Local Journalism Initiative Reporter
Deloitte Canada wants to shift its relationship with Indigenous Nations from its present auditing and trust fund dealings to a holistic approach that will support Indigenous governments to claim jurisdiction and participate more fully in the national economy.
They call this new approach, launched today, Nation Building.
“We don’t own the term ‘nation building.’ Nobody does,” said Jolain Foster, managing partner of Nation Building with Deloitte, a company that provides services and advice globally in the financial and tax fields.
“In talking with our Indigenous leadership team, we really wanted to make clear, to us, what does that mean over the next while? And we came up with this sort of formula that is nation building.”
Foster explains the nation building concept involves three key results for Indigenous Nations. They have jurisdiction over their governance and operations. They control their land, which means natural resources and economic development. They meet the basic needs of their communities, including infrastructure, which “leads to a better quality of life for us as a people.”
Foster is a member of the Gitxsan Nation. She heads a team of five Indigenous members, who have experience both at the grassroots level having lived in Indigenous communities and in working with leadership across the country.
“What is significant about the five (members) is that we have developed an approach and a strategy that has been Indigenous led,” said Foster, adding that the work has been ongoing for the past five years.
This new approach will shift Deloitte from working on a micro transactional level with Indigenous Nations to working on a macro level or on a larger scale.
“What is going to be telling and what we need to do is to really focus in the areas where we have expertise that (Deloitte) can bring to the table and amend our approaches to work for nations and then also invent and create and innovate new solutions with nations that will work,” said Foster.
This will be coupled with a strategic path that will see nations getting jurisdiction over various programs under the Indian Act while building their own capacity to implement their priorities in order to make long term change.
Also critical is finding the right nations to pilot Deloitte’s new approach, which will be a three-to-five-year commitment. Foster says information will need to be gathered, including assessing the nation’s current state. Strategies to achieve goals will need to be developed. Internal adjustments will also be required as the process moves along. Outcomes will be assessed to determine if the work is increasing the wealth of the nations.
While nations will have similar needs, they will also have specific needs and their own understanding of what success looks like and how they define quality of life, says Foster.
Benchmarks for a successful relationship, she says, will include how many First Nations have moved out from under the Indian Act, “becoming more sovereign, developing their own constitutions, their own laws and really operating and having control over their future.”
These additional services from Deloitte will come with an additional price tag and how Indigenous Nations will handle that cost is “top of mind” for Foster.
“What I'm doing right now is developing a business model that makes services and expertise from Deloitte more affordable and more accessible to nations,” she said.
She points out that Deloitte already provides services such as auditing, supporting negotiations, and supplying transactional advice to Indigenous Nations “at a significantly discounted rate” from its other clients.
“My whole aim and purpose…is to set (this) up properly within Deloitte and that once it's built that it's sustainable,” said Foster. “It has to be at least somewhat profitable in order for it to sustain itself for the next decades to come, if not century, that it's going to take to really make an impact in this country, to build stronger communities for a stronger Canada.”
She says Deloitte is committed to the new approach, as demonstrated by the support of CEO Anthony Viel, the board of directors and the executive team. Deloitte adopted its Reconciliation Action Plan in 2019.
“We have set some really significant goals internally and we have a team and a leader who is leading our Reconciliation Action Plan, who is holding our firm accountable and our people accountable to that,” said Foster.
Deloitte employs more than 14,000 people in Canada.
She adds that the job of her Indigenous leadership team is to use its experience and “advise inside Deloitte and to strategically place us across the business.”
Foster knows there will be challenges from corporate Canada and Indigenous Nations when it comes to Deloitte’s new Nation Building approach.
“We're catalysts trying to clear a new path towards economic independence (and)…It's often met with criticism and resistance from all areas, because what we're wanting to do is elevate nations to be equal participants within the Canadian economy,” she said.
The work that Foster is undertaking now has brought her full circle.
As a young girl in a family of four with a single mother and living in Kispiox, B.C., Foster saw development all around her but she grew up in poverty. All the wealth the land brought was never experienced by her Gitxsan Nation. It made her crave change and she wanted to be part of bringing about that change.
After graduating university with her accounting designation, she began working at Deloitte in 1996, including doing forensic audits on Indigenous Nations. However, she wanted to focus on where nations could go and not where they were coming from.
She left the company and went on to work in various fields and to pursue her education further in order to gain experience and understanding in a variety of sectors. It was all with the goal of how she could lead “transformational change” for Indigenous peoples. She returned to Deloitte in 2017 as a senior manager.
“This has been my lifetime purpose to do this work. I always envisioned coming back to Deloitte to do it, because I knew what Deloitte had and I knew what they wanted to do. And with this current CEO and leadership team, I really believe that this is the time and this is the chance to develop it and grow it and make it sustainable,” said Foster.
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