The history of residential schools created by the Canadian government for over 150 years has caused horrific impacts to Indigenous people. The effects of the intergenerational impacts continue to cause harm to Indigenous populations across the land we now call Canada. In 2009, the Truth and Reconciliation Commission (TRC) of Canada began a multi-year process to listen to survivors, communities and others affected by the residential school system. The resulting collection of statements, documents and other materials now forms the heart of the National Centre for Truth and Reconciliation.
It would be an impossible task to outline the devastation caused by residential schools in a short paragraph, and so reading the TRC’s 2015 report in its entirety is an important first step in understanding the term “Reconciliation.”
For organizations, one of the key components of the TRC’s report is Call to Action #92, which calls upon the private sector to foster meaningful consultation with Indigenous peoples and long-term sustainable opportunities for economic development in Indigenous communities. The language is direct and clear:
“We call upon the corporate sector in Canada to adopt the United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples as a reconciliation framework and to apply its principles, norms, and standards to corporate policy and core operational activities involving Indigenous peoples and their lands and resources. This would include, but not be limited to, the following:
- Commit to meaningful consultation, building respectful relationships, and obtaining the free, prior, and informed consent of Indigenous peoples before proceeding with economic development projects.
- Ensure that Aboriginal peoples have equitable access to jobs, training, and education opportunities in the corporate sector, and that Aboriginal communities gain long-term sustainable benefits from economic development projects.
- Provide education for management and staff on the history of Aboriginal peoples, including the history and legacy of residential schools, the United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples, Treaties 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.”
(A quick but important note – although Canada funded the TRC, it originally voted against the United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples in 2007, joining Australia, New Zealand and the United States in doing so. Those four countries have now supported the UN Declaration, which received royal assent in June 2021.)
The path towards economic reconciliation
Economic reconciliation aims for concrete actions such as creating businesses, modifying the built environment and strengthening institutional capacity to enhance shared prosperity. Economic reconciliation works towards building opportunities for all peoples to achieve their full potential and shared prosperity.
For organizations to truly embark on economic reconciliation, they must be willing and able to transform their processes, policies and training. It may sound daunting, but there are established frameworks to follow so an organization can truly say it’s heeding Call to Action #92.
For organizations to truly embark on economic reconciliation, they must be willing and able to transform their processes, policies and training.
Reconciliation Action Plans (RAPs) set a clear path for your organization to diversify its people, partnerships and supply chain to the benefit of the organization itself, its stakeholders and reconciliation efforts in Canada. Regardless of how far along your organization is on the RAP journey, there is always room for improvement. And if your partners and employees (or future employees) aren’t demanding a RAP by now, they will very soon. It’s one of the strongest tools you have as an organization to show your commitment to building bridges with Indigenous peoples.
Reconciliation is ultimately about a shared history. It is a journey, and companies should have a RAP even if they don’t have Indigenous employees. It is for current and future employees, for procurement, and moreso to create a culture of reconciliation.
We go into more detail about RAPs in this article, but we encourage you to think about how you personally can make a commitment to economic reconciliation. RAPs are an amazing tool for organizations as a whole, but your commitment to reconciliation is as, if not more, important. Does your organization have an Indigenous employee resource group so Indigenous and non-Indigenous employees have a safe space to learn and reflect? Maybe it’s part of your reconciliation journey to start one.
In every way that you embrace reconciliation, you have the opportunity to set the standard for corporate involvement in reconciliation and Indigenous engagement in Canada. Aim high and share your commitment with your team members and peers. Show them the benefits realized by Call to Action #92, and help make reconciliation a business standard in Canada.
Learn. Commit. Act.
Reconciliation Action Plans