The new standing agenda item for every management meeting in Australia…is your organisation ready to include it?

While larger Australian organisations march and beat the drum on Indigenous Participation, Reconciliation and the like, most are missing a Very Big Point. And every smaller Australian business that service industry and government clients are even further removed from getting this Very Big Point.

The interesting thing is that this Very Big Point could be easily addressed on an individual organisational basis, across the entire country. But are Australian businesses and organisations like yours conscious enough to do this? Those that I have helped on this topic have experienced some interesting benefits.

To set the scene, consider this. Every bricks and mortar business and organisation in Australia has at least a head office (whether an office block or a kitchen table), many have multiple offices in different locations, and many also work at multiple client locations.

They are all a place on the Australian map. Points on the map that have been around for a while…

“Know Your TO”

This is a phrase I coined a few years ago. While there are 63 definitions of “TO” around the planet, it has only one meaning across Indigenous Australia – “Traditional Owners”.

Aaaahhhh, I can almost hear some people now pushing back on their office chairs to head for the coffee machine. A few intrepid ones are looking on their intranet to see if their organisation has a RAP and who the head of the committee is. Another handful have opened up Google to see what the phrase “Traditional Owner” means. A couple are trying to remember the name of the person and mob that did a Welcome To Country at a recent business event.

The entire continent of Australia has Traditional Owners. They are recognised in this capacity in a variety of ways. Simply within mob family structures and inter-generational knowledge….the traditional way…that covers 100% of Australia. Also, by processes that see Agreements formed by mobs with industry and government. And via the Native Title Act, with more than 35% of Australia’s landmass…and counting… now with Positive Native Title Determinations in place.

I’m now hearing through the ether many business owners and executives who are reading this thinking:

John, this is a complex issue. Isn’t this something just for mining companies to deal with? We would like to do something in this space, but we have no policy to address this and generally our clients take the lead and we just line up behind them. What we prefer to do John is have a target or two in place, with a focus on employing some Indigenous Australians from anywhere in the country. As long as they are Indigenous, that’s OK, right…?”

My response to this type of position is…great, you’ve taken some steps….now take it to the next level. It is completely within your control to do so. And no this is not just about the mining sector, it is about the entire economy, and society.

Indeed yes, on particular client projects you may need to refer to the client on processes to engage with Traditional Owners. But that is one project. It is not your organisation’s entire presence in Australia, and doesn’t dictate your organisation’s policies and culture. Those are yours to own and drive.

In the industries I’ve worked in, there’s no doubt that limited traction in the Traditional Owner engagement space is due to the “trickle down” factor. Indigenous Procurement Policy is weak on the topic of Traditional Owners. And so are most of the RAPs I’ve read. If the policy and practice of government and industry proponents doesn’t address it, then why should your organisation?

I’ll tell you why.

It’s the right thing to do. If the terms “Indigenous Participation” or “Reconciliation” are anywhere in your business vocabulary, not engaging directly with the Traditional Owners on whose country you operate makes those terms very shallow.

AND, strategically – if you set your own benchmark in this space, you will be ahead of government & industry policy that is continuing to evolve, putting your business at an advantage over your competitors who are doing the bare minimum in this space.

This is not just about business.

You organisation might be a social services provider with Indigenous clients to take care of. Your organisation might be involved in some form of environmental management in an area (eg local land care, through to entire river systems…). Whatever your organisation’s purpose is, there is always a relevant reason for engagement with the relevant TO group(s).

At any location in Australia, the process of discovering who the Traditional Owner representatives are is not difficult. In 30 minutes from the comfort of your desk, you can build up quite a picture, including appropriate contact details. Establishing contact and building a relationship can be a process (as with anything in business) but it’s not rocket science.

Overwhelmingly, TO groups are keen to hear from anyone who has a presence on their traditional lands and waters. Many may not (yet…) have the organisational capacity to respond to you in a business-suit-type manner, but they will appreciate the contact, get to know you, talk within, and engage further.

Over the years I have developed my own process to identify and engage with TO groups, in any location. I had to refine it along the way, and I know it works. I am willing to share it with organisations that are serious about addressing this Very Big Point. And if you want a “deep dive” into your organisation to comprehensively address Traditional Owner engagement and broader Indigenous topics, I’m a phone call away.