Transforming our Workplaces to Advance Indigenous Allyship

For thousands of years, over 1.6 million First Nations, Métis, and Inuit in Canada have preserved their lands, waters, and ways of life through unwavering resilience and resistance. Indigenous communities have demonstrated their strength and defiance of colonial policies by imparting their knowledge and teachings through storytelling, music, social interactions and other oral traditions. To honour these remarkable histories and contributions by Indigenous Peoples around the world, the International Day of the World’s Indigenous Peoples was established by the United Nations General Assembly in 1994. It is also a day to redress the centuries-long marginalization and human rights violations against Indigenous communities and educate ourselves about the diverse customs, belief systems and practices of the world’s 476 million Indigenous Peoples.

The Canadian government has taken significant steps to improve Indigenous equity such as providing up to $306.8 million in interest-free loans and non-repayable donations to First Nations, Inuit, and Métis businesses, thus supporting over 50,000 of the country’s Indigenous-led businesses. On the other hand, however, the country has yet to address its ongoing systemic issues with Indigenous overrepresentation in homelessness, extreme poverty, environmental discrimination, gender-based violence, and suicide rates. According to recent research, despite Indigenous communities accounting for only 4.3 percent of the Canadian population, more than 30 percent of Canada’s youth homeless population is Indigenous, over 29 Indigenous communities still live in areas with boil water advisories and Indigenous women in Canada represent 11 percent of the country’s missing women, aggravating intersecting difficulties for Indigenous women in particular.

Businesses play a significant role in demonstrating respect and solidarity for Indigenous Peoples’ collective human rights, as they are accountable not only to their stakeholders and customers but also to the communities that they serve. As allies, business leaders must critically analyze how their social, environmental, governance and economic systems are structured to ensure that every company is doing their part in helping transform their workplaces, marketplaces, and communities to become truly fair and equitable.

Here are some of the steps that your company can take to advance Indigenous allyship and prioritize Indigenous human rights:

  • Arrange decolonization training and/or anti-oppression workshops:
    Devote resources to hiring an Indigenous expert or consultant so that all staff can learn about the history of colonization and its ongoing effects on Indigenous Peoples in Canada. This allows each employee to interrogate their own attitudes and behaviours at work, as well as critically evaluate their workplace policies and high-level systems, resulting in new approaches to address Indigenous Peoples’ injustices.
  • Support the call for Indigenous sovereignty and self-determination:
    Indigenous Peoples have the right to decide whether and how their lands and resources will be managed. As a result, Indigenous self-determination and free, prior, and informed consent (FPIC) of Indigenous communities must always be maintained in all business decisions, particularly those that have an effect on the environment and natural resources. Refer to this manual published by the UN Global Compact to guide your company in implementing FPIC as a core business principle.
  • Build partnerships with Indigenous-led businesses:
    Indigenous Peoples, and Indigenous women, in particular, contribute significant knowledge to companies with their thorough understanding of the environments in which they live and the communities in which they operate. Identify and act on opportunities to include Indigenous Peoples as partners, collaborators, vendors, shareholders, and staff in business endeavors to promote long-term project excellence and enable your businesses to establish stronger ties with local communities.
  • Remove harmful erasure language:
    Throughout colonization, settlers categorized Indigenous Peoples in paternalistic and oppressive ways for their own ease of governing. These phrases and terms are still used in workplaces today, with no regard for how they stigmatize and dehumanize Indigenous communities. Read materials written by Indigenous authors to unlearn, redefine, and reorient some of the major Indigenous-related terms that continue to harm Indigenous People today.
  • Refer to the Business Guide on Rights of Indigenous Peoples.
    This Guide, published by the UN Global Compact in 2013, recommends practical actions for businesses to respect and support the rights of Indigenous Peoples. Utilize this framework to direct your company’s operations as you consult and collaborate with Indigenous Peoples

As more private and public sector development projects are undertaken, the need to respect Indigenous Peoples and raise awareness about how business ventures affect their human and environmental rights is more essential than ever. On this International Day of the World’s Indigenous Peoples, we encourage all UN Global Compact participants to reflect upon and prioritize the rights and dignity of all Indigenous Peoples across Canada, and to forge meaningful, peaceful reconciliation with Indigenous communities.

Written by Keira Kang (She/Her), Social Sustainability Coordinator, UN Global Compact Network Canada