“I’ve seen how business relationships can lift a community and a person out of poverty into a place where they’re full of pride.” — JP Gladu: Former President and CEO of the Canadian Council for Aboriginal Business

Published by Speaking of Business Podcast on

Transcript

Goldy Hyder:
Welcome to Speaking of Business. I’m Goldy Hyder of the Business Council of Canada. June is National Indigenous History Month and June 21st is National Indigenous Peoples Day. It’s usually a day for large gatherings to celebrate the diverse cultures and many contributions of First Nations, Inuit and Métis peoples. This year, things are looking a little different. COVID-19 pandemic has forced many celebrations online and into smaller groups but that won’t stop us from celebrating and marking the day here on the podcast. Did you know that the indigenous economy contributes an estimated $31 billion to Canada’s GDP? At its current rate of growth, it could hit a hundred billion in the next five years, and that is worth celebrating. JP Gladu is an Indigenous business leader, principal of Mokwateh Consulting and past president and CEO of the Canadian Council for Aboriginal Business. Welcome to the podcast, JP.

JP Gladu:
Goldy, always great to hear your voice, my friend.

Goldy Hyder:
Well look, thanks for doing this a lot’s going on as I just mentioned, a moment to celebrate and maybe take a step away from all the usual topics on COVID, but happy National Indigenous Peoples Day to you.

JP Gladu:
Thank you very much. I’m celebrating it up here in my community of Sand Point First Nation and it’s where I spent a lot of my time growing up and it’s really great to be back on the land.

Goldy Hyder:
Now, JP, I acknowledge that today should be a day of celebration for National Indigenous Peoples Day, but we can’t deny that the backdrop in which this is happening, not just COVID but more relevant to our discussion today, is the protests that are taking place around the world that started in the United States with Black Lives Matter. We’re seeing a number of them continue here in Canada and, of course, including racism in all its forms. How are you feeling as a champion for human rights as a leader, as an Indigenous leader about where we are and where we’re going?

JP Gladu:
Well, it’s boiling over. There’s been actions of folks that are feeding into systematic racism and everybody knows it’s happening. I think a lot of people just choose to ignore it and go on about their lives and what’s happening now, we’ve got a significant global pandemic, we’ve got Black Lives Matter, the Indigenous community here in Canada, of which I’m very much a part of, you can’t ignore these issues anymore as Canadians, as Americans, as global citizens. It’s hit a tipping point and it’s both troublesome to see in the sense that people are getting hurt, lives are being disrupted. There’s still a lot of action that’s still going to happen and it’s really difficult to watch, but at the same time, I feel optimistic. I feel these issues are coming to a head. Unfortunately, this is the way that we have to deal with issues, but they’re being addressed.

JP Gladu:
We’re having these hard conversations, like you and I right now Goldy, and it’s happening all the way from the grassroots right to our political leaders and is long overdue. In Canada’s Indigenous people we’ve faced systemic racism since well, almost time immemorial and a quick little story about my community. In 1952, the government came into my First Nation, forcibly removed our community members, burned down our community, in 1952, and it took us a long time to get our reserve back. It’s because Canadians, the government didn’t really care. Now they’re starting to care and action is starting to happen.

JP Gladu:
How it’s affecting me personally, in addition to everything I’ve just stated, is that I’m a little bit removed because I’m in Northern Ontario and it’s hard to watch because of the social distancing, the travel restrictions but I see a lot of my people on social media, I see a lot of great non-Indigenous people in social media supporting these issues. People like you, Goldy, are making room for these conversations. I feel very small in the world right now because there’s so many of these issues that are just coming to the surface and it’s very difficult to watch.

Goldy Hyder:
I think that what I sense myself is a call to action, right? It’s as you said, it’s bubbled, it’s on the surface, people are expected to act, to bring about lasting change. Certainly the conversations with the next generation have been very powerful, even with my own daughters here at home. I’m wondering what sort of tangible action that you would like to see happen in the near term?

