As we approach the second National Day of Truth and Reconciliation, we encourage you to ask what you can do to advance reconciliation. Making real progress will require ongoing effort. We need to move beyond good words and take brave steps.
This month, we are highlighting some of the actions that you can take as an individual, as a member of a family and as an employee or employer to advance Reconciliation.
Avoid approaching these actions as a to-do list. These actions are meant to inspire a lifetime of learning and working to establish respectful relationships between Indigenous and non-Indigenous peoples.
We encourage you to find a friend, family member or co-worker who will hold you accountable for doing your part. If you would like some additional support or guidance, please contact us at email@example.com
“The Doctrine of Discovery…lies at the root of the violations of Indigenous peoples’ human rights, both individual and collective” (Frichner 2010).
A primer on the Doctrine of Discovery
In 1493, Pope Alexander VI issued a decree known as the Doctrine of Discovery to legitimize the theft of Indigenous land and the colonization of Indigenous peoples. The Doctrine, fueled by ideas of white supremacy, gave Christian European explorers permission to characterize any land occupied by non-Christians as vacant land that could be “discovered” (ICT 2020). However, the lands now known as Canada have never been vacant – Indigenous Peoples have been occupying and stewarding these lands for countless millennia.
The negative impacts of the Doctrine are still being felt today. Federal and provincial governments use the Doctrine to justify legal ownership of Indigenous land and resources, and jurisdiction over Indigenous peoples. For example, Canada uses the Doctrine to position Indigenous peoples as “claimants” on their own lands and as second-class citizens under the Indian Act (AFN 2018). The Doctrine and its racist philosophy that Indigenous people have no rights or laws or humanity has provided the foundation for modern Canadian laws (King 2022, as cited in Taylor 2022).
Indigenous Women leading the way
During the Pope’s recent visit to Canada, Sarain Fox and Chelsea Brunelle, two Anishinaabe women, held up a banner seen around the world calling for the Pope to “Rescind the Doctrine” (Paperny 2022). Ms. Fox, an artist whose aunt is a Survivor, explained why the Pope’s apologies fell short – “Indigenous people are looking for action and our Elders have very little time left to see that action” (Nerestant 2022).
Action You can Take
In June 2023, the federal government will release its first action plan outlining the steps it plans to take to implement the United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples. This plan needs to include specific details about how the government intends to revise and/or repeal laws, policies and practices that undermine or violate the rights of Indigenous people.
Amplify the voices of Ms. Fox, Ms. Brunelle and other Indigenous activists. Reach out to your elected representatives and urge them to repeal the Doctrine without delay. Never underestimate the power of leveraging your privilege to demand concrete action on Call to Action #47 (Renounce the Doctrine of Discovery).
Write a letter to the Prime Minister, visit your Member of Parliament at their local office or send an email to the department responsible for preparing the federal government’s first action plan to implement the United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples. This department is called the UN Declaration Act Implementation Secretariat.
We have pulled together some contact information to help you with your advocacy.
Office of the Prime Minister
80 Wellington Street
Ottawa, ON K1A 0A2
No stamp is required for mail addressed to the Prime Minister or any Member of Parliament.
You can find your Member of Parliament by typing your postal code into the search box on the following website – http://www.ourcommons.ca/Parliamentarians/en/members. Click on the search result and you will be taken to your Member of Parliament’s homepage. Click on the “contact” tab to find their email address, phone number and the address of their local office, otherwise known as their constituency office. Use the phone number or email address to find out when your Member of Parliament will be at their constituency office and schedule a time to meet with them in person or virtually.
You can share your thoughts on the Doctrine with the UN Declaration Act Implementation Secretariat by using this email address – Declaration@Justice.gc.ca or this mailing address:
UN Declaration Act Implementation Secretariat, Department of Justice Canada
275 Sparks Street, Ottawa, Ontario, Canada K1A 0H8
Assembly of First Nations (“AFN”). (2018, January 22). Dismantling the Doctrine of Discovery.
Frichner, T. G. (2010, February 3). Preliminary study on the Impact on Indigenous Peoples of
the International Legal construct known as the Doctrine of Discovery, which has served as the Foundation of the Violation of their Human Rights. United Nations Economic and Social Council.
Indigenous Corporate Training (“ICT”). (2020, January 26). Indigenous Title and The Doctrine of Discovery. Indigenous Corporate Training.
Nerestant, A. (2022, July 28). Protesters urge Pope to rescind Doctrine of Discovery during mass near Quebec City. CBC News.
