The Opportunity for Corporate-Indigenous Partnerships in Canada

Published May 17, 2023 | 8 min watch

How the private sector and government can support a brighter economic future for Indigenous peoples in Canada.

Trevor Gardner, RBC Capital Markets’ Co-Head of Canadian Investment Banking, recently spoke at The Walrus Talk Economic Reconciliation in Ottawa. This session of The Walrus Talks examined how corporate partnerships can contribute to a more equitable financial future for Indigenous peoples in Canada. Gardner, who shared the important role that financial institutions play in economic reconciliation, was joined by speakers from a variety backgrounds and included:

  • Justin Bourque, President, Athabasca Indigenous Investments
  • Tabatha Bull, President and CEO, Canadian Council for Aboriginal Business
  • Chief Sharleen Gale, Chief, Fort Nelson First Nation; Chair, First Nations Major Projects Coalition
  • Trevor Gardner, Co-Head Canadian Investment Banking, RBC Capital Markets
  • Monica Gattinger, Founding Chair, Positive Energy, University of Ottawa
  • Nathalie Kauffeldt, Senior Director, Horizontal Policy, Natural Resources Canada
  • Peter Williams, Founding Board Member and Chair, Investment Committee, Alberta Indigenous Opportunities Corporation; Managing Partner & CEO, Annapolis Capital Limited

The guest speakers addressed the importance of equity ownership in economic reconciliation and highlighted its importance not only in righting historical wrongs, but also in empowering indigenous communities, and the positive ripple effect on broader local economies. Remarkable strides have been made towards reconciliation goals through unprecedented energy projects that raised the bar on how true partnerships are defined – engaging the community early and throughout the lifecycle of a project. Gale’s Coalition, for example, oversees a project portfolio worth over $40 billion, all of which involve equity positions for First Nations partnerships. Bourque described the recent Enbridge deal as “seven pipelines for seven generations” and noted that dividends are used to strengthen the community, including hiring school teachers, improving the standard of living for elders, and building critical infrastructure.

There are some 60,000 Indigenous businesses across Canada, many offering unique products and services that demonstrate the innovation among Indigenous businesses. Going forward, the speakers said there is no single pathway to economic reconciliation, but said it would not be possible without achieving Indigenous economic self-sufficiency, prosperity, and socioeconomic equality with the rest of Canada. They envisioned a reconciliation plan that transcends ideologies, and one that would see a partnership of economic inclusion and shared prosperity for decades and centuries to come.

RBC’s position as a major financial player within large corporations, with government entities, and investors means the bank has both the ability – and the obligation – to act in meaningful ways on this issue. When the findings of the Truth and Reconciliation Commission were published in 2015, the bank initiated proposals on how to best honor the calls to action, says Gardner.

“Each community has different objectives. Each transaction requires different thoughts. We've heard the word partnership a number of times today and that is a really, really important thing to remember, and what underpins, in our minds, a successful framework.”

- Trevor Gardner, Co-Head Canadian Investment Banking


RBC’s approach focuses on:

  • Acknowledging and understanding the past
  • Engaging with Indigenous communities to understand their present-day objectives
  • Creating true economic partnerships for the benefit of communities today and for future generations

RBC Capital Markets’ role as the financial advisor for Athabasca Indigenous Investments in the $1.12 billion deal between Enbridge and 23 First Nation and Metis communities in 2022 is one example of a successful partnership that generated enormous outside interest as well. Successful examples are very powerful and also serve as a template on how to improve and do better next time, he says, adding that there are opportunities waiting in different sectors, in all parts of the economy, across the country.

“And finally, and perhaps most importantly, the breadth of opportunities is immense. We've talked a lot about energy and power transactions today, but there's no reason that this type of transaction can't occur in different sectors in all provinces and territories of Canada, in all parts of the economy.”

- Trevor Gardner, Co-Head Canadian Investment Banking

“Access to capital is strong and growing. Investors have seen the attributes of these transactions, they understand the framework, and they're excited to participate,” he says, underscoring the importance of listening and appreciating unique perspectives.

While the momentum and optimism are encouraging, Gardner readily acknowledges that Banks still have a great deal of work to do. This includes helping to advise and share knowledge with Indigenous groups who are still building their capabilities; matching opportunities with financing that's available; being innovative and creative in finding approaches to finance projects that might not otherwise get done; and actively removing biases that might be misunderstood about these transactions.

CanadaEconomic ReconciliationFirst NationsGovernmentPartnership