How do you shake hands with a native person? It’s not a trivial question. Over the past decade, a spate of court rulings on aboriginal land claims has slung a legal trap line in front of any company that needs new land to do business. Companies that don’t work closely with native groups prior to development can find themselves in court — as did more than 60 Alberta firms last year.
“There isn’t one square inch of Canada not covered by some aboriginal rights,” says Robert Laboucane, owner of Ripple Effects Ltd., an aboriginal-awareness training firm based in Calgary. Laboucane, a Metis, encourages non-native businesses to smooth the waters by establishing aboriginal relations departments and policies, using First Nations suppliers and supporting educational initiatives such as aboriginal stay-in-school programs and pre-employment internships. His courses cover everything from the legalities of native land treaties to how to shake hands with an aboriginal person: softly and with your hand slightly cupped, symbolizing that you hold the heart of the other person in your hand.
These days, Laboucane’s services are in demand mostly by governments, banks and resource firms such as Edmonton-based Enbridge Pipelines Inc. Last year, Enbridge put 10 of its managers through Laboucane’s training. “While it’s the right thing to do,” says Enbridge spokesman Ian LaCouvee, “we’re also doing it because it makes true bottom-line economic sense.”
© 2003 Anthony Davis