Paperny, A. M. (2022, July 28). Protest over 15th-century land grab doctrine interrupts papal Mass in Canada. Reuters.
Taylor, S. (2022, July 30). Pope’s visit to Canada sparks calls to renounce centuries-old Doctrine of Discovery. CTV News.
“75 percent of Canada’s Indigenous languages are endangered” (Friedrich 2021).
Make learning how to pronounce Indigenous words and place names a family activity. Revitalizing Indigenous languages is an essential part of reconciliation. Indigenous place names are particularly important because they “carry knowledge that has been passed down from generation to generation” (ICT 2016).
For example, there are six primary Indigenous language groups on Vancouver Island and each language group has its own dialects (CBC 2022). Hul’q’umi’num’ is one of these language groups. In 2011, the Hul’q’umi’num Treaty Group, Parks Canada and the University of Victoria worked collaboratively to create a Hul’q’umi’num language guide to plants and animals of southern Vancouver Island, the Gulf Islands and the Salish Sea. This guide features Hul’q’umi’num words for different bird, mammal and plant species, and includes helpful tips on pronunciation.
Take family walks through your local community and use the guide to help you practice using Indigenous names for the plants and animals that you see along the way. Be mindful of the fact that the words and spellings in the guide do not represent all the Hul’q’umi’num dialects that are in use today. This guide is a living document that will adapt and evolve over time as new information about dialects and usage becomes available. To learn more, check out FirstVoices, an online resource that includes over 75 different Indigenous languages sites.
CBC News. (2022, June 26). Revitalizing Indigenous languages: Meet some of the people working to keep their language alive. [Online news article] CBC News.
Friedrich, D. (2021, February 4). Controversies Around Endangered Indigenous Languages in the Canadian Arctic (Part 1). [Blog post]. The Arctic Institute.
Hul’qumi’num Treaty Group. (2011, March). Ecosystem Guide: A Hul’q’umi’num language guide to plants and animals of southern Vancouver Island, the Gulf Islands and the Salish Sea. [Pdf].
Indigenous Corporate Training Inc. (“ICT”). (2016, February 16). The Relationships between Indigenous Peoples and Place Names. [Blog post]. Working Effectively with Indigenous Peoples.
“Understand that Reconciliation is not about “feeling guilty.” It is about knowledge, action, and justice”
(Fraser and Komarnisky, 2017).
We are highlighting ten steps that you can take in your workplace to advance Reconciliation. We hope that you and your colleagues use our suggestions as the launching pad for a lifelong journey of learning about Indigenous peoples and cultures, and taking action to make our society more equitable and inclusive.
- Reach out to local Indigenous members of your community using proper protocol in a respectful manner. Begin to build long-term relationships. Be honest about your intentions, be ready to listen, and be prepared to hear no. Not everyone will have emotional capacity or time to get to know you. Leading with humility, an open heart and open mind is a good way to start.
- Look for like-minded people at your workplace, people who are committed to taking action. Share what you learn with one another. This can include books that you have read and would recommend such as The Strangers (2021), a novel by Métis author Katherena Vermette or podcasts that expanded your knowledge about the ongoing impacts of colonization such as Still Here Still Healing, a podcast by Indigenous educator Jade Roberts.
- Start a Reconciliation Committee or Working Group at your organization, company or institution. In consultation with local Indigenous leaders and communities, collaboratively create a multi-year Reconciliation action plan that includes SMART goals namely, goals that are Specific, Measurable, Actionable, Realistic and Timely.
- Plan and launch a lunchtime learning series that creates a space for dialogue on Reconciliation. Decide how often you will meet, (e.g. once a month), select a different theme for each lunchtime session and make sure lots of snacks are on hand to assist with the learning process. For example, set aside one lunchtime to learn about the repatriation of Indigenous art and ancestral remains from institutions in the Province and around the Globe to Indigenous communities in Canada.
- Call out anti-Indigenous racism when you see it or hear it in the workplace. For example, if you hear a colleague suggest that Indigenous people ‘need to get over’ residential schools or intergenerational trauma, speak up to correct them and offer support to your Indigenous colleague(s). Advancing Reconciliation is not a one-time activity, it should be a daily practice.
- Become a champion of changes to workplace policies or practices that reduce barriers to Indigenous job applicants. For example, encourage your employer to edit new job postings to make it clear that lived experience is a desired asset if not a requirement.