JP Gladu:
Well, given that you run an amazing organization, the Business Council, and given that I’m an Indigenous business person and it’s a big part of my passion and I know and I’ve seen how business relationships can lift a community and a person out of poverty into a place where they’re full of pride and contribution to their family, their community and the region and the country, I’ll choose to focus on the business lens. There’s a lot of great indigenous leaders that are focusing on social issues and health issues and a lot more, better speakers than me and knowledgeable people in those areas than myself, so I’ll focus on the issues of business. The challenge with racism, or at least one of the roots of racism, is ignorance. Ignorance you can deal with just by building relationships by extending your hand, education, I mean, that’s how you can get through ignorance.

JP Gladu:
It’s indifference that really frustrates a lot of us, but if we can break through those ignorant ways of being, which is people just sitting back and not choosing to do anything, through the business lens by creating opportunities to engage Indigenous people through the business lens, I’ve seen some incredible, incredible relationships that have transformed into business, that’s transformed into millions of dollars, thousands of jobs. I’ve seen non-Indigenous people come to the table with open minds and open hearts and all of a sudden find themselves working for Indigenous communities because they’ve opened their minds and the hearts up to the Indigenous community.

JP Gladu:
If we want to start to take that a step further around policy, I think there are opportunities for the government to be more proactive in the way that they set procurement policies and Goldy, you and I have talked about this before about setting targets. It sometimes forces people to reach outside of their comfort zones and when they do, I think the benefits are just a wonderful thing. I’ve seen it both in the Indigenous and non-Indigenous business communities when we come together. So it’s really about handing and extending out a hand in business and when you’re in the trenches building businesses together, the most important thing that comes out of it is friendship and friendships, when they solidify, the opportunities are, again, as I’ve mentioned, just incredible.

Goldy Hyder:
One of the things that I said in the introduction with National Indigenous Peoples Day, it’s about celebrating and recognizing the incredible contributions of Indigenous people and that includes indigenous businesses and leaders like yourself. What are you seeing right now among Indigenous business leaders that is inspiring you?

JP Gladu:
As you know, I’m a COVID casualty and I was heading up to Fort McMurray, Alberta to take on the role of CEO of the Bouchier Group and unfortunately oil price and COVID changed that path for me. But it’s hard to hear it when you’re in the moment but people are always telling me, reaching out, so many wonderful friends and colleagues both Indigenous and non-Indigenous, just hang in there JP, things are happening for a reason, it’s not your current path. So, what I’ve seen is that the community has come together and we’ve adjusted the way that we’ve been doing business. Of course, there are the zoom calls, there are a lot more telephone calls and what I’m finding is that leaders are starting to just focus a little bit more. It’s challenging for them, particularly those that have families and they’re having to juggle a whole lot, but I’ve seen leaders shift and focus.

JP Gladu:
So as an example, one of the things that I’m really excited to be a part of, an organization, the Mikisew Group of Companies is a community up in the Fort McMurray area that have brought on an independent board to work with their community. So there are four of us new, independent board members and three are non-Indigenous. And so, the Mikisew Group of Companies recognizes that the diversity and inclusion of non-Indigenous people into their world is a fundamental shift and one that needs to happen to empower that community to even greater heights than it’s experienced so far. So I think Indigenous leaders like the Mikisew Group have really thought outside the box with all their joint ventures, they are partnering with non-Indigenous businesses left, right and centre to take advantage of markets, to build the business relationships and to empower their bottom line, which is contributing significantly to their community and the region, especially in a time that we’re experiencing now, as one example.

Goldy Hyder:
Well, speaking the time we’re experiencing now we’re in the midst of the global pandemic, the COVID-19 crisis is obviously challenging us all and I’m proud of you, my friend, for being as resilient as you have been through this adversity and I agree with those who have written to you, that all things happen for a reason. Now, in a community itself, of course, is not immune from the challenges that so many have experienced through COVID, particularly around mental health and other social issues. How is this lockdown effecting the community and more broadly, I guess, the economic impact of that?

