What Does Indigenous Reconciliation in CRE Look Like? – with Annie Korver (Rise Consulting)

On this episode of REALtalk, Annie Korver, Principal at Rise Consulting, joins REALPAC CEO Michael Brooks for a discussion around Indigenous reconciliation in commercial real estate, what economic reconciliation looks like, and building cultural and organizational competency to enable relationship building and reconciliation.

The episode covers:

  • The intersection between economic development and reconciliation
  • The importance of acknowledging history
  • The unique challenges faced by the Indigenous Peoples of Canada
  • Treaties between Indigenous Peoples and the Crown
  • The land back movement
  • How Canadian commercial real estate can integrate Indigenous relations at a strategic level

About Annie Korver:

Annie Korver is a purpose-driven entrepreneur dedicated to enriching relationships between Indigenous and corporate communities. Inspired by reconciliation in Canada and her own Metis ancestry, Annie founded her company Rise Consulting Ltd. (‘Rise”) in 2013 to advance reconciliation and Indigenous inclusion with a focus on economic development.

Bringing together Indigenous and corporate communities to create shared value, Annie champions a values-based approach to strategic inclusion. She creates undisputed space for her clients to realize their vision and establish inclusive relationships, ultimately supporting her clients with reconciliation. Annie has provided leadership to support the success of various Indigenous inclusion, economic development and regulatory activities for organizations such as Trans Mountain, Pembina Pipelines, and Imperial Oil and she is told that the positive energy she brings with her work is welcomed.

Annie’s background in economic development, marketing and communications provides her with a solid foundation for translating multifaceted socio-economic challenges and opportunities, while leveraging the strengths and skills of those around her. Annie holds a Masters of Business Administration and Aboriginal Relations Leadership Certificate from the University of Calgary, a Bachelor of Tourism Management from Thompson Rivers University and is a certified Public Participation Practitioner through the International Association of Public Participation.

Annie is a member of the Metis Nation of Alberta, is proud to serve as a Director on the Board with the Canadian Council of Aboriginal Business, is the Co-chair of the Young Women in Energy Indigenous Relations and Reconciliation Committee, and is a member of the Circle for Aboriginal Relations Society and Canadian Business for Social Responsibility.

Podcast transcript: 

Michael Brooks (REALPAC): Hello, everyone, thanks for listening and welcome to REALtalk, the show that brings you unique insights from leaders in Canadian and international commercial real estate. I’m Michael Brooks, CEO of REALPAC. We are now joined by Annie Korver, who is the Founder of Rise Consulting, which she set up in 2013 to advance reconciliation and Indigenous inclusion with a focus on economic development. She brings together Indigenous and corporate communities to create a values-based approach to strategic inclusion and is a member of the Métis Nation of Alberta, serves as a director on the board with the Canadian Council of Aboriginal Business, is the co-chair of the Young Women in Energy, Indigenous Relations and Reconciliation Committee, and is a member of the Circle for Aboriginal Relations Society and Canadian Business for Social Responsibility. We are very fortunate to have her join us today for this incredibly important discussion on what Indigenous reconciliation looks like for commercial real estate in Canada. Welcome Annie.

Annie Korver (Rise Consulting): Hi Michael. Thank you for having me. It’s a pleasure to be here.

Michael Brooks (REALPAC): All right. Let’s talk about let’s do a definition. Let’s talk about the concept of economic reconciliation, the intersection between economic development and reconciliation. Would you please share a little about what this means?

Annie Korver (Rise Consulting): Sure. Absolutely. Michael, it’s always exciting. And I always appreciate opportunities to talk about the work that I’m involved with and my journey to get here, because it’s been it’s been an exciting one for me and it’s been somewhat linear as my career has grown and as I’ve received education. And it was actually through my MBA, I was completing an MBA at the University of Calgary. I’m actually joining today from my home in Treaty 7 territory in Calgary, Alberta, home of the Alberta, the Métis Nation of Alberta region, three of which I’m a proud member. So when I was completing my MBA in 2013, I was focusing on the intersection between economic development. I was working at the city of Calgary at the time in economic development and reconciliation as I was learning about my own Métis ancestry and really as I was learning about the history of Indigenous Peoples in our country and really the notion of rights, be it through that the British North American Act, be it through Section thirty five of our Constitution, I was learning about these things for the first time and I was identifying the intersection between economic development and economic reconciliation. And to really sort of as I journeyed about over the past decade, I’ve really learned that economic inclusion is really advancing community wellness and economic interests and living livelihood in a purposeful way. And we do that through purposeful thought and action based on based on knowledge and based on education.

