I was told they were going to go first, but I'm fine.
I would like to begin by acknowledging that the land are gathered on is the traditional unceded territory of the Algonquin Anishinaabe. I am honoured to stand before the standing committee, along with colleagues committed to the empowerment of indigenous peoples, promoting self-sufficiency and advancing economic opportunities.
Thank you for this opportunity to speak to the committee about indigenous women's business experiences and the procurement strategy for aboriginal business. As you can guess, I'm not an indigenous woman, but our executive director was unable to make it and sends her regrets.
I am Patrick Cheechoo, I'm the director of operations for the Native Women's Association of Canada. The organization is affectionately known as NWAC. NWAC is the long-standing national voice for indigenous women on urgent issues, including missing and murdered indigenous women and girls, truth and reconciliation, and more recently, building a nation-to-nation relationship with Canada.
As a primary organization representing indigenous women, we have a long history of successful projects, programs, and partnerships with government and industry from across Canada. In Canada the number of indigenous women who work for or are developing their own businesses is growing. Our nation's indigenous population is booming, and we want to ensure that our women will share in any prosperity that may result from increased business with government through the procurement process.
NWAC is founded on the collective goal to enhance, promote, and foster the social, economic, cultural, and political well-being of the women we represent within first nation, Métis, Inuit, and Canadian societies. As part of our mandate we support indigenous women's labour market participation and economic development opportunities. NWAC is committed to enhancing and strengthening the economic reality of aboriginal women, their families and communities across Canada.
It is important that the federal government aims to increase the number of aboriginal firms participating within the procurement process, including those owned and operated by indigenous women. As such, we welcome the opportunity to speak about the procurement strategy for aboriginal business.
The Native Women's Association of Canada's research, partnerships, and networking have revealed that indigenous women's businesses experience significant barriers to development and expansion. These barriers are relevant for indigenous women who wish to access procurement contracts with government departments. In order for indigenous women's business suppliers to access the benefits of the procurement strategy for aboriginal business and submit proposals, a larger strategic approach is needed to support their businesses from the ground up, from conception to implementation. For instance, barriers to financing and credit mean that indigenous women cannot leverage existing infrastructure to implement their concepts. Many live in poor socio-economic situations and isolated communities. Without first addressing the social determinants of their health, they cannot even begin to access the intended benefits of the federal procurement strategy.
As for the procurement strategy for aboriginal business, the process itself, indigenous women would benefit from training on how to structure their bids for government contracts to fit smoothly into the federal procurement strategy, not only as it is now but also in the new iteration. In addition, some departments only accept electronic bids, which can limit participation by smaller businesses owned by indigenous women and located in smaller or remote communities without the needed technological infrastructure. It should not be mandatory for an indigenous woman to move her business from her community and culture to do business with the wider world.
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Concerning the mandatory and voluntary set-asides within the procurement strategy, NWAC recommends that indigenous women-owned set-asides be established in order to help our women sustain their markets. It would also be beneficial for the federal government to establish a multi-year, longer-term commitment to purchase their goods and services. This would provide additional stability and support for indigenous women seeking to develop their businesses.
As part of the procurement strategy, the federal government promotes sub-contracting through aboriginal firms and encourages joint ventures between aboriginal and non-aboriginal businesses. It would be beneficial if the bidding evaluation process could be enhanced to recognize and reward the presence of indigenous women amongst those joint ventures as employees and entrepreneurs. Furthermore, all procurements over $5,000 for which aboriginal populations are primary recipients are restricted exclusively to qualified aboriginal suppliers. These are mandatory set-asides.
There also exist voluntary set-asides at the discretion of the federal departments where aboriginal capacity exists, but how often does this occur? How often do aboriginal businesses succeed in securing federal contracts in open competition with non-aboriginal businesses? It would be helpful to see the statistics. We are concerned that the voluntary set-aside policies may leave the process open to interpretation; therefore, we'd like to be assured the federal departments and agencies are adhering to the mandatory set-aside requirements. We would also like to see the establishment of an evaluation process that monitors and measures the particular success of indigenous women with the federal procurement system. Such an evaluation process would provide ongoing performance measurement data that tracks how indigenous women attempt to secure government contracts versus how often they actually succeed in the process.
It would also be helpful to understand the criteria the government uses to judge an aboriginal business, and in the opinion of federal departments and agencies, what is hindering a successful application among aboriginal business owners in general and indigenous women in particular.
Please note that many indigenous women are not aware of the procurement strategy for aboriginal business. As such it would be beneficial for the government to consider targeted promotion and marketing specifically for indigenous women. It would be beneficial to establish a formal government mechanism to implement and monitor this outreach towards indigenous women, and NWAC would be happy to sit on an associated advisory body that would be supported with online and print materials on how to submit a solid application and on understanding the registration process, where to submit it, and who to contact. The federal government encourages aboriginal firms to get to know the people within the departments who may wish to buy their goods and services, yet for many indigenous women the federal government appears as a large, faceless, inaccessible bureaucracy that is very difficult to reach.
NWAC can assist with this by spreading awareness through our social media platforms. We also publish quarterly reports to our stakeholders and clients regarding the labour market information and entrepreneurship for indigenous women. We could highlight the procurement strategy for aboriginal business in our next bulletin and welcome comments about the strategy from indigenous women concerning their awareness and personal experience while trying to bid for federal contracts. We could then share their experiences and comments with you, if this is something that interests the standing committee.
Please recognize that we appreciate your ongoing dialogue with NWAC and our counterparts to find productive, beneficial ways to increase the presence of indigenous business in the federal procurement process. The conversation we are having today will not just have a significant impact on the economic viability of businesses owned by indigenous women, it will have a positive impact on their whole community. Through dialogue, indigenous women can work with you as business leaders in indigenous communities to identify and demolish barriers that exist in the procurement process. Development of that process occurring in consultation and co-operation with indigenous women cannot help but ensure it becomes more equitable and able to help our sisters across Canada play a strong leadership role as partners in the development of their businesses and their communities.