How to Honour Truth and Reconciliation during Indigenous History Month (and Every Month)
Indigenous History Month, like Pride Month or International Women’s Day, is a time of reflection and learning. But it’s also not something we can sit back, passively observe, and feel our job is done. As a workplace design consultant and founder of Bloom, a lot of business executives privately share they’d like to do more but don’t know where to start. In response to those comments, I want to use this blog post to amplify what Indigenous communities have asked non-Indigenous people to do. While each ask is simple, they are not simplistic.
As non-Indigenous people, we have the hard task of unlearning generations of massaged truths and outright lies to uncover the real truth, so we can properly begin and continue reconciliation.
Where to start: Learn what really happened
The Canadian (and US) school systems heavily cleansed Indigenous history. If Indigenous history is brought up at all, white settlers are frequently painted as kind, generous traders. Similarly, Indigenous tribes are presented as passive, happy “natives” eager to trade.
The reality is unfortunately much more gruesome.
We’re learning more about this every day, particularly in Canada where the remains of 215 Indigenous children were discovered at the site of a former residential school in Kamloops, BC.
But the horror we’re seeing today is nothing compared to what went unnoticed. From settlers murdering entire Indigenous communities to “trade” their land all the way to Indigenous peoples alive today recounting the abuses suffered in the residential school system, there are a lot of facts merely swept under the rug by Western ideology.
This is not about pushing guilt or making you sad. It’s about learning the key facts to better understand why truth and reconciliation is so important. And it’s critical to learn how Indigenous peoples truly lived — in advanced communities and societies that were ripped from them due to settler colonialism.
To get started, here are a couple of resources:
- UBC’s (free) online Indigenous history course
- The University of Alberta’s “Indigenous Canada” course
- IndigeNews’ guide to what non-Indigenous people can do in the wake of the Kamloops residential school news
Continue learning: Recognize the ongoing conversations
After learning some of the key facts of how Indigenous peoples truly lived and were treated, bring your conversations to the present day. For example, it’s estimated that over 4,000 Indigenous children died in the residential school system, causing incalculable modern loss to the preservation of language and culture.
We also have to grapple with multiple modern-day issues directly continuing the harm that Indigenous peoples have suffered for generations:
- Some reserves still don’t have running water
- Indigenous people have incredibly high suicide rates now (despite having incredibly low suicide rates historically)
- The horrific situation of missing and murdered Indigenous women (MMIW)
- The discrimination Indigenous people face from medical professionals
Unfortunately, the list goes on.
It’s important to realize that when you learn history, you’re not learning bygone facts. You’re learning the building blocks of a metaphorical (and often literal) prison that still traps Indigenous people and decimates their health, their economic opportunity, and silences their voices.
Take Action: Support Indigenous-owned businesses
Indigenous peoples are creative entrepreneurs just like everyone else. So the final step is really quite simple: provide economic opportunities to Indigenous entrepreneurs and employees:
- Hire Indigenous peoples.
- Use Indigenous-owned companies as your suppliers and vendors.
- Purchase Indigenous-made art, clothes, furniture, and other products for your home office and beyond.
- Donate to Indigenous-led charities and nonprofits helping those who need it.
There is no one type of Indigenous entrepreneur, and you can find anything you want, from Indigenous artwork to digital media design. Don’t think that because they are Indigenous, they only do traditional creations or don’t want to participate in the broader economy. Often, it’s simply the generations of being shut out continuing to keep them out of those opportunities. If you want to help, you can seek them out.
Not sure where to start? The government of Canada built a searchable directory of validated Indigenous-owned businesses that you can start engaging with immediately. And for your personal (and corporate) donations, CanadaHelps build a searchable directory of Indigenous serving nonprofits and charities.
What Bloom is doing to learn more
We recognize that as a workplace design consultancy, we have a responsibility to create inclusive spaces for Indigenous peoples — both in our own company and with our clients. We also recognize that while we have some knowledge, we are not experts in what Indigenous peoples want or need.
The first thing we’re doing as a company is taking two courses on Indigenous history: The University of Alberta’s “Indigenous Canada” course and a course explicitly on Indigenous recruitment and retention by Indigenous Corporate Training Inc. Our goal with these two courses is to learn the basic facts — past and present — while also having specific learnings tailored to the work we do as Advisors. We’re also donating money to the Native Women’s Association of Canada to support the fantastic work they are doing in the community.
You won’t see us offering an “Indigenous inclusion workshop” because we aren’t the experts — and if we do offer that workshop in the future, it will be in partnership with an Indigenous organization. But we will ensure that we apply our learnings to everything we do. And if you want a great course on Indigenous workplace inclusion, call Indigenous Corporate Training Inc.
Stay in Bloom,
PS. Orange Shirt Day is coming up! Orange Shirt Day (September 30th) is a day when we honour the Indigenous children who were sent away to residential schools in Canada and learn more about the history of those schools. It is held annually on September 30 in Canadian communities, where people are encouraged to wear an orange shirt. It was elevated to a statutory holiday by the Canadian government in 2021.
Bloom got our shirts from Indigenous-owned Decolonial Clothing Co. 100% of proceeds will be donated to the Indian Residential School Survivor Fund. We wear orange to remember the children taken away and forced into residential schools. You can check out other options that may be better suited to you here.