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A Capital Idea: How Indigenous Economics Can Power our Climate Agenda – RBC Thought Leadership –

Speaker 1 [00:00:01] Hey, it’s Theresa. You know, one of the major challenges we have in this country is figuring out ways to unlock our full economic potential, while at the same time ensuring that this prosperity is sustainable. Last fall, RBC released a report called The $2 Trillion Transition. It talked about the generational challenge of climate change and how Canada will need to bring together financial firepower, smart infrastructure, and a whole lot of innovation and ingenuity to power the green transition. But to find those new paths to net zero emissions, we need a new map for economic development and how these big investments are made. An indigenous capital is key to getting us there. That’s the focus of a new report just released by RBC Economics and Thought Leadership. It’s called 92 to 0 How Economic Reconciliation Can Power Canada’s Climate Goals. Financing and access to financing has been a huge stumbling block for many indigenous peoples wanting to develop within their territories. We’re going to talk a lot about that with our guests today. But the concept of indigenous capital is about much more than money. It’s about a holistic approach to development and looking at the full wealth of resources that should be involved natural capital, land, water, air as critical, of course, as the development of more green infrastructure depends on consent before accessing indigenous territories. So too is incorporating indigenous values and traditional knowledge in the green transition, and that’s called intellectual or also cultural capital. But none of this is possible without people. Human capital will be the foundational piece, as we need to empower the next generation of indigenous leaders and entrepreneurs to fuel the screen transition. Indigenous youth are the fastest growing youth cohort in this country, and business ownership is increasing at nine times the rate of non-Indigenous ownership. We have a real opportunity to build up Indigenous skills that will be required for major projects. Indigenous communities must have a say and a share in development. Only by truly embracing their leadership and wisdom do we have a fighting chance to find that path to net zero. This is Disruptors and RBC podcast. I’m Trinh Theresa Do. In this episode of Disruptors, we’re looking at the vital role indigenous communities can play in our net zero transition and to help us build a new model for development. After the break, we’ll meet an indigenous leader who is balancing economic prosperity and environmental stewardship. In doing so, she’s creating opportunities not just for her people, but for indigenous communities across Canada. But first, we’re going to dove into the challenges facing indigenous communities that want to control their own economic destiny and do so in a way that encourages sustainable prosperity for all Canadians. The need for a new approach is obvious, and that’s what motivated a group of 25 indigenous organizations to develop its National Indigenous Economic Strategy for Canada, which was released in June. We talked with one of the Indigenous leaders who helped draft the strategy.

Speaker 2 [00:03:27] I’m with Bobby Leach and I am the general manager of the Agritech Business Development Corporation, as well as the Chair of the National Indigenous Economic Development Board. One of the things that our National Board worked on was the first ever OECD report on Indigenous economic development. They did the global report and three country reports. One country was Canada. And so in the Canada Country Report, it was released in January 2020. That report recommended that Canada needs a national indigenous economic strategy. We’ve gone through exercises in the past where the governments put together a national indigenous economic strategy. And after many rounds of meetings with our people and practitioners, get a strategy that did not reflect anything that we said. So we said, this time we’re going to hold the pan in developing this strategy, because even to this day, people ask, what is it that you want anyway? What do you what do you want to accomplish? So we decided to put together this road map. And what’s needed to actually achieve economic reconciliation in this country. We felt that it was really important that we develop that we hold a plan that is structured around four strategic pillars of people, lands, infrastructure and finance. So these are the critical areas that involve the collaboration of more than 25 national indigenous organizations for the first time working together on one initiative like this. By developing this strategy, we’re showing other indigenous peoples around the world that they should also take hold of the narrative. They should be the ones coming up with the solutions that will best address their needs. That you can’t have external governments doing this for you. When indigenous people are engaged, the whole country benefits. We know it’s been proven time and again that when indigenous communities prosper, so do the regions around them.