Michael Brooks (REALPAC): So we get commercial real estate people watching us and listening to us. What’s the opportunity in economic reconciliation for the Canadian commercial real estate industry?

Annie Korver (Rise Consulting): Yeah, regardless of the industry, Michael, the opportunity always begins with understanding. So for your colleagues and members that are that are participating, it’s really about listening and learning and then on reflecting on what that opportunity could be through conversations with Indigenous Peoples and communities that have an interest in the lands and territories where we’re operating. And so this opportunity will vary. It’s not something that we can assume. We have to understand the opportunity through conversation. But I think a similar thread exists in all. And really it’s the notion that reconciliation is relationship. And so truth, reconciliation and justice are really at the heart of the opportunity. And by learning the truth of our history and through careful reflection, we’re able to participate in reconciliation, which is a process of healing relationships that support an equitable, just and inclusive society. And the honorable Murray Sinclair has been involved in a lot of this work. And he encourages us, you know, as Canadians, we must do more than just talk about reconciliation. We have to learn about how to practice that in our everyday lives within ourselves, with our families, in our communities, in our places of work. And I think the opportunity emerges and we get to identify what the things are, where we can actively participate and support economic reconciliation and think about leadership and making policy commitments or participating in community events that allow for a transfer of knowledge about opportunities with operations or projects with our business, where we identify training to employment opportunities or procurement practices, for example.

Michael Brooks (REALPAC): We’re going to come back to that in a few minutes. The land piece is fascinating. I’ve seen a map recently of just how much of Canada is covered by treaties. It’s incredible. And these are the treaties generally negotiated between 1871 and 1920 when I found out from my friend Google and probably but there’s probably more disputed areas and rights still in question than just those treaty areas. How can we talk about Indigenous inclusion and economic reconciliation without talking about the land back movement and the reclamation of Indigenous lands? And how ought commercial real estate to relate to that, especially in jurisdictions like B.C., where there are a number of land claims outstanding? What are your thoughts about that?

Annie Korver (Rise Consulting): That’s a big one, my friend. So Google is right of the treaties that exist. We have early treaties, friendship treaties with the Haudenosaunee. We have early treaties that that exist that were signed. But I think about BC, I guess in particular and really in many other regions in Canada. And our friend Google will give us more information about this as well. But land is unceded and that means that treaty, which is an agreement between Indigenous Peoples and the Crown, has not been signed. And so where land is unseated, Indigenous peoples never ceded or legally signed away their lands to the crown or to Canada. And this is complicated and it takes a lot of time to truly understand this concept, because in colonial ways of sort of thinking and being, you know, we live in systems. And so it’s difficult to think, OK, what was that like hundreds of years ago? And so essentially with the land back movement, what we’re talking about, Michael, is consent and the realization that Indigenous Peoples have suffered from and continue to suffer from injustices as a result of the colonial colonization and disposition of land, territories and resources preventing them from exercising their rights. I briefly mentioned rights earlier as I sort of have learned about what that means and how they exist. But Section 35 of our Canadian constitution, these rights have been recognized and affirmed, but the Constitution didn’t create them. Aboriginal rights have existed long before Section 35. And it’s important to also note that Section 35 doesn’t define them. It doesn’t define what Aboriginal rights are. But what we do know is that they cross a multitude of things and they’ve been defined through case law. There is a great book: Bill Gallagher is an author that I really like: in “Resource Rulers” he goes through sort of case law in Canada and so much of it is related to land. And the Calder case in 1973 is one that’s really important, I think, for this group to be aware of. And really what happens. In 1967, Frank Calder and other Nisga’a elder sued the provincial government of British Columbia, declaring that the title to their lands had never been lawfully extinguished through treaty or any other means. While both the B.C. Supreme Court and the Court of Appeal rejected the claim, the Nisga’a appealed to the Supreme Court of Canada for recognition of their original title to their traditional ancestral unceded lands. Their appeal was landmark. It was a landmark move, and it posed considerable risks not only for Nisga’a but to all Aboriginal people hoping to have their rights entitled, affirmed and recognized. And we see that today. So what the Supreme Court concluded was ground-breaking. While the lower levels of court had denied the existence of Aboriginal title, the Supreme Court ruled in 1973 that Aboriginal titles had indeed existed at the time of the Royal Proclamation of 1763. There’s this buzz out there right now about Crown land, but is it Crown land? Like we have to sort of take pause and think it’s not Crown land because it’s unceded territory. So there’s this Supreme Court 1973 decision was the first time that the Canadian legal system acknowledged the existence of Aboriginal title to land and such title existed outside of and was not simply derived from colonial law. I’m not a lawyer, but I secretly would like to do my JD – I really am interested.

