Halifax, NS, Jun 24, 2016…. Some 60 directors and managers with Federal government departments from across Atlantic Canada were in Halifax Thursday to learn how they can better engage Aboriginals. Guest presenters were Alex Paul and Owen Fitzgerald from the Mi’kmaw Economic Benefits Office (MEBO) in Membertou. Paul and Fitzgerald provided examples of how they worked with industry and government departments to successfully engage local Aboriginals. Ian MacDonald, Regional Director of Procurement for Public Services and Procurement Canada (PSPC) invited Paul and Fitzgerald to speak to the group. MacDonald said he heard Alex and Owen present several months ago and found it inspiring.

“I knew other decision makers with other federal government departments needed to hear their message,” said MacDonald. The ministers for all federal departments received letters from the Prime Minister directing them to improve the engagement of Indigenous people. “We all know what we have to do, but the challenge is how.” That is where Alex and Owen come in. “Our directors and mangers need to hear about their success and how they do what they do. Their presentation is powerful and passionate and really is inspiring. More importantly, what they are doing, works! Really, their message is simple, yet inspiring.”

Paul said, “We take a business approach and we are here to present solutions. We want you to succeed and we are here to help you succeed.” Fitzgerald and Paul spoke about the importance of building a strong relationship with industry and with government departments. It is not enough to want to engage Aboriginals. “It is about what you do to ensure Aboriginals are engaged. It is about how you share information, how you engage with the communities, and what training and supports are provided”, said Paul. “If you are serious, your policies need to reflect that,” said Fitzgerald. “Include wording in tenders and contracts requiring companies to present an Aboriginal engagement plan is a good start, and we can help,” said Fitzgerald.

Following several hours of presenting and discussion, Paul said they were impressed with the great interest in the room. “An opportunity like this, to present to so many government decision makers, will pay huge dividends down the road,” said Paul. Fitzgerald added, “This was also an opportunity for us to learn from these senior government officials, to learn about the priorities and projects they are working on or planning. To succeed, this has to be a two way street, where we learn from each other and help each other in this effort.”

Mi’kmaw Economic Benefits Office (MEBO) seeks to build a broad network of industry and government partners, and in doing so identify both employment and business opportunities for local Aboriginals. MEBO works to prepare and support both individuals and Aboriginal businesses to be part of these opportunities. The Benefits Office strives to educate industry and government departments of the value of having a diverse workforce and in doing so, provide solutions on how to better engage Aboriginals. MEBO helps industry find the workers they need through promotion and recruitment efforts and provides training when necessary. MEBO is a non-profit organization serving all five First Nation communities in Cape Breton (Unama’ki) and works closely with other Aboriginal organizations in the Maritimes. Their office is in Membertou.