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Reflections on Inclusive Leadership: A First Nations Perspective

February 22, 2021



On February 2, the McMaster Collaboratorium was honoured to welcome Perry Bellegarde, C.Dir., Assembly of First Nations, National Chief for an important conversation with host Michael Hartmann to share wisdom on what businesses need to be purpose-led and make the topic of ESG a key priority for the good of all stakeholders and for the good of the planet.

Mr. Bellegarde participated in the Chartered Director program in order to better understand the roles and responsibilities of being a director, and how to best bring value to the organization’s with which he has served.

The world is telling us something. Climate change and the loss of biodiversity is happening rapidly. The land and the water are trying to tell us something and this is pushing sustainable changes to better balance the needs of the environment and the economy.

Strategic planning must be longer term, thinking in generations, rather than just 5 or 10 years. Public and private sector boards need to understand what is happening globally in order to best support stakeholders and mitigate risk.

Current ESG standards were created by and for the private sector and without any input from the indigenous community. Indigenous communities are not stakeholders, they are rights and title holders, and that is a big difference. The desire to balance the environment and the economy will always be at the forefront of what communities are looking for in order to partner and become part of the economy and protect the world for future generations.

There is systemic racism in Canada, especially within healthcare. The justice system is also clearly broken. The UN Human Development Index rates Canada 6th, but when the measures are applied to First Nations, it sets their rank at 63rd. This is the gap that needs to be closed.

Canadian companies should have on their agenda to build a respectful relationship with the rights and title holders in their area. Truth, honesty, love, respect, courage, wisdom and humility are the seven sacred teachings of the First Nations and should be the core of a board of directors. Consensus decision-making can often lead to more constructive dialogue.

Corporate purpose can not simply be an expression of what a corporation does – it must also be a reflection of the impact that a corporation has – and that is easier to attain with a more diverse board, including the addition of First Nations representation. The board must also define their purpose.

The First Nations worldview acknowledges the importance of the connections between the sea, sky, earth, water, wind, and all life. This worldview is something that should be adopted by corporate leaders, especially in view of all that has transpired over the past year. Seeing and honouring our global interconnectedness can help reduce risk in the future.

More First Nations people need to be at the decision-making tables in the public and private sectors. It is not a checkbox exercise, it is the opportunity to add an indigenous perspective by adding expertise in finance or marketing or law to the board. First Nations Corporations should also seek non-Indigenous representatives to help further diversity of thought.

Good leaders humble themselves to ask for assistance and guidance. It is incumbent upon boards to mentor future directors and expand their networks in new diverse directions rather than relying on old and closed networks.

The pandemic has changed so much, that it is the perfect time for change. Diversifying every process, incorporating a worldview, addressing a longer term strategy – thinking in terms of generations instead of years – utilizing technology and tools to connect, and addressing the balance between the environment and the economy should be on the board’s agenda.

Leadership is about being a servant or helper of the people.

Click here to watch the webinar.