Michael Brooks (REALPAC): I am a lawyer, and I’m already confused.

Annie Korver (Rise Consulting): Rights have been interpreted to include a range of cultural, social, political and economic rights, including the right to land, as well as to fish, to hunt, to practice one’s culture and establish treaties. And so really the opportunity right now, Michael, as we want to recognize the need to respect and promote the inherent rights of Indigenous Peoples. And so what we frequently see today and over the past number of decades, Indigenous Peoples are standing up for their rights and injunctions are being activated. And the concern that exists is that the Canadian government is not exercising free prior and informed consent. A primary tenant within the United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples as corporate Canada, including the commercial real estate industry. We have to consider the rights and we have to consider these on a case by case basis. It’s complicated, it’s emotional, but I really think that it’s something as Canadians, as we’re called, to reconcile with Indigenous Peoples will we are called to participate in repairing the damage relationship. And this is part of that.

Michael Brooks (REALPAC): And I see as I think about what you’re saying, I see I see two parts to this. The first part I see to this is that if you’re a commercial real estate purchaser or developer, you need to be aware of the risk of unceded land wherever you are. And that’s not a title search. That’s more than a title search. The second piece that I’m hearing is that you need to engage with the local Indigenous communities and find out what their perspective is. That’s a little more social and personal than it is legal. Hopefully I’ve got those minimum two parts right. But let’s roll from that into the strategy, so. How can the Canadian commercial real estate industry integrate Indigenous relations to ensure that Indigenous communities, First Nations, Inuit, Métis are considered in annual planning at the strategic level? And what does that include?

Annie Korver (Rise Consulting): Yeah, and I mean, you know, knowledge is power.  As described earlier, it’s important to start with educating ourselves and developing an understanding of the history of Indigenous Peoples in our country, or especially in proximity to where we’re operating. Until Canadians become aware of and understand this history, it’s really tough to navigate the complexity of the environment. Michael, Indigenous relations needs to be well understood to be effectively integrated. And key to this is a commitment from leadership to purposeful and active, proactive integration of Indigenous inclusion built on the tenant. Nothing about you without you. I think in building knowledge, it leads to the creation of strategic priorities. Goals and objectives are or an overarching plan. And the opportunity exists to engage with community and integrate ideas and feedback received from community into the path forward. It’s really the opposite of the Indian Act, the opposite of the acts of assimilation.

Michael Brooks (REALPAC): It’s a fascinating quote, nothing about you without you, and I can say that developers tell me what my regulatory barriers and hurdles are. And, you know, I then I want to buy this land and I want to put something up on it. But this is a little more than just legal requirements. This is this is more than that. One of the things that’s a very strong part of REALPAC has been our ESG group and our ESG committee, you know, 70 plus people on that. With the recent rise of the demand for ESG accountability by investors and other stakeholders. Is that another place to operate to integrate Indigenous relations with the company’s overall corporate social responsibility strategy? And how are they to go about doing that? I presume it’s the S we’re talking about the sphere of the one would think.

