How FortisBC’s principles help grow better relationships with Indigenous People

Doug Stout, retired vice-president, FortisBC (far left), Bruce Falstead (centre) and Dave Porter, CEO First Nations Energy and Mining Council of British Columbia signing a memorandum of understanding in 2012.  Photo: FortisBC

Twenty years ago, with input and guidance from several Indigenous leaders across BC, Burnaby Board of Trade member, FortisBC formalized its commitment to positive Indigenous relations by adopting a Statement of Indigenous Principles. These nine statements set the standard for how those within the company would educate themselves about Indigenous culture and priorities, create opportunities for Indigenous contractors and employees and engage with Indigenous People in our business operations. Throughout these 20 years, FortisBC has continued to work to live up to and apply Indigenous principles to their full potential.

To commemorate the 20th anniversary and  to learn more about why these were developed and how they’ve made a difference, FortisBC reached out to their original Indigenous relations manager; Bruce Falstead.

Recognizing the importance of relationships

Bruce was brought onboard in 2001. A key learning for the project team was the need for strong, respectful relationships with First Nations communities. They were also learning and making sure projects benefitted both the organization and the people whose Territories our services depended on. This was not only the right thing to do, but vital to delivering energy to customers over the long-term.

Setting the foundation

Bruce recognized that most people within the company had limited knowledge, education and background on the priorities, concerns and history of Indigenous Peoples. Bruce saw that having well-defined Indigenous principles would set the bar for what it meant to work respectfully with Indigenous People and make clear FortisBC’s expectations to its team and others involved in its projects.

Learning and listening

Bruce’s first step was to seek the input and guidance of Indigenous leaders. He also sought their feedback and consensus before bringing the Indigenous principles in-house. FortisBC’s leadership team adopted the resulting Indigenous principles wholeheartedly and also understood the challenges and responsibilities that came with living up to them.

Putting Indigenous principles to work

Bruce explains that implementing Indigenous principles and keeping them active within the organization is an ongoing effort and remains a work-in-progress. For Bruce, the most enjoyable and rewarding Indigenous principles to pursue is understanding culture and priorities. Growing this understanding and awareness sets the stage for our other Indigenous principles, in particular those that set expectations around engagement with Indigenous communities.

Respect leads to better projects

Applying Indigenous principles to FortisBC’s project engagement resulted in important energy projects moving forward in a much more collaborative and respectful way. This, in turn, led to many enduring partnerships and additional business opportunities for FortisBC and Indigenous communities.

Making space for growth

Bruce admits that creating access to employment and direct business opportunities are the most challenging of our Indigenous principles to implement. FortisBC has funded a number of scholarships and programs over the years, and now, with more dedicated resources and focused effort, is making headway in creating deeper accessible employment. This is leading to more direct opportunities for Indigenous People at all stages of their career – including a growing number of internship positions. Adding Indigenous employees is also helping FortisBC fill the need for skilled people who reflect the diverse communities we serve.

More learning to take place

Indigenous principles have helped those within FortisBC grow and mature in their approach to relationships with Indigenous communities. What started as aspirational goals, now form the foundation of our Indigenous Relations and guide both our actions and our words, but FortisBC recognizes that this learning is far from over.