In 2021, Xero began its journey with the team at the Canadian Council for Aboriginal Business (CCAB) by entering the first phase of the Progressive Aboriginal Relations (PAR) Program in Canada. This signified a commitment to foster strong connections with Indigenous communities built on a foundation of trust and human connection.
By participating in the PAR Program, Xero has been able to partner with the CCAB, exploring how the organization can continue to foster a great place to work for all, be a great business partner and build great community relationships.
There are more than 50,000 Indigenous owned businesses in Canada, with the majority classifying as small (<100 employees). According to a report from the CCAB, private sector businesses are a top client source for these businesses too. The work the CCAB does is incredibly important and there’s a growing appetite from enterprises to pursue collaborative work. So we sat down with Luanne Whitecrow, Director at PAR to talk about the program, to explore frequently asked questions, and to ask for some advice that could be helpful for any organization also looking to undertake this process.
What is the CCAB and the PAR Program?
The CCAB has been around for nearly 40 years. It’s a national member based organization that fosters connections between Indigenous businesses and non-Indigenous businesses in Canada, but it also has different tools and programs designed to help foster those connections in a meaningful way, whether it’s through partnerships, procurement or engagement and support, which actually segues into the PAR Program.
The PAR Program has been around since 2001 and is the CCAB’s flagship program. It was designed to help organizations build out long-term strategies in the area of hiring Indigenous, procuring from Indigenous businesses, partnering with communities and engaging in support for those communities as well.
How has the PAR Program developed over time?
I started at CCAB in 2012. At the time, the PAR Program had been around for 12 years, so when I joined, there were approximately 14 companies in the program and we had around 188 CCAB members. So we were a lean team of around six or seven as CCAB was much smaller than it is now. As we grew, our membership capacity needed to grow as well to ensure we could manage and help facilitate connections through our events and networking and through other programs – all so we could bring the most value to our members. We also spent a lot of time building awareness campaigns through training and information sessions to raise the visibility of what PAR is and how organizations can undertake the PAR process. We’ve since grown to over 50 employees, have around 200 active participants in the program and have over 800 organizations in Canada involved with CCAB.
What have been the drivers behind involvement with the CCAB and the PAR Program?
We have definitely seen an uptick in interest over the last few years. There are a few different reasons why businesses have been exploring PAR: looking at answering Truth & Reconciliation Commission’s (TRC) Calls to Action, seeking to strengthen their strategy around environmental, social and governance (ESG) or just simply demonstrating the intent to hire, train, procure, engage and support Indigenous businesses, communities and hire Indigenous as well.
When the TRC Calls to Action came out in 2015, organizations across Canada were looking for ways to enter into a reconciliation process. They didn’t know what to do or how to get started. PAR provided this roadmap around building out and internalizing an intent to demonstrate it over the long term. That’s what the PAR Program is all about – organizations building a framework for themselves that’ll set themselves up to do this work over the long term.
What is the most frequently asked question from companies wanting to work with you, and what advice would you give businesses wanting to explore PAR?
The most frequently asked question is, “Why would we want to do this work?” The TRC Calls to Action really provided the platform to help set the foundation for intent. When running a business the bottom line is top of mind so it’s about exploring the value benefit that the organization would receive by helping establish what Indigenous relations is and why it’s important in Canada.
PAR is not industry specific, it’s sector wide, so any organization can build a framework regardless of industry size and location. We run information sessions every month and our team is available to chat at any time to discuss any questions that organizations have.
If a business is considering pursuing Indigenous relations – if they’re going into communities to make an impact in any way or they have the intent to do that, the PAR Program is a really good road map to help them get started, in a meaningful, respectful way. We work to help organizations train and educate their people over the long term. What really sets them up for success is the first few years of their participation. So I’d really encourage them to consider PAR if they’re looking to hire or train Indigenous people, if they’re looking to procure from, partner or to engage and support any Indigenous community in Canada.
Friday, September 30, was Truth and Reconciliation Day. Are there any words you would like to share about the significance of this day to you?
As an Indigenous person, from personal experience, I think it is important to honor, acknowledge and reflect. As somebody who has gone through my own healing process I do a lot of ceremony, a lot of honor, acknowledgment and feasting. For me personally, this is a regular thing. But for those recovering and those starting out, I think it’s very important to honor those that might still be in a decolonization process. There’s still an unbundling of everything that has happened. I think it’s very important for Canada to acknowledge that there are those who are still suffering – those that are still going through this and are finding resolve; whether it’s directly or inter-generationally.
From the PAR lens, it’s really great to see and to hear that organizations are actually taking the day. We’re in there with our organizations across Canada and they’re actually looking at everything that they’re learning about Indigenous people in Canada, which some are learning about for the first time, so it’s really great to see that organizations are actually taking it a step further and saying, “Let’s honor it and acknowledge those that work within our institutions or businesses”.
At Xero, we observed Truth and Reconciliation Day by taking the day off, across provinces, to honor the children who didn’t come home and those who survived, along with families and communities – working with our team to recognize the truths about Canada’s history.