National Day for Truth and Reconciliation: How to mark the occasion with your people

From decolonizing your language to understanding land acknowledgments

National Day for Truth and Reconciliation: How to mark the occasion with your people

With the National Day for Truth and Reconciliation just one week away, it’s time for HR leaders to start planning how to commemorate the occasion with their teams. Intended as a time to reflect on the past ills done to the Indigenous community in Canada, September 30 is not a celebration – it’s a day of remembrance. For employers, it’s up to you to decide if you’ll offer your people the day off of work – federal workers will be granted paid leave.

Origins of the National Day for Truth and Reconciliation

Founded off the back of Orange Shirt Day, the National Day for Truth was launched after graves containing the remains of children were found in British Columbia. Between 1863 and 1998, over 100,000 Indigenous children were taken from their families and made to attend facilities. The pain caused by these actions still runs deep through Indigenous communities – prompting a mass outcry and calls for justice.

Read more: Is it time for small businesses to adopt corporate tactics?

“This is a time to ask what reconciliation really means and what each of us can do to advance it,” says Dr Raeleen Manjak, CHRO at the City of Vernon. “The answers will be different for everyone and really, the idea is not to be told, but to understand what the Calls to Action in the Truth and Reconciliation Commission mean. It’s about finding yourself within the report and the documents and then to action that change.”

Using decolonized language

For HR leaders, the day is about more than just box-ticking and empty words. In order to make a real difference, employers need to implement authentic initiates and instigate real change in organizations. This begins, as Dr. Sarah Saska tells HRD, with examining the language you’re using in your employer policies.

“Language is incredibly important as it often frames how we think about an issue,” she says. “That’s why a pivotal part of reconciliation is fully grasping the history of colonization to better understand and acknowledge the effects of colonization that are still felt today. This extends into the language we all use and requires a commitment to using decolonizing language that is a more accurate representation of both the past and present.”

The CEO of Feminuity says employers should ensure their reconciliation efforts include using decolonized language and reflecting on how to update outdated phrases. At Feminuity they opt not to use the definitions and words the Canadian Government shares on this topic and instead use more decolonized language such as:

  • ‘Sad chapter in Canadian History’ - decolonized language: ‘the truth of what is ongoing today in the land currently referred to as Canada’
  • ‘Residential Schools’ - decolonized language: ‘extermination camps for Indigenous children and youths’

Land acknowledgments

Land acknowledgments are part of a broader commitment to the process of decolonization and reconciliation with Indigenous peoples in Canada. It’s a way to recognize the history of colonialism and the need for change in settler colonial societies. By acknowledging the traditional lands we are on, we are committing to working with Indigenous peoples in the spirit of reconciliation.

“Building land acknowledgments should start with self-reflection (Why am I doing this? What is my end goal? When will it have the most significant impact?), and an understanding that this is the start, not the end of your organization's reconciliation activities,” says Dr Saska.

When developing a land acknowledgment itself research what communities and treaties exist in your area (Whose Land and Native-Land.ca are excellent tools for this).

“Once you find the territory to acknowledge, learn how to pronounce the Indigenous territories, nations, communities, and peoples your organization is on.”

How to amplify Indigenous voices

While some employers may kid themselves into thinking there’s little to no bias prevalent in their workforce, that’s simply not the case. A study from Catalyst found that 52% of Indigenous People in Canada say they’re regularly on guard against experiences of bias at work – with women (68%) significantly more impacted than men (38%). One way of combatting this emotional tax is through promoting and amplifying Indigenous voices in your organization.

There are many ways organizations can achieve this, including;

  • A simple place to start is by using your organization's social media channels to amplify Indigenous voices
  • Sign petitions that support Indigenous communities and learn about their impact
  • Engage with Indigenous books, videos, and podcasts and share these resources with your organization to deepen your entire team's knowledge

“Once you and your team have deepened their personal and organizational learnings it’s time to consider what you can do as an organization to further learning, awareness, and understanding of Indigenous issues to participate in the truth and reconciliation process,” says Dr. Saska. “These actions may be highly personalized to your organization and should change over time as you deepen your learning and understanding of how you can actively participate in reconciliation.”

Read more: Hybrid work: How to engage a multi-generational workforce

Remember, just 39% of Indigenous employees feel psychologically safe at work. If HR leaders want to make a real change, it’s time to start putting your money where your mouths are and investing time, money, and resources into improving the working lives of Indigenous Peoples.

“Indigenous people in Canada, especially women, continue to face some of the workplace’s most entrenched hurdles, including bias and discrimination that impact their health, well-being, and ability to progress,” says Vandana Juneja, executive director at Catalyst. “Companies must take intentional action to understand the unique challenges and biases faced by Indigenous employees, and specifically how these experiences impact their work experience, to help inform solutions.”

Take the next week to plan how you’ll be commemorating the National Day for Truth – ask your people how they’d like to mark the day – and be the change you want to see.

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