National Chief Robert Bertrand of the Congress of Aboriginal Peoples
The Truth and Reconciliation Commission’s 92nd Call to Action encourages Canada’s corporate sector to adopt the United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples (UNDRIP), apply this convention in their policies and commit to learning about Indigenous history and intercultural competency.
For many businesses, taking on the work of reconciliation may mean reviewing the company’s hiring practices or developing Indigenous employment initiatives. Although these are important elements, reconciliation is a much bigger initiative.
Change cannot be achieved through short-term add-ons or Indigenous-relations positions that may be isolated in their work to create organizational change. Reconciliation is about profound and transformative change. For many, this pursuit can feel daunting.
Fortunately, reconciliation is a collaborative undertaking, one that can’t be achieved in isolation. In order to move toward meaningful change, action must be taken together, with Indigenous and non-Indigenous peoples working together. Businesses are not only community members, they are also an important part of the social fabric.
As part of Canadian society, businesses have an essential, but often overlooked, place in reconciliation. Indigenous peoples are not only family members, neighbours, friends and partners, they are also clients, customers, employees, professionals, entrepreneurs and innovators. Recognizing the unique contributions and worldviews that Indigenous people have to offer the private sector is part of this work.
For most, getting there is the challenge. Reconciliation is not easy or comfortable work. Many people are hesitant to take it on. It is important to remember that the history of colonization is a shared history; though Indigenous peoples and non-Indigenous peoples had and continue to have incredibly different experiences, we are all in this together.
In order for reconciliation to begin, there is essential work to be done, beginning with self-reflection and learning about Indigenous experiences. Colonial policies have long served to conceal the negative experiences of Indigenous peoples and distance their reality from non-Indigenous peoples in Canada and abroad.
Learning about Indigenous experiences requires openness and a desire to understand that dominant experiences of Canada have not been shared by all. For those who are willing to learn about the experiences of Indigenous peoples, Indigenous peoples have stories to share. There are also many resources that can be accessed to learn about Indigenous experiences in Canada.
Understanding and accepting how Indigenous peoples have been excluded from economic participation and separated from their communities, families and loved ones – and the rest of Canadian society – may be unsettling but it is crucial to helping people reconsider widely held and implicit biases against Indigenous peoples.
It is also important to understand why change is needed by looking at Canada’s history through two-eyed seeing, a perspective that balances Indigenous and non-Indigenous perspectives. In addition to understanding how policy in Canada has deliberately threatened Indigenous peoples’ cultures, identities and existence, knowing where we have come from allows us to see where we are, where we need to go and how to get there.
Reconciliation in action stems organically from one’s relationship with Indigenous peoples. The foundation of a collaborative and engaged partnership is shared understanding. When leaders in the business community are empowered with greater insight into the complexities of Canada’s colonial approach, they can begin to build meaningful partnerships with Indigenous peoples and communities.
Meaningful reconciliation is a reflective, sustained and evolving process. It is a journey into the unknown that can be intimidating but also an opportunity. Relations have been fraught and there is a great deal of truth to be shared before the work of reconciliation can progress.
This also isn’t about sparking feelings of guilt and shame. Rather it is important that business leaders better understand the history of Indigenous peoples in Canada – and the widespread, institutionalized discrimination and racism they face – so that they can better understand the importance of making the journey to reconciliation, and their role in it.
We find ourselves with an opportunity that may never appear again. We live in a time of promise. Building on the momentum of UNDRIP, the Truth and Reconciliation Commission, and the Missing and Murdered Indigenous Women and Girls Inquiry report that will be released in June, Canadian society will be given the chance to find a new path.
This window will be brief and more than words will be needed to make change real. Reconciliation must become rooted in our everyday lives, connecting us as individuals to our society, and changing who we are in ourselves, in our communities, in our work and, most importantly, changing who we are to each other. Businesses as social actors play a part in creating and leading this change.