Committing to Truth and Reconciliation is vital for a sustainable future for everyone involved, and it's essential because we care deeply for each other and the communities where we live and work.

What is the overall scope of the dialogue between corporate Canada and Indigenous communities?

It's about the business community's role in the reconciliation journey and delivering on the "Calls to Action" from the Truth and Reconciliation Commission of Canada – one of which directly calls to SMS Equipment as a corporate citizen.

Call to Action 92. We call upon the corporate sector in Canada to adopt the United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples as a reconciliation framework and to apply its principles, norms, and standards to corporate policy and core operational activities involving Indigenous peoples and their lands and resources. This would include, but not be limited to, the following:

I. Commit to meaningful consultation, building respectful relationships, and obtaining the free, prior, and informed consent of Indigenous peoples before proceeding with economic development projects.

II. Ensure that Aboriginal peoples have equitable access to jobs, training, and education opportunities in the corporate sector, and that Aboriginal communities gain long-term sustainable benefits from economic development projects.

III. Provide education for management and staff on the history of Aboriginal peoples, including the history and legacy of residential schools, the United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples, Treaties and Aboriginal rights, Indigenous law, and Aboriginal-Crown relations. This will require skills based training in intercultural competency, conflict resolution, human rights, and anti-racism.

SMS Equipment actively emphasizes and values the relationships we hold with Indigenous communities and Indigenous-owned businesses. While we do not often publicize our efforts, we are incredibly proud of our foundation, enabling us to authentically grow alongside communities and businesses and the impactful opportunities to co-create. We look forward to what's ahead as we continue our reconciliation journey, but in reality, it's only just begun.

What's the history behind this dialogue from your perspective?

What's the history behind this dialogue from your perspective?

Early in my career and while growing up in Fort McMurray, I noticed great leaders within the mining and construction industries who genuinely valued working with Indigenous entrepreneurs and supporting their capacity for growth. Fort McMurray is also home to the Northeastern Alberta Aboriginal Business Association, which was established in 1993 by a group of local Indigenous entrepreneurs, including David Tuccaro, one of Canada's most successful Indigenous entrepreneurs. There were only eleven Indigenous business members then; within twenty-five years, the association has grown from the original few to nearly one hundred. This remarkable growth reflects Indigenous communities' resilience, entrepreneurial spirit, and strong alliances with the surrounding industries.

How can corporations help Indigenous communities?

Listen and learn first. From there - focus on supporting a positive shift towards creating and fostering meaningful relationships and integration with Indigenous businesses. It's about engaging with Indigenous communities to identify ways to support growth, sustainability, and inclusiveness. It's about caring for the community and the people in that community and enduring equitable access and opportunities. It's about reciprocity.

A phrase delivered to our team by our friend, the Founder of Rise Consulting, an Indigenous-owned national organization, "Nothing about us without us," profoundly resonates with me and means actively talking with Indigenous Peoples, listening, and learning before acting. You must knock on a door, shake hands, and make a phone call. Then, the conversation becomes about working together and learning about what's important to the communities and people in that region.

SMS Equipment participates in reciprocal relations, which is the step to growing together, learning from the past, building lasting relationships, and supporting each other on the path of reconciliation.

How is all this changing SMS Equipment?

The foundation of our engagement is something SMS Equipment has been doing for years without a spotlight. We work with our customers, employees, and communities with a respectful and authentic approach rooted in our values, which has been why we have grown. Our increased focus on Indigenous engagement is one of the many areas of our sustainability program that we are committed to improving continuously. Our five pillars of focus under the sustainability umbrella include environment, people development, health and safety, social engagement, and governance. Why prioritize sustainability? Because it's the ethical choice — caring for the Earth, nurturing our economy, and fostering a sense of community, both now and for future generations. It's the right thing to do.

The bottom line

Forging stronger relationships with Indigenous People and delivering on Truth and Reconciliation has become a priority for Canada. Companies like SMS Equipment that operate on the traditional territories of, and in close proximity to, Indigenous communities have a front-row seat in furthering that dialogue. There is much to learn from Indigenous communities, and SMS Equipment is committed to being at the forefront.

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