Chapter 4: Indigenous Peoples, Communities, and Cultural Safety
Indigenous Peoples are resilient. Though they have experienced genocide, cultural annihilation, language loss, forced displacement, intentional infection, residential schools, incarceration, murder, abduction, and countless other unforgiveable tragedies as colonized subjects, it is important to see them as more than just Canada’s victims but survivors, as well. Indigenous people are strong advocates for change who resist and persist despite the systemic oppression that came to them with Canadian settler-colonialism.
Colonization is not just a historical event in Canadian history. The impacts of colonialism continue. Thanks to the ceaseless advocacy of residential school survivors and their families, the Canadian government has taken some action and is moving toward reconciliation. Many survivors of residential schools are still alive and experiencing the impact of their traumatic experiences which also includes intergenerational trauma. The largest class action settlement in history were a result of these efforts, which included approximately 86,000 Indigenous people. The Indian Residential Schools Settlement Agreement included a multi-billion-dollar compensation package, processes for claim of sexual or serious physical abuse, commemoration activities, healing measures, and the establishment of the Truth and Reconciliation Commission (Government of Canada, 2019). The Canadian government also publicly apologized for residential schools and their effects on Indigenous people, families, communities, and Nations. You can watch this important speech: Canadian Federal Government Apology to First Nations.
The Truth and Reconciliation Commission was formed in 2008 to document the truth of people impacted by residential schools and then inform all Canadians of their findings. They listened to the stories of people impacted by the experience, gathering over 7000 impact statements and over 5 million government and church documents (Moran, 2021). These testimonies helped to demonstrated the ways that residential schools contributed to cultural genocide and intergenerational trauma for families whose parents and grandparents suffered in residential schools. One of the best-known results of the Truth and Reconciliation Commission was its final report, which included recommendations in the form of 94 calls to action. These actions were identified as steps we could all participate in to engage in reconciliation between Canadians and Indigenous peoples (Government of Canada, 2020).
Reconciliation means taking concrete actions to positively change the relationships and experiences that Indigenous people have with Canadians. It is not enough just to apologize. Instead, we all have a role to play in regaining trust, respect and relationship Indigenous people, communities, and nations. Ry Moran, director of the National Centre for Truth and Reconciliation, offers this definition of reconciliation:
Reconciliation is a goal we can all work toward. As a work-integrated learning student, you can positively contribute to reconciliation as an individual, as a student, and as a worker. Respond to the Calls of Action by becoming informed, advocating for change, and creating cultural safety at school and work.
It is also important to understand the 2007 United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples (UNDRIP). To see how Canada is implementing the UNDRIP, watch this short video: The United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples explained.
Actions for You
- Learn more about the Indigenous communities and their history. There are a number of strategies early in this chapter that you can use to expand your knowledge.
- Advocate for change. Take an interest in Indigenous-led social justice movements starting with Idle No More.
- Call out racism and injustice when you encounter it.
- Use a Community Action Tool-Kit. Reconciliation Canada has designed Kitchen Table Dialogues for talking with friends and families as well as a Young Leaders guide to work with post-secondary student unions, associations, and clubs on campus.
Actions for Your School (TRC Call to Action 11, 16, 62 and 65)
Find out which of the following calls your own school has already responded to:
- Allocate funding for Indigenous students. This might include scholarships, bursaries, designated positions in programs for students who identify as Indigenous, or other support services to help Indigenous students achieve a post-secondary education.
- Create programs in Indigenous languages. Look to see what Indigenous language courses are offered at your school and what the requirements are to enroll.
- Integrate Indigenous knowledge and teaching methods. This can be interpreted many ways. Look for Indigenous experts, content, reading on your course outline, or in class techniques like experiential learning or learning on the land.
- Research and document reconciliation efforts. Explore how your school is engaging in research and publication related to reconciliation.
Actions for Your Workplace (TRC Call to Action 92)
Reflect on the ways that your work placement engages in culturally safe and inclusive engagement with Indigenous people and communities.
- Ask and consult before you act. This means that your workplace engages with Indigenous people as partners. This means asking for permission before your workplace impacts Indigenous land, knowledge, or economies.
- Hire and support Indigenous workers. This means that your workplace works to hire and retain Indigenous workers.
- Get training. Your workplace might start by learn more about Indigenous histories and cultures. It may also mean receive relevant training in intercultural competency, conflict resolution, human rights and anti-racism.
- Use the correct and most specific language possible when you are talking about an Indigenous person, community, or group.
- Learn about the Indigenous communities in your area.
- Engage in cultural safety by calling out acts of anti-Indigenous racism and creating a respectful and inclusive workplace.
- Reflect on your own culture, bias, and assumptions.
- Participate in reconciliation efforts at home, at school, and at work.
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Michelin, O. (2017, June 1). How to talk about Indigenous people. CBC News. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=XEzjA5RoLv0
Moran, R. (2021). Truth and reconciliation. Indigenous Peoples Atlas of Canada. https://indigenouspeoplesatlasofcanada.ca/section/truth-and-reconciliation/
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Northern Health. (2017, February 14). Cultural safety: Respect and dignity in relationships. [Video]. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=MkxcuhdgIwY&feature=youtu.be
Reconciliation Canada. (2014). Community action toolkit. https://reconciliationcanada.ca/staging/wp-content/uploads/2020/02/CommunityActionToolkit_KitchenTable_for-ind_Aug13.pdf
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Truth and Reconciliation Commission of Canada. (2015). Calls to action. https://www2.gov.bc.ca/assets/gov/british-columbians-our-governments/indigenous-people/aboriginal-peoples-documents/calls_to_action_english2.pdf
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Wilson, K. (2018). Pulling together: Foundations guide. A Guide for Indigenization of Post-Secondary Institutions. BCcampus. https://opentextbc.ca/indigenizationfoundations/
- “Canadian Federal Government Apology to First Nations” by School District 27 Residential Schools and Reconciliation is licensed under the Standard YouTube License.
- “The United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples Explained” by Department of Justice Canada is licensed under the Standard YouTube License.