Annie Korver (Rise Consulting): One would think at all. And actually that this is an area for growth for me, Michael, and I’m really digging in and enjoying it as I build my understanding not only of sustainability and ESG space, but really identify that intersection between sustainability, ESG and reconciliation. And often I am asked Annie, should it be SGI? No, I don’t think so. The I exists within the within the S and within the G, and I really think that the adoption of ESG standards has become almost a minimum entry requirement for most of Canada’s large companies and investment managers, reflecting a widespread consensus that a commitment to sustainable investment should not only be part of a company’s practices, but can directly improve its profitability and performance. And in my work with Ri’s, I really focus on Michael Porter’s model around CSV – creating shared value, which is different than CSR. And the challenge for investors is that the vast majority of the existing ESG standards do not include the rights and interests of Indigenous Peoples. And we’ve recently learned this together, Michael, as we went through the standards. But they’ve been developed in the absence of Indigenous input, which obviously is not ideal. And so the opportunities for us as corporate Canada, regardless of this, but regardless of the standards, to really sort of think about what those intersections are as we build out ESG strategic plans, reporting frameworks, metrics, targets with the input of Indigenous Peoples.

Michael Brooks (REALPAC): It’s a great response because I now realize that’s been a blind spot for us. I haven’t thought of the I part of each of E and S and G, and that’s something that we will address going forward. Let’s talk about including Indigenous People in our business. Obviously, another big area for many industries in addition to ESG has been equity, diversity and inclusion. And we’ve talked about it certainly from headlines of Black Lives Matter and anti-Asian racism. But this is something that is critically important, to identify these communities and to find ways to attract them into our industry and remove unconscious biases. What are some of the barriers that you see to engaging with Indigenous Peoples and making them part of our commercial real estate industry?

Annie Korver (Rise Consulting): Mm hmm. Yeah, I think, um, and it’s good to identify those intersections with what else we’re doing in organizations, Michael, with DEI or with you know, some of my colleagues say I don’t really like the BIPOC acronym, Annie. Indigenous Peoples have distinct rights, which makes them distinctly different than Black or People of Color. But the barriers that we see and we continue to see are linked to capacity and resources. So we see very large, successful Indigenous communities in Canada. Absolutely. With large real estate plays. But for smaller communities that are in proximity to development, be it real estate or energy, a lack of capacity to engage exists. There may not be somebody in community, in the band office, for example, employed, ready to respond to questions. You know, I’ve suggested conversations and engagement are paramount, but that’s very difficult. So that’s a barrier when you’re open to building a relationship, but there’s nobody to build it with or to have conversation with. And so we see capacity funding provided through development of projects or through operational activities to support. Communities in another big financial barrier with the Indian Act and with reserve lands and the status of communities, access to capital to participate, to have a seat at the table with ownership is really limited. And so we’re seeing new structures and programs come forward, Michael, which are excellent. I’m familiar with an opportunity here in Alberta with energy industry development, the Alberta Indigenous Opportunities Corp., which is specifically providing the program to provide capital to bring Indigenous communities to the table with asset ownership.

Michael Brooks (REALPAC): Terrific. That sounds like a terrific initiative, and I hadn’t thought about the other side of the table and the fact that they may not have the resources to engage the real estate companies, might have a developing manager or even CFO CEO. But if the other side of the table doesn’t have someone who can speak at your level, understand your business, then it’s a problem. Let’s actually pivot a little bit to the role of government and the Truth and Reconciliation Commission in 2015 came out with 94 calls to action. How can these calls be acknowledged and implemented by the commercial real estate industry? How should they respond to the calls for reconciliation, creation and innovation with Indigenous Peoples?

