Recruiting, Retaining, and Supporting the Advancement of Indigenous People

Author(s): Chevon Wells

We are honored to share this Spotlight from our colleague Chevon LaForme (Wells) where she shares her thoughts on recruiting, retaining, and supporting the advancement of Indigenous people.

Chevon has ancestry with ties to Anishinaabe – Mississaugas of the Credit First Nation and Kanyen'kehà:ka (Mohawk – Bear Clan), Six Nations of the Grand River, and is white.

She was born and raised in London, Ontario, which is the traditional territory of the Anishinaabeg, Haudenosaunee, Attawandaron (Neutral), and Wendat peoples. This territory is covered by the Upper Canada Treaties.

Chevon works in the Finance department of Info-Tech Research Group, of which McLean & Company is a division.

There is minimal Indigenous representation in the workforce due to the misinformation, misunderstanding, and general lack of knowledge about Indigenous peoples in Canada.

Hiring Indigenous talent has benefits, but certain practices need to be acknowledged and addressed to recruit and retain Indigenous talent. To achieve greater representation of Indigenous talent within the Canadian workforce requires an examination of the current statistics measuring Indigenous employment in Canada. Employers must recognize the benefits of hiring Indigenous talent and establish ways to respect and ultimately attract Indigenous talent. Two strategies to attract Indigenous talent are to recognize cultural differences that exist in the current traditional colonial interview processes and to focus on retaining and advancing Indigenous employees.

In 2016, Statistics Canada reported that there were 1.7 million Indigenous people living in Canada, which represents 4.9% of the population. More than a quarter of a million First Nations people (aged 25 to 54) lived off the reserve in 2017. Within this group the employment rate was 66.7%, with men more likely to be employed than women. The average total income of Indigenous people was 75% of the average total income of non-Indigenous people in 2015 – that is a 25% gap. Ten years prior it was a 27% gap. Indigenous women’s incomes were 55% of that of non-Indigenous men – that is a 45% gap. Living with low income is much more prevalent among Indigenous people: 23.6% of Indigenous people live in low-income households, compared to 13.8% of non-Indigenous people.

Hiring Indigenous talent brings many benefits for the public and private sectors. All organizations can benefit in several ways from hiring Indigenous people as well; these benefits include, but are not limited to:

  • Building relationships with local Indigenous communities.
  • Investing in Indigenous people, which is investing in Canada’s future and prosperity.
  • Contributing to reconciliation and improving inclusiveness for Indigenous people in the workforce.
  • All-around economic benefits for businesses and communities – more local employment means more disposable income.
  • Increased client approval as a result of showing corporate social responsibility.
  • Indigenous employees who have positive experiences in work environments where they feel included and valued are more likely to promote a similar career path to others.
  • New market opportunities through increased exposure to Indigenous clientele.

(Source: Indigenous Corporate Training Inc., 2012).

When attracting Indigenous talent, there are some disconnects that need to be addressed to close the gap between Indigenous people and settlers and pave the way for lasting relationships.

A crucial first step a business can take to show respect for and acknowledgment of Indigenous peoples is including a land acknowledgment on their websites for clients (external) and in company meetings for employees (internal).Land acknowledgments can help redefine how settlers place themselves in relation to First Nations, Inuit, and Métis people, which could be a useful tool for HR departments aiming to build more inclusive work environments. It is important to remember that land acknowledgments should be conducted in a meaningful way and should not come across as just reading from a script. Acknowledgments should be followed with actions and be presented genuinely and authentically with integrity and respect.

Cultural awareness training for employees not only contributes to truth and reconciliation but also gives leaders and managers the information and understanding they need when communicating with and hiring Indigenous talent. Keep in mind that Indigenous people and communities are still healing at different paces depending on each person’s or community’s experiences with various issues around land, treaties, and systemic racism. Therefore, Indigenous people’s feelings about reconciliation, land acknowledgments, and sharing of knowledge can vary widely depending on who you are engaging with and how you engage.