Speaker 1 [00:05:30] This new indigenous economic strategy could boost Canada’s economy by $30 billion. It could also reduce poverty among indigenous meeting and Inuit communities, creating more than 100,000 jobs that can generate $7 billion in employment income. And these are important recommendations focused on harnessing the skills of indigenous peoples and tapping into their environmental stewardship. The need for a new approach looking at economic and financial strategies through an indigenous lens is also what motivated that new RBC Economics and thought leadership report we mentioned off the top. And to chat a bit about it, I’d like to welcome my colleague Cynthia Leech, who’s the report’s lead author. Cynthia is an assistant chief economist here at RBC and helps shape the narratives and a research agenda around our team’s economic and policy analyzes. She consulted with indigenous leaders and organizations across the country over the past several months to glean their insights and perspectives.

Speaker 2 [00:06:26] For the report.

Speaker 1 [00:06:27] Cynthia, welcome to Disruptors.

Speaker 2 [00:06:28] Thanks for having me, Theresa.

Speaker 1 [00:06:30] Let’s start with a simple question or a seemingly simple question. Why did we create this report now? Why is this focus on capital and a new way of looking at capital so important?

Speaker 2 [00:06:42] Well, we’re all talking about what’s needed for the net zero transition. And a lot of those conversations has focused on the money or the $2 trillion in investment Canada needs between now and 2050 for net zero. But that’s really only a narrow slice of what’s needed. We’re also going to need to build a lot of infrastructure so access to natural capital and we’ll need a whole lot of innovation. So access to intellectual and human capital. And when you think about it in that more complete sense, it’s clear that indigenous peoples in Canada are key sources of that capital and so will be essential to shaping our collective journey to net zero.

Speaker 1 [00:07:21] I’ve been slowly reading a book reading Sweetgrass over the last several months, and the author, Robin Wall Kimmerer, describes the act of braiding as showing loving care to Mother Earth, as well as kindness and reciprocity between the people doing the breeding. And this is a concept that you include in the report. Can you share why you decided to include it and why breeding is important? When we talk about indigenous capital.

Speaker 2 [00:07:45] Absolutely. I’ve come to I’ve come to learn that for indigenous peoples, breeding is a sacred act. It’s bringing together disparate things that together are a lot stronger. And it to me was an incredible metaphor for what we discovered on indigenous capital that to achieve net zero, we need to bring together these strands of indigenous capital and non-Indigenous capital for the transition. So natural capital, financial capital, intellectual capital and human capital. And the way we do that, the way we bind it together is through true and deep partnerships. And that means recognition of Indigenous rights, perspectives, decision making.

Speaker 1 [00:08:22] I think that is such a beautiful visual and really accessible. Too far to, as you said, underline the importance of the partnerships among us and a natural capital. As you mentioned, it’s all about land, water, the air that runs through indigenous territories. And getting access to those natural resources will be critical as we make the net zero transition, especially in building out renewable energy infrastructure. But these sorts of developments are complex and not without controversy. So how do we navigate the thorny questions surrounding development on indigenous lands and ensure a meaningful engagement and informed consent?

Speaker 2 [00:08:59] Well, first of all, let’s just recognize the way in which our clean energy development will overlap with indigenous rights and territories. We did some analysis and found that at least 56% of the $60 billion in new critical mineral advanced projects would involve indigenous lands. And when we looked at the solar and wind resources needed for Canada’s renewables build out, about 35% of the top solar sites are near Indigenous lands and 44% of the better wind sites. And these are bottom estimates that there’s going to be a lot of other indigenous rights implicated in Canada’s infrastructure development, and so engaging with Indigenous communities is absolutely needed. The challenge has been that over the last couple decades or more, as there’s been increasing legal recognition of indigenous rights and the need to consult Indigenous peoples, that consultation and engagement hasn’t been done in a meaningful enough way. Too often, project proponents and others have essentially sought kind of check box agreement on already planned projects that didn’t integrate indigenous perspectives and priorities from an earlier stage. And that’s absolutely going to have to change. For one, the legal framework is strengthening, and there’s the implementation coming of the United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous People and other factors that are moving us closer to meeting Indigenous consent. The challenge is consent to the legal concept and we need a practical definition of what that means. In Canada, we know it’s more so a process of meaningful engagement, of incorporating indigenous perspectives and priorities and decision making of Indigenous rights holders. We know it involves early engagement and meaningful incorporation of Indigenous perspectives and decisions of Indigenous rights holders. But we’re still defining what true partnership looks like.

