Over the past several years, there has been encouraging progress toward the goal of true reconciliation.
However, there remains a clear gap between expressions of good will and tangible action.
An example of this division resides within the larger economic context of Canada – expressed partially through the business community.
Certainly, businesses across the country are often doing their best to address the obligation to better engage Indigenous people. However, true movement often remains frustratingly elusive.
Six years ago, the Truth and Reconciliation Commission made several calls to action aimed especially at the private sector. One of those calls says: “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.”
Now, this is a stern test for Canada’s business community. And this challenge goes well beyond expressions of vocal support. Instead, the call to action essentially demands the kind of policies and approaches that will first attract members of our Indigenous communities to the private sector – and then builds appropriate mentoring and training opportunities.
The unfortunate fact of the matter is this: Indigenous people across Canada have been largely cut out of the economic game – and have been pushed to the sidelines when it comes to business and power dynamics.
Of course, the first step must be to recognize and accept the truth of this reality. The next steps may be even more difficult – but, to achieve true reconciliation, they must be taken.
First, I would suggest that private sector representatives ask themselves a series of questions.
- What does inclusion look like, in practical terms?
- What is the goal of inclusion? And how will it help the business to excel?
- Do people from diverse backgrounds feel safe in the work environment? Do they feel they belong? Are they supported?
Once we all begin to understand the basic human challenges involved, I believe it is then possible to address some of the social and economic infrastructure required to encourage real inclusion.
First, energetic business outreach to Indigenous communities is an excellent step. We have all heard about the growing labor shortage in Canada. If business clearly explains new opportunities to young Indigenous people, they will take notice and then embark on the kind of training and preparation they will need to successfully contribute to business success.
Second, there will need to be mentoring of new employees. This is hardly novel. Any competent and successful business will take the time to nurture new employees in a way that builds mutual success. In this case of Indigenous people, this will also require a sincere recognition of diversity.
Third – and this is a more general suggestion – many businesses need to better explain their needs to our educational institutions. By doing so, trades schools, colleges and universities can better tailor their programs to the unique challenges facing Indigenous people.
As we head into a new year, I am very hopeful that our national trajectory toward reconciliation is on a clear and achievable course. I have the true sense that more and more people recognize the need to move beyond rhetoric and toward the concrete actions that must be taken.
Therefore, I would strongly encourage all business leaders to consider the decisions that will help to make our entire country a better and fairer place – and one that moves toward reconciliation in deliberate, thoughtful and productive ways.
Written By Jenene Wooldridge