Understanding cultural differences between Indigenous peoples and colonial society can help businesses identify some of the traditional colonial interview processes that impede the Indigenous candidates being interviewed. Here are basic Indigenous cultural differences and guidelines identified by

  • Community is first for all values in Indigenous communities.
  • Oral, or spoken word, is preferred over print.
  • Goals are met with patience.
  • Work is often motivated by a group need because value is emphasized through community.
  • Silences are acceptable and soft-spoken words carry the farthest.
  • Listening skills are prized.
  • Nodding signifies understanding and not necessarily agreement.
  • Group praise over individual praise holds higher value. also provides assessment guidelines:

  • Understand that some evaluation tools can be biased and penalize Indigenous candidates based on cultural grounds.
  • Indigenous people are often reserved.
  • Indigenous people may prefer to listen and learn in some situations as opposed to displaying their talents.
  • Be aware that many Indigenous people believe it is distasteful to focus on themselves, so they will speak about group accomplishments instead of individual accomplishments.

Cultural competency training for those that are interviewing Indigenous candidates can go a long way in helping those conducting the interview understand. Traditional interview processes are based on “selling yourself.” Humility, which is the opposite of selling yourself, is one of the core values of Indigenous people (

Retention and advancement of Indigenous talent can be accomplished by showing understanding and respect for cultural differences. Employees leave organizations mainly because of bosses – often the relationship with an immediate supervisor will determine how long the employee will remain in a position. When Indigenous employees do not feel comfortable, valued, or respected in the workplace, many times they will remain in the position because of pay and security but may feel demonized or trapped, and that may come across in the employees’ work.

Establish best practices in human resources policies by:

  • Introducing Indigenous cultural sensitivity and competencies training.
  • Establishing an Indigenous human resources person.
  • Reviewing job postings and descriptions to ensure that value is placed on knowledge and experience of the local Indigenous culture and language, which may involve creating new job categories.

Build and support existing Indigenous workforces by:

  • Establishing an Indigenous career development program with local communities and Indigenous youth programs.
  • Creating leadership training programs for Indigenous employees.
  • Hiring Indigenous people in leadership positions such as manager roles.
  • When using employee assistance programs, ensuring that there are Indigenous-specific cultural options.
  • Acknowledging the past and ongoing trauma and the effects that it may have on employees.
  • Understanding what the Truth and Reconciliation Commission (TRC) is, what it is about, and what the 94 calls to actions are.

Be culturally accommodating by:

  • Providing a space or allowing time for cultural gathering, quiet time, and spiritual reflection (for example, smudging).
  • Acknowledging and understanding the different cultural expectation for bereavement leave for extended family members and educating managers on these situations.
  • Acknowledging and educating people on Residential School Day on September 30 each year.
  • Acknowledging treaty week in Canada, which is the first week of November.
  • Considering having National Indigenous Peoples Day (June 21) as a company holiday or letting Indigenous employees have it off for cultural reasons. Summer solstice (June 21) was chosen as National Indigenous Peoples Day because of the cultural significance and sacredness.
    • The federal government recognizes many statutory holidays but not National Indigenous Peoples Day.
    • The Northwest Territories (NWT) has celebrated National Indigenous Peoples Day as a statutory holiday since 2001, and Yukon has since 2017.
    • The eightieth item of the TRC’s 94 calls to action, which came out in 2015, calls for the federal government to establish a statutory holiday. As stated from the report:
      80. We call upon the federal government, in collaboration with Aboriginal peoples, to establish, as a statutory holiday, a National Day for Truth and Reconciliation to honour Survivors, their families, and communities, and ensure that public commemoration of the history and legacy of residential schools remains a vital component of the reconciliation process. ” (Truth and Reconciliation Commission of Canada, 2015).
      The federal government has established a statutory holiday for federal employees on September 30 as a day to mourn the history of residential schools, but June 21 should be a separate holiday for Indigenous people to celebrate their culture.

Communities are stronger together through cohesive relationships. Cohesive relationships are built on trust and truth. The TRC speaks directly to the roles of corporate Canada to assist in reconciliation. Call to action 92 urges Canadian companies to embrace the United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous People (UNDRIP) as a reconciliation framework in the workplace. This means obtaining informed consent from Indigenous peoples before going ahead with activities on their lands. This also means ensuring Indigenous people have equal opportunities for jobs, training, and advancement and ensuring non-Indigenous management and employees are educated on Indigenous history and rights. Companies owned by Indigenous or non-Indigenous people, as well as investors who are Indigenous or not, can demonstrate support by expressing their belief that if Canadian businesses play a part in the reconciliation process, both the business and Canadian economy will be stronger, more productive, and more prosperous.

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