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It’s Canada’s time of reckoning for our treatment of Indigenous peoples and it’s vital that Canadian workplaces look inward and reflect on how institutions and employees can do better by Indigenous allies. 

At Media Profile, we are honoured to work with many Indigenous clients. Growing our understanding and constantly improving our diversity and inclusion practices are priorities for us. 

As part of this process, all Media Profile employees recently participated in a training session with Michael Etherington. Michael is an Indigenous relations consultant and cross-cultural trainer who has been a leading voice in advising public and private organizations on how to work more effectively with Indigenous peoples. 

With knowledge rooted in his Omushkego-Cree heritage from James Bay, Ontario and Fort Albany First Nation, Michael focuses on relationship building, promoting awareness and cultivating sensitivity in his training sessions.

Michael shared insights far beyond what can be captured in a short blog, but I’ve extracted a few of the key points from his program. If you’re interested in learning more or booking training for your organization, you can contact Michael directly through his website.

Personal accountability

An organization is only as effective as its employees, therefore, as a first step towards truth and reconciliation at an institutional level, it’s important for individuals to take personal action. Michael explained one of the central ways to do this is by building Indigenous cultural competency, referring to an effort to recognize, work to understand and appreciate the values, traditions and belief systems of Indigenous peoples.

Understanding that everyone is at a different point in the learning process, Michael started by explaining some of the most foundational elements of the history and diverse cultures of Indigenous peoples in Canada.

For example, Michael covered how The Canadian Constitution Act 1982 section 35 (1) recognizes and affirms Aboriginal and Treaty rights, and recognizes First Nations, Métis and Inuit as the three distinct groups. He explained how these terms, themselves, are colonial constructs, and when possible, it’s best to be specific when referring to a community.

Michael noted that a key part of personal accountability is cultural humility. This involves making a commitment to continually explore and question our own values and cultural identities and how they’ve been shaped by society. We should also be questioning how our identities impact our beliefs, as well as the stereotypes and biases we hold. This isn’t an easy process – but it’s important.

A few ways to start doing this work on a personal level include seeking out learning materials and engaging with Indigenous peoples, while deferring to their expertise on topics most impacting them. Institutionally, leadership can support this process by offering development resources, for example, by inviting experts like Michael to run Indigenous Cultural Awareness training for staff and leadership.

Meaningful dialogue and engagement

Another key takeaway from Michael’s session is the fundamental need to ensure that those involved in consultation discussions have the authority to accommodate the concerns raised by Indigenous groups.

Changes in the workplace or work done on behalf of an Indigenous body or individual(s) should always have input from representatives of that community. By assuming what would be best for that group or individual, autonomy and voice are being ignored. Meaningful dialogue and consultation is non-negotiable.

Part of this is recognizing and respecting cross cultural dynamics and differences, for example, by prioritizing that employees learn appropriate, effective ways to communicate with people from different cultural backgrounds. Different customs lead to different experiences and priorities when it comes to communication, and especially in a field like PR, respecting those cultural differences is key. In other words, “my way or the highway,” isn’t the most fruitful approach.

Michael noted that it’s inevitable that cultural misunderstandings and differences of opinion will happen, and that’s okay – what’s important is being flexible and willing to learn and adapt.

Structural shifts

Michael explained while every business will have different paths towards reconciliation, there are some immediate steps organizations can take to promote effective structural change.

Examples of structural changes might include:

  • Addressing discriminatory practices, bias and racism, while improving cultural competence for all employees

  • Supporting, engaging and communicating with Indigenous employees and partners

  • Recognizing Indigenous Peoples’ talents and promoting Indigenous advancement within the organization

  • Putting clear and actionable Indigenous engagement plans into place

  • Working with post-secondary institutions in your field of work to decolonize course curriculums

One of Michael’s favourite quotes, which succinctly captures the thread weaving through these three pillars is: “The truth is hard. Reconciliation is harder,” spoken by The Honourable Murray Sinclair, a former member of the Canadian Senate and Ojibwe lawyer who served as chairman of the Truth and Reconciliation Commission.

Having Michael speak with us was an honour and a privilege. He helped foster a safe space for all Media Profile employees to open up, engage, reflect and ask questions. His session sparked important conversations that we will continue to have as we embark on this journey together.

Victoria Belton

Destigmatizing mental health at Media Profile
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