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Doing Business With First Nations: A Beginners Guide

Updated: Oct 17, 2023

Cambium Indigenous Professional Services holding an Indigenous engagement session for doing business with First Nations.
Indigenous partnership / engagement session

Doing business with First Nations can be a very rewarding experience. Depending on what your outcomes are, doing business with First Nations can provide a long term, sustainable and positive relationship. Establishing a mutually beneficial and respectful partnership with a First Nation takes patience and understanding. It requires a well thought out engagement plan that encompasses the First Nations traditions, language, protocols and current social and political structures.

At the core, a First Nation will ensure the well-being and safety of it's members, territory, traditions, social structures and language above anything else. By aligning your companies vision with the vision of the First Nation will help ensure a more positive and beneficial outcome. Related: What NOT what to do when it comes to Indigenous Community Engagement In this article, we are going to discuss some of the basics of doing business with First Nations.

Recognize the First Nations Views, Culture, Experiences, Language and Way of Life

Indigenous communities differ from non-Indigenous communities in some very significant ways. Indigenous culture is founded on a unique view which governs all aspects of life and, in turn, affects government, corporate, and societal relations.

It is essential to understand Indigenous communities and learn about the communities’ experiences in order to develop an effective working relationship. Doing so will help set the stage for a positive partnership and allow you or your company to do business with First Nations.

Some individuals, corporate entities, and government representatives may want to reach out to Indigenous communities to begin building working relationships but are hesitant. The first stumbling block has often been verbiage. Communication is key when doing business with First Nations. Remember, every First Nation is different and each community has their own way of doing things.

Communication is KEY! What is an Indigenous community referred to as? Is it a band, a reserve, or perhaps a tribe? Are the community members called Indians, First Nations People, Indigenous or maybe Aboriginals? In the fear of not wanting to offend and trying to be politically correct, many people forego their initial attempts at effective communication simply for lack of knowledge on how to address Indigenous People.

The simple answer is that the community members should be addressed in the terms that they prefer to be called. Take the first step and simply ask. When doing business with First Nations and in doubt about political correctness, pick up the phone and talk with the First Nation directly. The First Nation will advise accordingly.

Manage Risk with Effective Planning

Those who are risk averse may also tread lightly around Indigenous People – often representing as a lack of confidence. Fear of the unknown in life is large enough without the addition of fear of the unknown in community relations, cultural and spiritual beliefs, mannerisms, and community values. Many strategies are available to manage such risk and increase the reward by working effectively with Indigenous People.

Prior to initial meetings, develop and implement engagement programs that focus on managing risk instead of blindly following processes or policies. 

Provide training to employees to help them work effectively with First Nation technicians and once introductions have been made, and a working relationship develops, help the community build capacity from within through mutual learning and sharing with respect. 

Cambium Indigenous Professional Services holding an Indigenous engagement session for doing business with First Nations
Indigenous engagement and partnership session

Time Your Engagements!

Learning the factors that play a significant role in Indigenous community life is also not only important but necessary.

The timing of engagement and relationship building can depend on the community lifestyle. Calling in advance to confirm, and calling en route if you’re traveling great distances is not only a sound practice when doing business with First Nations, but makes simple business sense. (Related: Why is Indigenous Awareness Training Important?)

For those communities that rely heavily on natural resources for survival, their very routines may revolve around a time clock that neither works at the speed of mainstream business nor on the average timeclock of a non-Indigenous person. Similarly, Indigenous communities place a great importance on the cycle of life. It’s not uncommon for an entire administration to shut down following a death in the community. Respecting this and recognizing that the potential for a full closure is high while in the midst of engagement will go a long way toward solidifying a working relationship and improve business relations with First Nations communities. (Related: Myth Busters: Indigenous Edition #1)

Understand Correct Protocols

Questions often arise around protocols when doing business with First Nations. Many corporate and government representatives can anticipate such customs as the acknowledgement of the host peoples and their territory at the outset of a meeting. Doing so will show the proper respect to Chief, Council, Elders and Community Members which will help set the right tone for the meeting.

Be Active in The First Nation Community!

Participating in community and cultural events, and showing a genuine interest in getting to know a community without an agenda are also best practices. This will go a long way to building respect and trust with the First Nations Community. When doing business with First Nations is it of the utmost importance to show that you and your company are there to be a part of the community. When invited, go to the feasts, pow-wows, community gatherings and other special occasions.

Choosing words carefully in advance of presenting or speaking in an Indigenous community is also wise. And, ensuring proper enunciation of traditional words, place names, phrases, and individual names is considered a form of respect. (Related: 5 Principles for Effective Indigenous Engagement)

CIPS Indigenous engagement and partnership
Successful Indigenous partnerships

Stay Away From Acronyms!

When speaking with and meeting Indigenous People, avoid the use of acronyms in presentations and regular communications. Please, stay away from acronyms when talking to or presenting to Indigenous people and communities.

Also, refrain from the extensive use of technical terms. Use common verbiage that any layperson would appreciate and provide explanations in plain language. Ensure your message is understood. Highly technical communications will progress as appropriate First Nation team members are exposed to your messaging. (Related: 3 ways to effectively communicate technical information to First Nation communities)

Please Dress Accordingly Consider attire as well. Dressing in business casual or to suit onsite requirements is favored, as opposed to “dressing for success.” As part of ensuring the audience feels comfortable, ensuring that the appropriate message is being sent through such impressions is vital. Likewise, abstain from strict timelines and anticipate a long-term working relationship based on the development of mutual trust and understanding.

For positive and effective Indigenous engagement resulting in success when doing business with First Nations, your audience must feel involved and that views are not only received with respect but are taken seriously. Addressing needs from the perspective of an Indigenous community can help create a tangible result based on productively working together over a longer-term basis.

Visit our Indigenous Engagement Training page or contact us today about how we can help with your community engagement and planning needs. We have been doing business with First Nations for over 25 years. If you need help or need advice, call us at: (705) 657-1126 or by email at:

To book a zoom meeting directly with our CEO (Mike Jacobs) to discuss how we can help with your community engagement plan, click here


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