Saskatoon

U of S academic wins Indigenous business award

The Canadian Council for Aboriginal Business has handed out an award to a University of Saskatchewan academic who has dedicated years of work

Ken Coates recognized for his work on collaborations between First Nations, industry and government

Ken Coates thinks the award from the Canadian Council for Aboriginal Business shows great respect for the work academics and scholars are doing. Coates is the Canada Research Chair at the Johnson-Shoyama Graduate School of Public Policy at the U of S, and is now the recipient of the 2017 award of excellence in aboriginal relations. (Jason Warick/CBC)

The Canadian Council for Aboriginal Business has handed out an award to a University of Saskatchewan academic who has dedicated years of work to helping build relationships between Indigenous communities and non-Indigenous organizations.   

"It is a sign of recognition of the contributions that scholars and academics can make to these incredible public policy debates," Ken Coates said in an interview with CBC Radio's Saskatoon Morning.

Resource economy the front lines of reconciliation 

Coates is the Canada Research Chair at the Johnson-Shoyama Graduate School of Public Policy at the U of S, and is now the recipient of the Canadian Council for Aboriginal Business's 2017 award for excellence in Aboriginal relations.

The award is aimed at recognizing individuals who have contributed to building bridges between Indigenous peoples and Canadian society.

Coates has done work in encouraging collaborations and partnerships between the private sector, government, and Indigenous communities and is director of a research project on Aboriginal peoples and the natural resource economy.

Indigenous communities will decide for themselves.- Ken Coates 

Coates took time to reflect on the work he's seeing done in Indigenous communities in Saskatchewan and pointed to the resource sector as one success story. 

"We are actually seeing a lot of reconciliation in the economic field," he said.

"Aboriginal people have taken the hard-won victories that they've secured in the political process and legal processes and actually converted it into real power."

That power, he said, can be found in the decision making process when Indigenous communities are debating the merits of pipelines, and other energy projects that might affect their lands. It is no longer a situation, Coates said, where governments and special interests are able to coax First Nations into coming onside to support a project. 

"Indigenous communities will decide for themselves."

Ken Coates believes the energy sector is the front lines of reconciliation in Saskatchewan. (Ernest Scheyder/Reuters)

A new corporate philosophy

Coates added that many Indigenous companies are "using the money in a very different way." For example, he said, they are putting money back into the communities to make sure there are more education opportunities for young people.

"It's far from perfect. We haven't solved all of the issues. The First Nations need a lot more recognition, a lot more empowerment, a lot more autonomy than they've received at this point, but compared to where we were even 20 years ago, the transformation has been very, very critical." 

Even though Coates sees great success in the economic field, he said he can see past that and understand that there is much work to be done before First Nations are on a level playing field with the rest of Canada.

"I don't want to leave the impression for one second that the more underlying issues have disappeared," he said. "The marginalization and some of the social crises and challenges that First Nations and Métis communities are facing are very real."

with files from CBC Radio's Saskatoon Morning

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