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JP Gladu’s visionary leadership has inspired Indigenous communities and organizations, environmental non-government organizations, industry and governments.

The principal of Mokwateh and former head of the influential Canadian Council for Aboriginal Business, Gladu discusses in his Testimonal Award acceptance speech the importance of economic reconciliation and the fast-changing Indigenous economy:

My friends, economic reconciliation is Canada’s competitive edge, a bold statement I know. But as Bob Dylan wrote, “The times they are a changin’” and in no other place in our country do we see the immense change that is happening like it is in Canada’s Indigenous economy. I have the next few brief moments to paint this picture for you.  

How does change, particularly in policy, occur? I was fortunate to influence policy from the outside during my time at the helm of the Canadian Council for Aboriginal Business, with an incredible team. Our target: Indigenous procurement — a minimum of five percent.   

We were able to align the stories of the heart, which were the Indigenous entrepreneurs making a difference in their communities and families and regions across the country. 

We were able to bring also business leaders to the table, like Mark Little at the time, who was the chief operating officer at Suncor, who understood the impact of Indigenous business leaders. At the time, Suncor purchased $750 million a year — 10 times that of the federal government annually. And, by the way, Suncor in 2022 spent $3.1 billion — about $15 billion to date — that’s one company, in one region of Canada.    

And you can see the incredible impact that this has in our communities, communities like Fort McKay, a reminder that the economic horse pulls the social cart.  

By aligning stories of the heart, best-in-class research and, most importantly, the relationships between industry leaders and Indigenous communities, we were able to move the dial. The CCAB continues to lead this really important work across the country with support of the federal government.   

Sure, small and medium enterprises are the backbone to our country, but there’s also big business and big infrastructure. The number of Indigenous businesses in this category continues to grow across the country.  

Companies like the Bouchier Group with 1,300 staff, of which a steady state 40 percent are Indigenous. Or the Squamish First Nation and their $3 billion Sen̓áw development in Vancouver estimated to generate $20 billion in cashflow to their nation during the life of that project. Or the recent $1.12 billion pipeline deal with Enbridge and 23 Indigenous nations. And it’s also important to note that Indigenous nations are now the third largest owner of renewable energy projects across the country. And the list goes on and on, and across sectors, including the fisheries.  

Do you remember only a few short years ago when the non-Indigenous fishers were harassing the Mi’kmaq by burning their boats, their nets, their shacks because they were afraid of what a moderate living meant to Indigenous People? Imagine that a year later, people that they were tormenting, the Mi’kmaq, they had to sell their fish to them, because they went and purchased a company called Clearwater.  

My friends, the times they certainly are changing. The Canadian balance sheet is starting to shift. Which side of the ledger do you want to be on?  

And don’t tell me that we can’t have resource development and a healthy environment. I live on my First Nation. I’ve witnessed the leadership over the past 25 years when we went from a community of nothing, quite literally nothing because the government had burned our community down, the provincial government, in 1958 — that’s the repatriating part — now we are a community with a sawmill producing lumber for the region, we have bio-gasification projects, we’re running hydro assets, we have tons of mining activity in our region in which we’re participating, and we have incredible tourism on Lake Nipigon, which is the largest lake in Ontario encompassed within the boundaries and it’s pristine and it’s healthy, and our communities live on it.  

Our nations across the country are becoming well acquainted with infrastructure projects, the business of infrastructure projects in this country.  

Organizations like the First Nations Major Projects Coalition have been an incredible champion for change. They’ve estimated that, over the next decade, 475 natural resource projects will be developed, representing roughly $545 billion in capital. More than 80 percent will be in the energy sector. They currently have 17 projects under their purview representing $40 billion in capital right now — with either proposed or confirmed equity stake. Four of their projects right now have an immediate need of $750 million in equity financing over the next 12 to 18 months.   

My friend Chief Sharlene Gale, who is also in the audience tonight, she’s the chair of the FNMPC, our industry partners, our corporate partners, our Indigenous communities have been advocating hard for a federal loan guarantee program. My friends, it’s just not capital for our community’s future, it’s to finance our collective future.  

Indigenous nations are key to unlocking Canada’s full potential and to put us back in a position where we are in the top quartile within the OECD standings.  

We must stop looking at economic reconciliation as something that we have to do. We must look at it as our competitive edge. When our communities lead EAs, it helps us get through the regulatory processes quicker. When we empower the Indigenous workforce, we create certainty for communities as they go into the future. And when we capitalize our communities to participate in equity projects, that becomes a form of consent.  

This is nation building. Friends, allow me to be even bolder. Ten years from now, we will see there will be a new ownership class in Canada and it will be comprised of Indigenous People and nations who have put their lands, waters and human capital to build a future for themselves — and for all Canadians. Thank you. 

A little reminder from Mr. Dylan: 

The slow one now  

Will later be fast 

As the present now 

Will later be past 

The times they are a changin 

 Listen to JP on WONK: On the rise of big Indigenous business, and life on Lake Nipigon

Hear from more PPF honourees:

  • Former astronaut and cabinet minister Marc Garneau talked about serving his country and the clarifying force of ‘a rocket about to unleash seven million pounds of thrust.’
  • Hyman Solomon Award honouree Paul Wells spoke on the importance of journalism: ‘When politicians go around us, are they doing it to get the truth to you by a shorter path?’
  • Jayna Hefford described launching the wildly successful PWHL: ‘It’s not about hockey. It’s about changing society. We’re creating change for the next generation.’
  • Emerging Leader Award honouree Raven Lacerte discussed the national movement she launched to end violence against women: ‘I am standing up for my daughters. Who are you standing up for?’
  • Janice Charette extolled the privilege of a life in public service: ‘We need to celebrate those that are actually in the arena.’
  • Murad Al-Katib pushed for a more ambitious Canada: ‘I want to scale businesses and I want the future to be there for our generations to come.’