EDMONTON, Alta. — It’s not rocket science – building relationships within Indigenous communities is no different than it is with any other culture. It just takes a bit of effort.
That was the message from a Women Building Futures panel held during its Work Proud Summit in Edmonton Oct. 3.
The discussion tackled how industry can reach out and entice more Aboriginal people to choose careers in trucking and other trade industries.
“You can’t wait for them to reach out to you, you have to reach out to them,” said Tim Heinz, a member of the board for Aboriginal relations.
Moderating the panel was Sandra Sutter, Aboriginal partnerships for Tarpon Energy, who said there are several ways companies can make First Nations Peoples feel more welcome at work. Tarpon, for example, created a “spirit room” where Indigenous workers can hold various traditional customs and practices to help them feel more at home.
Sutter said companies must build a certain level of trust with any employee, and she could never understand why businesses thought it would be any different when it came to Aboriginals.
She said Indigenous communities are willing to connect if companies conduct the engagement process properly, and are not simply putting in the time to get approval for another bid or project.
Alita Murowchuk, Indigenous community engagement advisor for AECOM Canada, was also part of the panel. Murowchuk, who comes from a mixed family, with her mother being from the Cree Nation, said companies will see the resilience within Aboriginal communities if they take the time to understand where they come from, something she takes pride in doing.
“If I can understand what they are looking for, it helps me think outside the box,” said Murowchuk. “People want to share their history and where they come from. It’s a huge gap in where we’re going with meaningful engagement.”
Murowchuk said companies need to employ Aboriginal liaisons with knowledge of Indigenous history and customs if they are to connect with Native communities. These liaisons must also to get out and visit Indigenous communities in person, bringing with them that knowledge and background.
“I’m here because this is a personal and professional thing for me,” she said. “If we look at the landscape there is opportunity everywhere.”
Heinz said many companies get involved in Indigenous relations for the wrong reasons, whether it’s for profit, to meet a quota, or fulfill a company contract.
Part of the challenge is getting people to do the right thing for the right reasons, said Heinz.
“If I was going to change anyone’s mind,” he said, “I had to change their heart first.”
Heinz, who lived with his family on an Indigenous reserve for about 16 years, said the women in these communities are the “glue that holds everything together.”
“Everywhere I’ve been, it was the women who held the community together,” said Heinz. “Empower each other to keep moving forward.”
Heinz added that it is important for all women to not only participate in industry as individuals, but also as a collective group.”