Indigenous History Month

Dialogue Is Essential to Building Relationships with Canada’s Indigenous Peoples

The Canadian government’s reconciliation initiatives have been crucial for promoting dialogue with Indigenous people, but the government is not the only party talking to Indigenous people to drive change. Any time people want to reconcile and create a new basis for any relationship, they must talk, and government agencies, businesses, community groups, and nonprofits are driving the dialogue on Indigenous reconciliation, rights, discrimination, and inclusion. As Canada promotes nation-to-nation reconciliation, many forums have appeared to encourage sharing stories and ideas, to better understand what reconciliation means in its fullness. The conversations being held are focused on improving lives and looking forward to an equitable and inclusive future.

“Reconciliation is Yours to Achieve”

In 2021, Canada held the first official National Day for Truth and Reconciliation to honor the victims and survivors of the Indigenous residential school system. It is a day for reflection, but more importantly, it encourages honest dialogue about what reconciliation really means. The 15th Chancellor of Queen’s University, the Honourable Murray Sinclair, LLB MSC IPC, said, “Reconciliation is yours to achieve. We owe it to each other to build a Canada based on our shared future; a future of healing and trust.” Honest and open dialogue is essential to developing trust and moving forward with a new understanding of how past events have impacted the people of First Nations, Inuit, and Métis and what it will take to move forward with trust.

Building bonds that were severed in the past is necessary to create a new future. There are conversations that have been held in the past and continue to be held today between non-Indigenous and Indigenous community members. These conversations take many forms and are being held by government, business, and advocacy organizations nationwide.

Meaningful Conversations

There are many examples of meaningful conversations being held in every province and territory and at the federal level. Different approaches and forums are used to ensure the dialogue is as productive as possible, reflecting Canada’s sincerity in achieving social justice.

The Banff Centre for Arts and Creativity developed the Truth and Reconciliation through Right Relations Program for anyone who wants to improve relationships with Indigenous people, including business representatives and other organizations. Indigenous people share community stories, engage in meaningful conversation, learn to create change through collective leadership and partnership building and share Indigenous ways of knowing. Ultimately, the goal is to increase understanding, respect, and meaningful connections between Canada’s citizens.

The University of British Columbia Indian Residential School History and Dialogue Centre (IRSHDC) performs many functions, including providing access to records for survivors and intergenerational survivors of the Residential School system. However, another equally important function of the IRSHDC is encouraging dialogue that both educates Canada’s citizens and challenges state colonial narratives rooted in inauthenticity. Dialogue workshops and events take different forms, such as the book launch of Tsqelmucwilc: The Kamloops Indian Residential School—Resistance and a Reckoning by author Celia Haig-Brown, followed by a discussion. “Tsqelmucwilc” (pronounced cha-CAL-mux-weel) is a Secwepemc phrase loosely translated as “We return to being human again.” Victoria Reconciliation Dialogues is a seven-part series available online. Each series is a conversation guided by Indigenous community members and others such as Victoria City Councillors as part of the City’s Witness Reconciliation Program. These are engaging discussions on topics like Lekwungen Knowledge and the Land, Rethinking Heritage in the Context of Reconciliation, and Netsamaat: Going Forward Together.

Business Leaders Step Up

In 2002, the Indigenous Corporate Training company was founded by Bob Joseph, an Indigenous person who has extensive experience developing cultural awareness presentations for corporate staff, field crews, and consultants. Joseph first developed the Working Effectively with Indigenous Peoples training course for business leaders and employees in all sectors who want to develop respectful relations with Indigenous peoples. Since then, he has developed other training workshops such as First Steps as an Indigenous Ally. For more than 20 years, Indigenous Corporate Training has helped Canadians develop the skills to engage and work with Indigenous peoples.(4)

In May 2023, the Canadian Chamber of Commerce hosted an Inclusive Growth Dialogue on “economic reconciliation and Indigenous entrepreneurship.” It was hosted in partnership with the Leduc, Nisku, and Wetaskiwin Regional Chamber of Commerce in Nisku, Alberta. The panel had representatives from Canada’s VARIOUS sectors, including career services, energy services, Indigenous investments, beauty, and training. Discussions centered on the long-term effects of intergenerational trauma on Indigenous communities, building partnerships between Indigenous communities and organizations, educating the public, including Indigenous communities in economic activities, and identifying and addressing barriers experienced by Indigenous peoples and entrepreneurs. One of the important messages is that employers can promote reconciliation by developing culturally safe workplaces, creating mentorship opportunities, and facilitating the hiring and inclusion of Indigenous individuals.

Utilizing All Communication Channels

Dialogue can take many forms. Crown-Indigenous Relations and Northern Affairs Canada (/CIRNAC) and Indigenous Services Canada engage in dialogue with people, organizations, associations, and government agencies through various communication channels to help develop more effective policies and programs for Canadians. The consultation activities include face-to-face discussions, feedback forms, focus groups, and forums. The input sought from First Nations, Inuit, Métis, Northerners, and others address issues like First Nations drinking water, improving child and family services, Indian oil and gas regulations, and modernizing regulations concerning First Nations’ dialogue, to name a few topics.

Studying history books is not enough. In fact, reading books on the topic of reconciliation and the status of Indigenous people in Canada is not enough to build relationship, because history books are not always accurate - or may gloss over certain historical events. Also, reading books does not allow asking questions, and non-Indigenous people need to have conversations that involve effective listening to the stories of Indigenous people. Learning the life experiences and perspectives of Indigenous people develops the foundation for establishing understanding, caring, and productive relationships among all of Canada’s citizens.

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