Speaker 1 [00:11:01] And a big part of that, too, is access to financing. And of all the types of capital that.

Speaker 2 [00:11:06] You.

Speaker 1 [00:11:06] Explore in the piece, that has to probably be one of the toughest nuts to crack. So how do we need to think differently about that and project partnerships with indigenous communities?

Speaker 2 [00:11:17] So one thing that’s happening in terms of rewriting what partnership and co-development looks like is increasingly indigenous communities are looking for equity ownership and project development, and this is for Indigenous communities who are looking for durable benefits and wealth building opportunities that can outlive the lifespan of the project. And it’s also in the interest, often a project sponsors because it represents a true engagement and partnership reflective of the value that indigenous peoples bring to the table and ultimately de-risk the projects by these communities participation through equity ownership. These structures are becoming increasingly common. What’s been challenging, though, is there’s an equity financing gap for some communities where equity needs to be contributed and communities without resources that they can leverage to get private financing. There’s an equity financing gap and possibility that they missed out on equity ownership. And of course, this relates to long standing challenges for First Nations and other indigenous communities to obtain private financing. Given the challenges under the Indian Act and other vagaries of indigenous rights that have prevented indigenous communities and individuals from accessing capital. And so it’s a challenge that needs to be addressed as we move forward with productive partnership and infrastructure development.

Speaker 1 [00:12:42] Those are excellent insights. Cynthia, thank you so much for your time and thanks for joining Disruptors. Coming up after the break, we’ll talk to an indigenous leader who is working to build a new model for major project development in Canada. So stay right there. What you’re listening to Disruptors and RBC Podcast. I’m Theresa Dome. I want to let you know about a new weekly report from RBC Economics. It’s called Proof Point, and it provides original, timely economic insights from RBC Economics and Thought Leadership Team. Find out why demand for cash is at its highest level in 60 years, despite a broad shift. E-commerce. Or learn why Atlantic Canada has become a magnet for new residents. To explore more, visit RBC AECOM Thought Leadership. Welcome back. On today’s show, we’re exploring all the forms of indigenous capital we’ll need to bring sustainable prosperity to Canada. But to fully leverage that capital will also need to challenge some ingrained attitudes about Indigenous communities. As Mark Putt, lastly, director of economic policy at the First Nations Major Project Coalition told us in a recent episode of Disruptors.

Speaker 2 [00:14:00] We are from the capital, which is in Central Interior, British Columbia, South Central B.C.. My community has a revenue sharing deal with a mining company in our territory. And when we started to set that up, we did some research to find out how much indigenous capital is there in Canada. And we found just back of the envelope calculations at that time, about $8 billion of assets under management by Indigenous people. And it’s not in one spot. It’s different settlements from either land treaties from negotiations with mining companies or energy companies. We figure now that somewhere between 13 and 18 billion my nation has a fund right now of about 50 million. And we have the ability and the fund to make direct placements into investments that that will grow that fund. Most of these nations do. So the capital is there. The question, though, is that how can indigenous people directly invest in these projects? I think for a lot of the financial sector, they don’t see us as Indigenous investors. The idea of being an indigenous investor seems to be an oxymoron to some of these companies who come into territories and don’t think of Indigenous people in that sense. That has to change.

Speaker 1 [00:15:11] Our next guest is intimately familiar with the obstacles faced by Indigenous communities seeking a meaningful stake in Canada’s economic prosperity. Chief Charlene Vale has been an elected councilor of the 811 member Fort Nelson First Nation since 2009, governing a territory in north eastern B.C., roughly the size of Switzerland. She started her career at West Coast Energy, a subsidiary of Enbridge, and brings her unique perspective on how the natural resources sector can work collaboratively with indigenous groups to her role as Chair of the First Nations Major Projects Coalition. Chief Gayle, welcome to Disruptors.