- Make a monthly donation to an Indigenous-led organization or charity that supports Indigenous students attending post-secondary programs. For example, Indspire is a national Indigenous charity that gives First Nations, Inuit and Métis students bursaries, scholarships and awards for full and part-time students in college, university, skilled trades, apprenticeships and technology programs. Find out more about ways to donate and raise funds on their website.
- Want to incorporate Indigenous values or principles into your workplace (Fraser and Komarnisky, 2017)? Not sure where the line is between cultural appreciation and cultural appropriation? Hire an Indigenous consultant and pay them for their time.
- If your company or organization gives gifts to clients at Christmas or on other special occasions, consider supporting Indigenous artists. Avoid buying items sold through third parties such as Amazon and buy directly from the artist. Alternatively, you can also buy items from reputable distributors such as Strong Nations, which is an Indigenous owned and operated online book and Gift store.
- Look for Indigenous heroines and role models (Fraser and Komarnisky, 2017). Consider Autumn Peltier, a water rights activist who grew up on the Anishinabek territory on Manitoulin Island or Levi Nelson, an internationally acclaimed artist who is a member of the Lil’wat Nation (Boyko 2022).
Share these actions widely with colleagues in different organizations and workplaces.
We frequently upload new resources and organize activities throughout the year. For news and information, check out our website at bcit.ca/indigenous-initiatives/
If you would like to participate in one of our events or need some additional guidance or support, please contact us at firstname.lastname@example.org
Boyko, J. (2022, August 18). Indigenous Women Activists in Canada. The Canadian Encyclopedia.
Fraser, C. & Komarnisky, S. (2017, August 4). 150 Acts of Reconciliation for the Last 150 Days of Canada’s 150. Active History.
In 2019, the BC government passed the Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples (“DRIPA”) which established the United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples (“UNDRIP”) as the provincial framework for Reconciliation.
On the Day of Truth and Reconciliation, take the time to familiarize yourself with the inherent rights and freedoms of Indigenous peoples affirmed and protected in UNDRIP and read the Province’s action plan for implementing UNDRIP.
The action plan contains 89 steps that the Province plans to take between 2022-2027 to advance Reconciliation and address the ongoing harms caused by colonization. These harms include systemic anti-Indigenous racism that has created an employment gap between Indigenous and non-Indigenous Canadians. For example, B.C.’s First Nations employment rate sits at about 51.4% compared with the employment rates of non-Indigenous B.C. residents which sits at about 70% (Chiang 2020).
To address this harm, Action 3.2 in the action plan discusses the need to “set and achieve targets for [the] equitable recruitment and retention of Indigenous Peoples across the public sector, including at senior levels” (Government of British Columbia 2022, p. 18). Be mindful that UNDRIP sets “the minimum standards for the survival, dignity and well-being of Indigenous peoples” – we encourage you to aim higher (Article 43 of UNDRIP).
As an employer, you can work collaboratively with Indigenous Nations, organizations and leaders to create an Indigenous talent program designed to attract, retain and promote Indigenous employees into management roles. To be successful, the talent program should be run by an Indigenous person, receive dedicated annual funding, include specific recruitment and retention targets, and consequences for failing to reach those targets including fines and other disincentives.
An Indigenous talent program is a great start but it needs to be bolstered by additional policies and practices. For example, offer Indigenous employees culturally appropriate, wrap-around supports that meet their unique cultural needs. These supports could include healing circles, drum making workshops, language revitalization coaching and more. Creating a workplace that values holistic wellness will help with retention.
Employers should also take steps to create a truly inclusive, toxic-free work environment. We encourage employers to establish clear guidelines and explicit consequences for anti-Indigenous racist remarks and behaviour, vigilantly monitor their workplace for racist acts or comments, and when spotted, quickly shut down racist behaviour and impose consequences.
Advancing Reconciliation in the workplace is an ongoing process. The Province’s action plan focuses on public sector employers but all employers in BC are responsible for ensuring that their hiring, retention and advancement policies and practices respect the rights and freedoms of Indigenous peoples.
BC Ministry of Indigenous Relations and Reconciliation, Reconciliation Transformation and Strategies Division. (2022, March 30). Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples Act Action Plan.
Chiang, C. (2020, May 22). Employment rate in B.C. First Nations communities higher than other western provinces. [Blog post]. Business in Vancouver.
Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples Act, SBC 2019, c. 44
UN General Assembly. (2007, October 2). United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples : resolution / adopted by the General Assembly, A/RES/61/295.