Annie Korver (Rise Consulting): Maybe I’ll start by just sharing a little bit of background information in case folks aren’t familiar with the Truth and Reconciliation Commission. So it was established in 2008. If you can go on the National Truth and Reconciliation website and you can order these booklets. I’m the lady standing on the corner like it’s the calls to action booklet. And so I have a whole stack of them here. But in 2008, the Truth and Reconciliation Commission was created as part of the Indian Residential School Settlement Agreement. And at the same time as this formal public apology from the Prime Minister and the Commission was formed as a means of reckoning with the devastating legacy of forced assimilation and abuse left by the residential school system. And so, from 2008 to 2014, the Truth and Reconciliation Commission heard stories from thousands of residential school survivors. And in 2015 in June, the 94 calls to action came out in response to the stories that they heard. And I think it’s important to note that within the 94 calls there’s topics related to wealth where welfare, education, language and culture, health, justice and reconciliation. And call number 92 is specifically for us. Michael, it’s the call to business. And so I’ll just read it now. So it says, :We call upon the corporate sector in Canada to adopt the United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples as a reconciliation framework”.

Annie Korver (Rise Consulting): So you’ll also need to use your friend Google and look up the declaration and you can find the declaration and order these little booklets so you can have a set right on your desk. So it says to adopt it as a reconciliation framework and to apply its principles, norms and standards to corporate policy and core operational activities, including Indigenous Peoples and their lands and resources. This would include committing to meaningful consultation, building respectful relationships and obtaining free prior and informed consent before proceeding with the economic development activity. Ensure that Aboriginal peoples have equitable access to jobs training, education opportunities in the corporate sector, and that Aboriginal communities gain long term sustainable benefits from economic development projects. And third, provide education for management and staff on the history of Aboriginal peoples, including the history and legacy of residential schools under the Treaty and Aboriginal rights, Indigenous law and Aboriginal Crown Relations. This will require skills based training in intercultural competency, conflict resolution, human rights and anti-racism. And I’m often asked, even at my Christmas dinner, by my own family. What does reconciliation mean? And really, it’s about relationship, our ability to have respect for other people and for ourselves through the process and about the learning process. It’s really about truth, reconciliation and justice. And today we have the opportunity to ask ourselves what we want that relationship to look like. For Canada to prosper, we must establish a new and respectful relationships between Indigenous and non-Indigenous Peoples and move forward with reconciliation and co creation.

Michael Brooks (REALPAC): It’s the residential schools situation is shocking, I mean, for those of you listening today, can you imagine having your children taken away from you, taken far away, put on a school indoctrinated with a different culture? I mean, it’s shocking in hindsight. And that that that that went on so hence the tense, hence the reconciliation part of that. I’ve heard you say in an interview that Indigenous inclusion is something that that can be woven into all aspects of the organization. And it’s not a bolt on. It’s not something that as an organization proceeds, they can choose to activate or not activate. What final words of advice do you have for the leaders? Joining us to take away from today?

Annie Korver (Rise Consulting): Yes, it’s like I have these key phrases right in my circle. Yeah, you know, I’m firm with that, Michael, and it’s really built on my understanding that reconciliation is relationship and the principles of reconciliation or a relationship, just like any of our relationship with our family, our spouses, our friends, their ongoing and purposeful, we work hard to build trust and respect and to maintain both. And this won’t happen if Indigenous relations and economic reconciliation activities or an afterthought or are optional or in some organizations that are building projects. And they say to the owner operator, would you like this to be an inclusive project or not? I mean, that doesn’t make sense. And so they need to be woven throughout all aspects of our organization, led by a committed group of leaders who truly understand and demonstrate what an inclusive culture looks like.

Michael Brooks (REALPAC): Annie, thank you so much for your candidness and honesty across this conversation today. Deeply moving and hopefully just the starting point for a longer conversation within our industry and what we as leaders in commercial real estate can do to make tomorrow’s Canada better than yesterday’s Canada. So thank you.

Annie Korver (Rise Consulting): Thank you, Michael. It’s been such a pleasure to have a conversation with you and have a great have a great day.

Michael Brooks (REALPAC): Well, this is Michael Brooks and that’s it for this week’s episode of REALtalk. Be sure to visit us at realpac.ca/realtalk and subscribe wherever you get your favorite podcasts. If you have an idea for a topic or a guest, please send me an email at podcast@realpac.ca. And if you like what you hear, give us a 5-star rating. Thank you for listening and tune in next time.