Speaker 3 [00:15:48] Hi. It’s a real pleasure to be here on your podcast. Thanks for having me today.

Speaker 1 [00:15:52] Thank you. Off the top of the segment, we heard a clip from Mark Hurd. Lastly, a colleague of yours at the First Nations Major Projects Coalition. So, Chief Gayle, the question I have for you is twofold. Do you agree with Mark’s assessment that the industry struggles to see indigenous groups as, quote, investors? And if so, what needs to be done to change those attitudes?

Speaker 3 [00:16:12] So in my eyes, there’s still an outdated view on some industry players that view indigenous groups more like a call center on projects, and that we’re still a risk to be mitigated with cash buyouts and other tactics. Sometimes when I look at this, I call it the feeds and blankets approach, and I think there’s a number of people in corporate Canada that are waking up to what I’ve known all along, that indigenous partnerships definitely adds value. Partnering with us increases the long term profitability of a project. It also raises ESG ratings and de-risk investment from unresolved indigenous interests. Another thing that I’ve also noticed is that media has also drawn attention to indigenous conflict on major projects rather than focusing on some of the success stories. Majority of the time. So I know that there are a few media types that are trying to change that. And we’re aware that due to the lack of interaction between the financial sector and indigenous groups on an investment screen basis that media reports are often relied upon and influence the decision making that happens in Canada. I believe that that’s a problem and the First Nation Major Projects Coalition is really trying to solve that. At a recent conference in April, I know that there was a number of industry types that were blown away by how we want to do business by our membership and how our members were more commercially focused. And so we want to get that message out there that our members are interested in partnering on smart development, one that respects their interests and their community interests. And we understand that partnership is also a two way street. I believe the First Asia major project has an important role to play in in hosting this dialog. And I know the more we’re able to do deals that have true indigenous partnership, the more we’re going to change minds from outdated ways of thinking about Indigenous groups as financial partners.

Speaker 1[00:18:07] Getting to true partnership also means breaking down some of the systemic barriers to that partnership. And you’ve said in the past about development that, quote, if the bottleneck is access to capital, that the solution is to change the financing system in Canada. Could you share more about what do you mean by that and what exactly do we need to change in our financing system to ensure true partnership?

Speaker 3 [00:18:29] Well, there’s currently two things that the Coalition is working on and we’re trying to improve access to competitive capital for Indigenous investment in major projects. And we’re also trying to improve the business readiness to our Member First Nations to take part in opportunities within their territory on improving access to competitive capital. This isn’t just a government problem. It’s a problem that has been borne by all of us. The indigenous communities, the private sector and government all have a role to play for government. I really see this as an opportunity for the federal government to follow the lead of some of the provinces like Ontario, Alberta and Saskatchewan who have established government backed financing support such as the National Indigenous Loan Guarantee Program. Many of our communities don’t have the level of risk capital it takes to get capital markets to provide interest rates at equity style loans. That makes sense. In one case, we experience the internal rate of return of the project was going to be 9% and the cheapest loan we could source was between 12 and 15%. So it just didn’t make sense. And so this caused our members to leave an opportunity at the table that would have provided revenue streams to invest in their in their nations. They could have built homes, they could have paved roads, provide more programs and services that the federal funding that we do receive doesn’t meet the needs of our nations. While we are asking the government to consider loan guarantees, direct financing, support and increase investment in our ability to make informed decision. There’s also a role for the private sector. Indigenous communities offer solid partnership with the private sector. Or I’m doing it in my own community and I see how successful it is just sitting down, having a conversation with my business partner and then bringing the information to the community. I’m learning a lot in my role as chief for my community and chair of the first Asian major projects. And we need to know what to do to start structuring these deals with the private sector and to address this. The coalition created a capital markets 1 to 1 series for our members, and this series is to inform our own lived experiences, negotiating deals as well as providing professional advice. So when we talk about building our own readiness for business and capacity to take on deals at the community level, this is an example of that.