JP Gladu:
When I was making my trip up from Ottawa to move up to my community, I used to work along the north shore of Sault Ste. Marie, North Bay to Wawa, the whole north shore. And, as I was driving by, you can see the barricades in the communities to protect themselves from this pandemic and you can’t blame them, can’t blame any organization or community to do that. And you can see that the businesses are shutting down, the small businesses, they’re suffering just like any other business. But I think it’s amplified again, when we talk about the significant systematic racism. So their market shrunk even more from where it was of people buying goods and services from the Indigenous communities. Up here in our communities, I’m in a small town right now called Beardmore I’m calling you from, by a big white snowman that’s been here for years.

JP Gladu:
You can feel it’s just empty, the odd transports going by, but it’s a challenge. So we’re where do you build your strength from? And that’s what I love about the Indigenous community and you see a lot of it online, you saw a lot of people sharing their language, sharing their customs, sharing their songs, sharing their dances and just pivoting, like we’ve all had to do to support and keep that spirit alive and it’s wonderful and heartwarming to see. So, when we actually emerge out of this pandemic, eventually, I hope that we don’t lose some of this connectivity, these new forms of connectivity that have actually brought some of us closer together in certain ways. I did a lot more online buying, I know I’ve purchased goods from Indigenous businesses, I’ve been building out my core through some of CCAB’s, business members, the website, et cetera, so I was just focused. It’s just refocused and it’s been an interesting process when you never thought you ever had to go through it but we’re in it now and we’re doing it.

Goldy Hyder:
Yeah, that’s right and there’s that old saying, “Never waste a good crisis.” What are you learning about yourself in this crisis in terms of what it means to be a leader?

JP Gladu:
I had a really strong feeling just the other day. My life was in Toronto with CCAB and my life was around, mostly, big cities across the country in the world. You and I did some great work down in Melbourne together and they’re great experiences but I found my life was very much craving so much of the land and where I grew up on. So, I was working and then spending a little time on the land. Now I’m on the land most of the time and a little bit of big city visiting during this time but not very much and of course, very distanced from colleagues. But when this emerges I’m going to be based on the land and visiting the big cities and I find myself, as an individual, it just feels right.

JP Gladu:
It feels wonderful to be able to spend more of my time on the land with my parents, with my community and then visiting the big cities to do business. I think through this pandemic, it’s taught me and I think it’s taught a lot of others that we can do business differently. The transportation, airplanes, et cetera, are going to have to shift along with the new paradigm that is shifting that we can do things differently. You can see all the office towers, there’s going to be some challenges in filling those offices with bodies. So it strengthened my spirit to be able to be on the land and do this work because I feel blessed when I wake up and I feel blessed when I go to sleep that I’ve got this beautiful lake and the land all around me and my community and I’m very fortunate

Goldy Hyder:
What a great spot to end. Thanks for doing this JP. We really appreciate it and wish you and your family the very best.

JP Gladu:
Thanks a lot Goldy, always a pleasure. Keep up the great work.

Goldy Hyder:
JP Gladu is an Indigenous business leader, Principal of Mokwateh Consulting and Past President and CEO of the Canadian Council for Aboriginal Business. This is the latest in a series of speaking of business conversations with business leaders and innovators. You can find more podcasts wherever you subscribe or simply go to our website, SpeakingOfBiz.ca, you guessed it, that’s biz with a zed. Until next time, I’m Goldy Hyder. Thanks for joining us.

In light of the COVID-19 emergency, we’ve temporarily suspended our regularly scheduled series of conversations with Canadian CEOs. But we’re not going away. Instead, we’re going to pivot to the health emergency itself. We’re going to explore the impact on companies and workers across the country. And we’re going to find out how business leaders are responding to crisis.

“I’ve seen how business relationships can lift a community and a person out of poverty into a place where they’re full of pride.” Indigenous business leader JP Gladu speaks with Goldy Hyder about forging ties between Indigenous businesses and corporate Canada. He also reflects on calls for action against racism, and discusses the impact of COVID-19 on him and his community.

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