On the eve of Canada's first-ever National Day of Truth & Reconciliation, I can't help but think: it's been a long time coming – perhaps too long.
Let me start by positioning myself. Before establishing Boldly Inclusive, I have worked in various sectors and industries, but the non-profit sector was what I called home for a considerable portion of my career. One of my last in-house roles was in the child welfare sector, working in diversity, equity and inclusion and community engagement functions.
My job involved building – and, where necessary, rebuilding – trusting relationships with communities naturally wary of child protection. The goal was to identify needs and co-create solutions to support the distinct needs of Indigenous Peoples, Black communities, and various newcomer communities to ensure families in crisis were receiving culturally relevant services. To prepare, I was given an in-depth education into the Residential School system and its intergenerational impacts. Although these lessons were helpful, it was the stories I heard from members of Indigenous communities that revealed a tragic and uncomfortable truth about the real impacts of systemic racism and colonization and how inaction could be seen as complicity. Interestingly, these stories often came from people who did not feel comfortable publicly disclosing their identity after learning that doing so could be unsafe.
Naturally, this background colours my perspectives.
On the one hand, survivors, their families, and all those who have lost loved ones to the Residential School system have waited for generations for this painful legacy to be acknowledged. Many lifetimes have been lived, waiting for the truth to be heard and for the trauma that has been inflicted on their communities to be seen. Settlers (myself, included) are now starting to appreciate these truths, yet we still have a ways to go in our work toward reconciliation.
On the other hand, it has taken years of bureaucracy and administration to get us to this point. It was in 2007 that the Truth and Reconciliation Commission of Canada was first established, and in 2015 when their final report was published. The report, which contains 94 Calls to Action, includes the following Recommendation #80:
We call upon the federal government, in collaboration with Aboriginal peoples, to establish, as a statutory holiday, a National Day for Truth and Reconciliation to honour Survivors, their families, and communities, and ensure that public commemoration of the history and legacy of residential schools remains a vital component of the reconciliation process.”
Although the National Day of Truth & Reconciliation is clearly a huge step forward, one can’t help but wonder why it took so long. And why this summer’s devastating discovery of the bodies of over 1,000 Indigenous children lost to the system was what finally triggered action.
Putting Truth & Reconciliation in Action
At Boldly Inclusive, we believe that DEI work must be change-oriented and actionable. If good work requires change work, I challenge you to reflect on what steps your organization will take toward reconciliation. Indeed, allies need to ensure that Truth & Reconciliation is an everyday practice rooted in authenticity. Here are three things your organization can do to move the dial forward.
1. Learn the “Why”
Do your research to understand why the National Day for Truth & Reconciliation is essential, understanding that the effects of the Residential School system are ongoing. For example, few people realize that the last school only closed in 1997, less than 25 years ago: the Kivalliq Hall in Rankin Inlet in Nunavut (previously the Gordon Residential School in Punnichy, Saskatchewan was noted as the last school to close in 1996). Indeed, many Indigenous Peoples have first-hand lived experience and bear the brunt of these histories. It is vital to understand why people continue to speak out about these systems and honour their stories.
Take a look at these videos from Phyllis Webstad of Orange Shirt Day, and Cindy Blackstock, the Executive Director of First Nations Child and Family Caring Society of Canada, to start:
2. Review the 94 Calls to Action
Between 2007 when the Truth & Reconciliation Commission was first established, and 2015 when the final report was published and shared with the public, 6,500 people were engaged and invited to share their stories. I recommend reading the report (this link will take you to the full and summary reports) and encourage you to review the 94 Calls to Action regularly. This latter report is a quick read, organized by categories such as education, justice and child welfare.
I suggest all businesses pay particular attention to Recommendation #92:
“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.”
What commitments will your business take toward reconciliation?
3. Reflect on your culture and practices
By reflecting on your culture and practices, your organization can prepare itself for long-term engagement and inclusion of Indigenous communities. This often starts by asking challenging questions and engaging in courageous conversations. Who’s missing from the table? What underlying assumptions are we making about Indigenous communities? What are our biases? What language are we using?
Indeed, language can be crucial, as the shift from "consulting" Indigenous communities to "engaging" deepens relationships and seems less transactional. Indigenous Corporate Training in BC has a great blog outlining "9 Terms to Avoid in Communications with Indigenous Peoples" to help guide our learning.
The critical question we must ask ourselves is, "What will you do to actively include Indigenous communities in meaningful ways?”
And how can we ensure we are making these commitments so that every day is a Day for Truth & Reconciliation.