Speaker 1[00:20:53] Mm hmm. Yeah, it sounds like it requires a multi-sector approach. I’d like to take the conversation home a little bit and talk about your community. The Fort Nelson First Nation sits in the heart of BC’s oil and gas country. And you’ve talked in the past about how the fracking controversy in the early 2000 was in part what motivated you to get involved in leadership in 2009 and to try to seek a new partnership model with industry and government? Can you talk a little bit about that history in Fort Nelson?

Speaker 3 [00:21:21] So I actually started out myself in the oil and gas sector after I graduated high school and I worked at the Fort Nelson gas plant for about 20 years. Oil and gas in our community has, you know, seen many successes in terms of the value of procurement contracts and royalties and open source revenue and equity positions that, you know, we want to make come alive with the new developments that are happening for clean energy projects. We know that this relationship hasn’t always been perfect and the resource boom that happened in 2013, 2014, at least in the state territory, created a lot of land use changes and it impacted on our rights and our way of life. Yes, it brought some jobs and money, but it also brought a lot of racism and division in the communities in the north and it really tax. Starliner members were seeing the vast changes in a short period of time and they were bringing those concerns to our council and to our lands office. And oil and gas also contributed to the industrial activities that harmed our lands and water, and we refer to it as cumulative impacts. And while I believe no one sector was responsible in isolation for all of this, the extensive industrial development that the province of BC approved from oil and gas, forestry, mining, agriculture and other activities altogether over several decades. It has breached treaty and we’ve seen those impacts on the land. It also harmed our ability to exercise our Aboriginal treaty rights and this was confirmed in the High Court case, which some of you may know better as a Blueberry River case. And this has been documented and the judge said we had been ignored. And with this, we’re here as a nation focused on solutions, on a better way forward, as first nations were also diversifying into clean energy development and new energy sources beyond the traditional oil and gas sector. For an example, you know, with Fort Nelson First Nation being the three biggest gas players with the Horn River, the Iliad and the Cordova. It turns out that what makes good gas plays is also really promising for geothermal. And so our community is extremely proud of the two de coeur geothermal project that my nation, the Fort Nelson First Nation, is 100% owner of. And this will be the first fully indigenous owned geothermal project in Canada. We’re looking at it being about a $91 million project with seven megawatts of electricity generation that will provide energy to equivalent of 14,000 homes. And if you come to Fort Nelson, you know, we don’t have 14,000 homes. So there’s a real potential to not only provide power to the city, to the industrial site, the LNG sites, Alberta into the future. And the project is only five kilometers from our reserve. And it’s phenomenal to think that we repurposed an old gas well to supply clean, renewable baseload energy to the B.C. grid. So this is a path forward for oil and gas workers like me to lead the transition and not be left behind if it. I don’t think that we should be scared to get involved in renewable projects.

Speaker 1 [00:24:40] I’d like to dig into the geothermal development for just a second. Are there any specific lessons and insights that you’ve learned so far through that process that you can share with other communities?

Speaker 3 [00:24:51] So I think it’s really important that people do realize that there’s an energy transition happening. And other than governments and municipalities, indigenous nations are leading this transition. We have a lot of renewable projects, whether that’s solar, geothermal, mining, biomass, you name it. It’s happening in our communities and we’re getting involved more and more. So that makes me really proud. I also think it’s really important that these projects, they don’t happen overnight. I mean, we started this process with the geothermal project back in 2007 and I just the concept talking about it and then the world started changing and we started talking about net zero by 2050. And there was more opportunities coming from, you know, federal and provincial governments in regards to grants where communities could apply for. And that’s what really made this project become a reality, is we received a $40 million grant from the federal government and we were able to start the planning and looking at is this project feasible and really working with our community to identify solutions when we meet challenges. And [00:26:04[15.4s] that we know there is a better path for first nations and Canadians to work together towards these projects.

Speaker 1 [00:26:28] Now, there’s a lot of exciting momentum, as you’ve described. And what a possibility for the future. Hoping to ask you a personal question, if you don’t mind, Chief Gayle, what and what inspires you each day as a leader and in your role as does chief?

Speaker 3 [00:26:42] So what inspires me is my people and their hope and their vision. And it’s just amazing to see how much we’ve grown over the decades with good leadership and strong vision. Our people are really resilient. You know, I’ve seen them overcome many challenges and anything that we do as a people.

