Respecting the Process of Indigenous Procurement

Are you trying to align your organization’s spending with your reconciliation agenda? Or are you wondering how to get started on Indigenous Procurement? On April 6th, the Canadian Collaboration for Sustainable Procurement (CCSP) hosted its second Peer Exchange of 2021 and delved into these and several other discussion questions with practitioners from the Greater Victoria Harbour Authority and the City of Thunder Bay with almost 80 leaders in procurement and sustainability from across Canada.

As organizations continue to discover the major role that Indigenous businesses play in the Canadian economy, the importance of timely and respectful Indigenous Procurement becomes very real. The CCSP has recently restructured its sustainable procurement model and definition to include a 4th pillar, Indigenous Procurement, to reflect the unique aspect of this work. One of the fundamental elements of an Indigenous Procurement program is having a easily understood definition of what characterizes an Indigenous business. While different organizations have varying definitions of an Indigenous Business, the commonly accepted definition is as defined by the Government of Canada for the purposes of their work in this areas is is “An Indigenous firm is one which is 51% owned and controlled by Indigenous persons.”

Judy Kitts, First Nations Engagement Officer at the Greater Victoria Harbour Authority (GVHA) began her presentation by providing an overview of their definition and how GVHA actively pursues opportunities with Indigenous businesses. Judy stressed the importance of helping Indigenous supplier to navigate their way through the RFP process. Judy has created an Indigenous Business Directory of 35 businesses whom she stays in touch with regularly to maintain strong relationships. As with many organizations, COVID-19 has reduced the GVHA budget and therefore Judy has found new ways to champion Indigenous businesses, such as:

 

      1. Continuing to build and maintain relationships with Indigenous suppliers, even when there is no immediate plan to procure.
      2. Leave positive public reviews for Indigenous businesses on business review sites like Yelp.
      3. Encourage other regional institutional buyers to direct award to Indigenous businesses in their Indigenous Business Directory.

Dan Munshaw, Manager of Supply Management at the City of Thunder Bay reiterated the importance of the 4th CCSP sustainable procurement pillar, and the investment Indigenous procurement requires to further growth. Dan attributed the trust he has built with several Indigenous communities to at least three key steps:

      1. Do your homework; Learn about your local, regional and national Indigenous communities, and the historic and modern treaties that manage land claim agreements.
      2. Get out of the office; Take time to build relationships and attend local Indigenous celebrations or pow wows.
      3. Practice two eyed seeing; Commit to unlearning colonial practices and views and educate yourself on Indigenous values.

A common message both Judy and Dan shared is that policy without action will accomplish little, and in fact it might even negatively impact your relationships with the Indigenous businesses you hope to procure from. The key to sustained success is a relationship built on trust: thoughtful actions and advocacy within your organization for Indigenous businesses is a must.