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How much First Nations business comes from government?

Aboriginal worker Esso indigenous business
This is part 6 in our series Road to Reconciliation
Reading Time: 4 minutes

The Business Council of British Columbia sees “a generational opportunity to accelerate and realize a new future where Indigenous communities and businesses are equitably participating in B.C.’s open trading economy.”

And Kim Baird, a First Nations leader and advocate, says: “From resource extraction projects on First Nation traditional territories to First Nations developing their reserve or treaty lands, make no mistake: First Nations are open for business.”

Reading Time: 4 minutes

But how much of that business comes from government?

We know that across Canada the federal government has committed to a target of five per cent of its procurement spending going to Indigenous businesses, reflecting how Indigenous people make up roughly five per cent of Canada’s population.

But that five per cent procurement target has yet to be achieved. The Canadian Council for Aboriginal Business (CCAB) notes that in some years the share of federal procurement for Indigenous businesses has been as low as 0.32 per cent.

What about B.C.? How many First Nations businesses in B.C. do business with the provincial government? How much of B.C.’s annual $7 billion in spending goes to Indigenous businesses?

Who knows? B.C.’s current budget documents don’t tell us.

The B.C. government does have a procurement strategy that promises an Indigenous-specific procurement plan and capacity-development opportunities for Indigenous businesses. But at this point there’s no concrete plan; just “continued collaboration and engagement” to develop one.

We’re happy to offer B.C. some help, by way of the Yukon government, which in December unveiled a new territorial procurement policy with this statement:

“The Yukon First Nations Procurement Policy will strengthen outcomes for Yukon First Nations people and businesses by providing opportunities for Yukon First Nations governments, businesses and people to participate in territorial procurements. The new policy also encourages Yukon businesses to bid on government contracts in partnership with Yukon First Nations businesses.”

Now the Northwest Territories government is also working on a procurement policy.

The Yukon policy was developed with First Nations governments, and was endorsed by Yukon First Nations Grand Chief Peter Johnston and the Yukon First Nations chiefs. The plan is to implement it in February.

Here are some of the highlights: 

Increased hiring

More community engagement

Opportunities for businesses

Greater accountability

There’s no mention yet of a Yukon target such as the CCAB’s five per cent of federal procurement purchasing to reflect the Indigenous share of Canada’s population. Yukon’s Indigenous population amounts to almost 24 per cent. In the Northwest Territories, it’s just over 50 per cent.

B.C.’s Indigenous population is more like six per cent. Should we, then, look for six per cent of provincial procurement spending?

We might keep that number in mind but first let’s see the B.C. government’s “continued collaboration and engagement” turn into a solid Indigenous procurement plan.

Karen Ogen-Toews is an elected councillor of the Wet’suwet’en Nation in B.C., a former elected Wet’suwet’en chief and CEO of the First Nations LNG Alliance.

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Karen Ogen-Toews

Karen Ogen-Toews is the CEO of the First Nations LNG Alliance, a society of First Nations in support of responsible LNG development in B.C. – with a priority on the environment, and on First Nations consultation and engagement.

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