Speaker 2 [00:27:04] We.

Speaker 3 [00:27:05] Look forward to making decisions for seven generations. We don’t just think of the now, and that’s kind of why I like this geothermal project is for the fact that the Clarke Lake provided for our nation over seven decades and we had a railway going through and all this activity that was happening so fast back in the day. And our people stood up and said, No, not without us. And if they didn’t stand up and say, not without us, we wouldn’t be where we are today with the investments that we have to look after our people. So I’m very proud of that.

Speaker 1 [00:27:43] Chief Gayle, you mentioned earlier that there are a lot of lessons that you have that you can share not only with other communities in Canada, but also around the world. And I wanted to dove into that a little bit more. In April, the First Nations Major Projects Coalition, along with your American counterparts, the First Peoples Worldwide, hosted a conference in Vancouver. The focus was on indigenous leadership and opportunities in the net zero transition, with over a thousand delegates in attendance. So what does Canada have to teach the world in finding collaborative approaches to a net zero transition? And perhaps what can we learn from others?

Speaker 3 [00:28:18] Well, I think collaboration with indigenous nations across North America and globally is important moving forward towards a net zero future. I envision Indigenous communities working together across the globe to lead this race to net zero. I mentioned earlier we can deploy our knowledge. We have a diversity of values, perspectives to develop real solutions that benefit our communities. Also because we’re not going anywhere. People might pick up theirfamilies and pack up their homes for job opportunities. But our people are going to be living here for thousands of years. And that’s why it’s important. We’re still a part of these projects and we have opportunities living in our territories. So the work of the First Nation Major Projects Coalition is always creating dialog on net zero on indigenous groups in the U.S., in Canada, New Zealand and other places. Some of the challenges that other indigenous communities have in different countries is the same. So I think through these partnerships were able to bring in a number of U.S. tribes, each with tremendous resilience and stories of success, of developing new clean projects and other net zero projects for their communities. And in April, we also hosted the Mallory from New Zealand, who also came to my community because they have 30 years plus experience in geothermal. Are there lessons and their wisdoms and their experiences with my people? All of the people and members of the coalition and it’s clean energy projects like that, like the geothermal that we’re finding ways to meaningfully include indigenous values and investment standards. What an incredible story. And it just gave my people so much hope that we can do this. The Mallory have been doing this for 30 years, sharing best practices of Indigenous leadership and net zero projects across North America or New Zealand or globally. It can help inspire change.

Speaker 1 [00:30:08] That’s an incredibly uplifting and hopeful note. And UN chief David, thank you so much for your time and for joining disruptors today.

Speaker 3 [00:30:14] Well, thank you for having me. Greatly appreciated.

Speaker 1 [00:30:17] Well, there’s so much to think about there. I’m struck by a number of things from my conversation with Chief Gale. Firstly, that capital is not a monolithic thing. It’s not all about dollars and cents. And yes, I know it might be a little bit funny coming from an RBC podcast. But capital requires understanding where we come from and the unique perspectives of our ancestors, or in the case of indigenous people and communities their elders. Indigenous partnership is not a checkmark. It’s not something that is slapped on in the middle or at the end of a project and requires proactive engagement at the start. To be able to tap into millennia of traditional knowledge and ways of living. And we all benefit when this is the case. As Dawn Madahbee Leach said, when indigenous communities prosper, so do the regions around them. Well, that is all for now. Thanks to our guests, Cynthia Leach and Chief Sharlene Gale, as well as Mark Podlasly next week, join us for the latest tech and Innovation Buzz with our ten minute tech series. Until then, I’m Theresa Do and this is Disruptors, an RBC podcast. Talk to you soon.

Speaker 2 [00:31:32] Disruptors, an RBC Podcast is created by the RBC Thought Leadership Group and does not constitute a recommendation for any organization, product or service. It’s produced and recorded by JAR Audio. For more disruptors content like or subscribe wherever you get your podcasts and visit rbc dot com, slash disruptors.

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