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Building an Indigenous Employee Experience

The call for Canadian employers to bring Indigenous values and experience into workplace culture has gone unanswered for a long time. In fact, many Canadian employers are still stuck as to how to answer this call. But, it is one of the most critical components of an undeniable human rights crisis that is happening inside Canada, right now. One way Canadian businesses and employers can contribute to our national healing and quest for Truth and Reconciliation is to embed Indigenous Ways of Working within their organization.

This is not about rattling off a Land Acknowledgement before your AGM. To be clear: that needs to be part of it, but bringing Indigenous Ways of Working into our Canadian workplaces is a much more involved journey that requires intentionality, vulnerability, a willingness to engage in difficult conversation and really drive change, when necessary.

What are Indigenous Ways of Working?

Our institutions were set up by White settlers, starting all the way back in the 1600s. Most Canadian organizations and institutions where not built on Indigenous values or ways of life. Our corporations often using structures and processes that are decidedly NOT aligned to the things that made Indigenous societies so successful, before North America was colonized.

Indigenous Ways of Working means bringing more ancestral knowledge into our institutions and corporations and finding ways to connect with Indigenous Canadians, in ways that feel meaningful and safe. According to a survey of more than 500 medium and large businesses, 85 percent of corporate Canada can be described as disengaged — unaware of local Indigenous communities or their potential to address labour and business needs. (Researching Indigenous Partnerships: An Assessment of Corporate-Indigenous Relation, 2017).

There are a few important principles to keep in mind when you embark on the journey to create an Indigenous employee experience.

  • Decolonize Human Resources - This requires us, as HR professionals, to think differently about how we create the employee experience. Focus less on structure and integration and more about empowering employees to be co-creators.

  • Indigenous Inclusion is Not the Goal - Inclusion places the burden on Indigenous people to integrate and feel they belong. Indigenization is the practice of deconstructing people practices and rebuilding them with Indigenous characteristics.

  • Get Comfortable Being Uncomfortable - Capitalism is not an Indigenous practice. We need to dismantle colonial drivers of strategy and replace them with new ones, rooted in human connection and social entrepreneurship.

  • What is Right for Indigenous People is Right for all People - Let's move past seeing people as cogs or tools and create value-based frameworks that help enable everyone to use their gifts to contribute to collective success.

How do employers get started on this journey?

The first step is to understand the landscape within your organization and where there are opportunities to strengthen the Indigenous experience. Gather a council of employees, leaders and representatives from across your business to conduct internal research. Review employee survey data and answer the questions for yourselves, first - What does it feel like to be an Indigenous employee at our organization? Are we doing enough to connect with members of the Canadian workforce who identify as First Nation and Indigenous?

You cannot know how to move forward unless you are willing to accept and work with the reality of your current experience. This process may surface some hard truths, and it will definitely require you to open the floor to perspectives from across the organization that will challenge you and make you feel uncomfortable. Stay with it.

Once you understand the landscape internally, engage with leaders from Indigenous communities. Find subject matter experts inside your industry and out of it, who have direct experience working in this space and hold knowledge about Indigenous ways of life. Seek this counsel throughout the journey and make sure you are continually inviting diverse perspectives to the table as you create a plan to build and Indigenous employee experience and span the gaps in your organization.

What could this look like at my organization?

There are many opportunities to revisit and re-evaluate our traditional structures and processes with an Indigenous lens. Here are some examples of initiatives and tactics you could undertake within your company, once you have done the discovery and sharing necessary to uncover your unique path:

Candidate Experience

  • Re-create job postings & job descriptions with Indigenous lens and way of sharing

  • Examine current-state requirements in job descriptions - is there a way to open the door for Indigenous talent pools?

  • Audit and enhance the holistic recruitment process with Indigeneity at the centre. Seek to gain an understanding of what an First Nation process would look at feel like.

    • Example: Use language in interviews that asks employee to share their gifts and acknowledge all the different ways a candidate could do that.

  • Work with Hiring Manager on how to integrate Indigenous ways of knowing, language and practice into their candidate management techniques.

Community Outreach

  • Identify at least one Indigenous organization to partner with (ie. Indspire, Native Women's Association of Canada)


  • Integrate Indigenous Ways of Working into your onboarding experience.

This company did an incredible job of embedding Indigenous ways of knowing in their onboarding experience to explain a core part of their culture - allyship.

Growth & Advancement

  • Analyze career progression at your organization with an Indigenous lens.

  • Revisit all succession planning with the intention of identifying future Indigenous leaders in your organization.

Employee Engagement

  • Deploy an ERG (or equivalent) for Indigenous Belonging at Work.

  • Launch employee listening mechanisms designed to gain insight from an employee perspective on what it means to be Indigenous at your organization.

Future Indigenous Leaders

  • Create opportunities for Indigenous mentorship and coaching within your organization.

Embed Indigenous Belonging in Culture

  • Focus on internal development initiatives that educate and shed light on Indigenous Ways of Working.

Educate & Activate Allies

  • Coaching and education is paramount - develop learning opportunities for employees and leaders.

  • Work toward a widespread understanding of Canadian Indigeneity and what it means to 'decolonize our workplaces'

Its critical to understand that thing journey is not just the province of your inclusion & diversity team. It's everyone's responsibility: Realize the benefits of an Indigenous employee experience by embedding belonging into work practices, and behaviours and ensuring accountability throughout the organization. It's also critical to honour the truth of your organization. Don’t copy what other companies are doing to achieve belonging. Envision a future state that is reflective of your organization’s needs by listening to and engaging employees.


We are on the traditional territory of many nations including the Mississaugas of the Credit, the Anishnabeg, the Chippewa, the Haudenosaunee and the Wendat peoples and is now home to many diverse First Nations, Inuit and Métis peoples.

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