Truth & Reconciliation Day
Every year on September 30, we honour survivors of Canada’s residential school system. This date was chosen because it was historically the date Indigenous children were forcibly removed from their homes to attend government-sanctioned schools.
Even though reconciliation talks took place as early as 1998, Canada enacted this date in 2021 as a direct result of over 1,000 unmarked graves unearthed of residential school children.
But more needs to be done. Residential schools were created to assimilate Indigenous children into Canadian culture and to erase their local culture and language using punishment. Because underlying racism created institutions like residential schools, it is a systemic problem that touches everyone involved from the bottom to the top.
Indigenous Peoples have lived here for over 10,000 years, long before Canada existed, with some documented as far back as 14,000 years. For reconciliation to happen, some remedies need to occur to make up for the atrocities committed against Indigenous Peoples in the past, which still occur to this day. Mostly from the government and church, but also the business community.
The Truth & Reconciliation Commission’s 94 Calls to Action spell out exactly what is needed for us to move forward from this horrible past. With 93 of those calls being towards the government or church, businesses and career professionals can still concern themselves with Call 92.
“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. This would include, but not be limited to the following:
i. Commit to meaningful consultation, building respectful relationships, and obtaining the free, prior, and informed consent of Indigenous Peoples before proceeding with economic development projects.
ii. Ensure that Indigenous Peoples have equitable access to jobs, training, and education opportunities in the corporate sector and that Indigenous communities gain long-term sustainable benefits from economic development projects.
iii. Provide education for management and staff on the history of Indigenous Peoples, including the history and legacy of residential schools, the United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples, Treaties and Aboriginal rights, Indigenous law, and Aboriginal-Crown relations. This will require skills-based training in intercultural competency, conflict resolution, human rights, and anti-racism.”
Our Part in Reconciliation
While most of the 94 calls are to the government, some people might wonder what they can do to help. Call 92 is an opportunity for everyone, whether you have a corporation or just work for one, to contribute to reconciliation – and learn about culture rooted in nature simultaneously.
The Reconciliation Process
We’re accountants, not politicians. In this sense, things are a little simpler when it comes to reconciliation. As accountants, we’re used to reconciling numbers, not groups of people and countries. People are much more complex than numbers because of history and emotions.
But is the process not the same?
When an accountant reconciles two sets of numbers, we look at each number on each set of books, compare, and line them up. Anything out of place tells us what we need to change or fix. And regarding this land’s history, there are several discrepancies to fix.
A good example of a typical reconciliation we deal with as accountants are bank reconciliation. The bank statement says the chequing balance was $10,000 on September 30, while the books say it was $7,010 on that day.
What’s going on? This is similar to reconciling differences between people and groups, and organizations. One group says life’s fair for everyone, another group shows events from the past that prove this isn’t true.
How do we reconcile that? The first thing is both groups need to agree on what happened. From there, decide what would make things right for all the wrong that has happened in the past. And finally, provide the agreed-upon remedy. In the case of Canada, maybe stop taking more land from Indigenous Peoples for oil, mining, and roadway development.
For a bank reconciliation, the remedy is updating the transaction figures in the books or, worst case scenario, calling the bank for a statement amendment. With nations and political organizations, it’s far bigger and far more complex than a bank reconciliation because the history is so personal.
How do you completely correct the history of a country, and how do you make up for genocide? Would an apology be enough if someone took your child from your home?
What You Can Do
Call 92 clearly spells out what businesses can do. If you’re a small business owner and are hiring employees, give an equal chance to Indigenous applicants. If you’re a manager with a corporation, read the United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples and update your corporate policies accordingly. If you’re just a career pro working at a company, educate yourself and your colleagues about Indigenous issues and the proper language to be used when working with Indigenous Peoples.
The least anyone can do is learn, absorb, and change how you look at the situation. You can’t change what everyone else is doing, and anyone who has ever sent an email or a letter to the government knows what the crickets sound like in reply. It’s not necessarily their fault, a big ship takes time to change course. But that’s no excuse to let it go on for decades on end either. But you can change what you yourself are doing, and learning is the first step.
Being educated on the truth about Indigenous Peoples everywhere in the world will help you understand the problem. What happened in Canada is not an isolated incident. This is the first step toward reconciliation. And it makes sense for your business, too, because understanding widens your circle and group of potential new clients and businesses.
The land the dominion of Canada is located on belongs to Indigenous Peoples first. And they don’t like some of the things that have been done and are still being done to their land. This needs to be understood and accepted.
Change What You Can
The thing with change is it’s contagious. If one small business starts writing its marketing copy with Indigenous Peoples in mind, others may do the same. The changes spread like wildfire. And suddenly, the government is doing more because the people are doing more; that’s how that works. They want to keep their jobs, and they’ll do whatever you do to make sure you vote for them.
If you’re unhappy with how the government reconciles things, look at yourself and ask what you can change. You can only ever change yourself. Trying to change the world doesn’t work.
What Indigenous Business Owners Say
We asked Karen Bisson of Turtle Lodge Trading Post Inc. (TLTP) in Ontario what other small corporations like ours can do to encourage and achieve reconciliation.
She replied, “To help with reconciliation, corporations and small businesses can start by educating their staff on the true history of Indigenous Peoples, the history that the founders of Canada tried to erase but are still legally bound to. It is a history of broken promises and terrible crimes as horrific in some cases as those committed by Hitler’s regime.
“Many people simply cannot face that such a thing is true about our beautiful country, but it is. The evidence is overwhelming. Our current government has finally admitted and apologized for its part. And so face it, we all must if we are ever to move forward, heal and become whole again.
“You can help by inviting authentic Elders and Knowledge Keepers to come and share, support and afford them the same honour and respect for their time and precious knowledge as you would anyone else you hire to provide unique educational opportunities for your staff. And then, most importantly, act on that knowledge. Take the time to truly understand the plight of our First Peoples and why so many are broken, sick and in need of healing now. Be compassionate, and find respectful ways of supporting that healing process.
“From an economic perspective, support Indigenous businesses and all ventures that encourage reconciliation with both the Indigenous and the health of the planet we call Mother Earth, because to us, we are all one and the same. Steer your company towards sustainable ways of living in harmony with Mother Earth. Find ways of generating revenue that will help heal instead of doing harm.
“These are the paths towards a true and lasting reconciliation.”
Turtle Lodge’s About page provides an even deeper understanding of what businesses can do. “Traditionally, sacred medicines are gifted, traded, grown, or harvested from the wild. However, in today’s society, it is not always practical or possible to honour the medicines in exactly those ways, especially for folks living in cities.
“TLTP was born from necessity. We made it our mission to help bring high-quality, ethically sourced medicines for ceremonial use to folks who cannot get out on the land to grow or harvest their own. So many people have been disconnected from these precious roots. So much knowledge has been lost due to colonization. We felt it was vitally important to do whatever we could to help people get reconnected and begin the process of healing. In the process, we have learned so much and met so many amazing people along the trail.
“This business supports us so that we can continue to support the community in various ways. We are a for-profit business by legal definition because we need to make a living and keep a roof over our heads. But we are deeply committed to the people and involved in various community endeavours, so supporting us means you are also supporting the People.”