Indigenous History Month is an opportunity to consider what reconciliation means in your workplace

June is Indigenous History Month in Canada – an opportunity and important reminder for all Canadians to acknowledge and learn about the history and challenges faced by Indigenous people (First Nations, Inuit, and Métis), as well as honour and celebrate Indigenous culture, diversity, and strength.  

During this month, and on Indigenous Peoples Day, Indigenous people across Canada celebrate their ancestry, roots, and culture – in part, to revitalize and reclaim them. For non-Indigenous people, it’s also crucial to understand Canada’s history, which precedes confederation (and colonization) by nearly 14,000 years and that, for most of us, wasn’t taught in school. Further, it’s an opportunity for everyone to learn about and celebrate the richness and diversity of Indigenous culture.

A reflection on workplace DEI efforts

As outlined in a recent LinkedIn Post, Marcia Turner, CEO & Founder of Daxgedim Haanak’ Nation Building and TEDx Speaker, maintained that when Indigenous people are blended within the acronym of BIPOC and combined into generic DEI initiatives, this further perpetuates their marginalization. She feels it also diminishes the importance of understanding and addressing the critical issues and challenges unique to, and faced by, Indigenous peoples, some of which include:

  • Indigenous peoples are not immigrants or settlers in this country, and they have ancestral ties to the land (unlike settlers of any race, ethnicity, or colour)
  • Section 35 of Canada’s Constitution Act affirms Indigenous peoples’ inherent rights, in addition to their unique and distinct status within Canada
  • The fight for self-determination, sovereignty and self-governance in one’s own land is distinctly different from workplace efforts on diversity and inclusion

How such reflections can/should impact your workplace

Diversity, equity, and inclusion efforts/initiatives should never be considered a box to tick in the workplace, or simply a policy you need to or should have. When employers take that approach (intentionally or otherwise), some tend to ‘showcase’ that they have these procedures and may even pat themselves on the back for it. Taking a one-size-fits-all approach or failing to understand the unique circumstances of Indigenous people (in addition to specific racialized peoples and those with other varying identities and life circumstances) continues to harm the very folks these initiatives are intended to serve and support.  

Thoughts and beliefs such as Marcia Turner’s highlight the importance for employers to be curious, and ask themselves how they see, recognize, and understand Indigenous people – which also highlights the concept of equality versus equity. Unlike equality, equity doesn’t mean that all team members should be the same or treated the same in all situations. Rather it means that their rights, responsibilities, and opportunities don’t depend on their race, identities, characteristics, traits, etc. Equity is about fairness of treatment, according to and based upon, one’s respective needs. Accordingly, when we consider DEI initiatives in the workplace, Indigenous people, as a group, should not all be treated the same in all situations, just as any one Indigenous person (or anyone of any identity) should not necessarily be treated the same in all situations.

As we outlined in a previous post, Indigenous people face unique barriers, challenges, and realities in the workplace that must be considered distinctly from generic DEI practices. How can you uphold and lift up Indigenous people in a way that doesn’t marginalize their experiences from the past, but also acknowledges the impact of the past? How can you validate their experiences and create a safe place for them in your workplace?

Acknowledging and celebrating Indigenous Peoples Day

Indigenous Peoples Day (IDP) is just one of the many ways that employers can acknowledge the unique realities of Indigenous people. IDP takes place on summer solstice each year (June 21st) – the longest day of the year, which is a traditional time to celebrate for many Indigenous communities and peoples. We encourage you to learn more about the history and what led to the creation of Indigenous Peoples Day.

Some ways to recognize, honour, and celebrate IDP include:

  • Starting the day with an acknowledgement, ensuring it’s meaningful, relevant, and genuine 
  • Allowing people to take time off specifically to reflect, learn, and take part in events
  • Taking part in events within your community, and encouraging employees to do so:

While acknowledging IDP is important, we encourage you to take the time to consider what reconciliation means for you, your teams, and your workplace – and how you can put it into action.

Our team has had the honour of working with more than 100 Indigenous communities and organizations. During this time, we’ve built many relationships, listened to many stories, and learned much about Indigenous challenges and accomplishments on Turtle Island (the lands we now call North America). We’re also aware that we have much more to learn on what we see as a continuous journey. 

Join us in acknowledging and honouring Indigenous People throughout this month, on June 21st and every day.