to address harassment, bullying and discrimination

 with Stephen Hammond


In the early 1980s, my sister Sharon participated in an exercise that examined the barriers Aboriginals face in their search for housing, as part of a university practicum process in Winnipeg. Two couples would go looking to rent an apartment - one couple Aboriginal, and the other (including my sister), non-Aboriginal. To keep the focus away from other issues, both couples were well-dressed and portrayed themselves as married, well educated (post-secondary) and professionals.


They spent a day visiting apartment buildings with vacancies, the Aboriginal couple always arriving first. Every time (with one exception), the Aboriginal couple was told the apartment was no longer available, while every time without exception, the non-Aboriginal couple was offered the apartment.


Even the Aboriginal participants in the study were surprised by the results. They let my sister know how dejected they felt by the blatancy of the discrimination. We need to remember that it's one thing to talk about discrimination, and a whole different matter to have it thrown in your face with such certainty.


Of course, that was the 1980s. How are Canadian Aboriginals doing today? When I ask people this question, even those who initially say we've come a long way end up admitting we've got a long way to go.  Years ago the head of Amnesty International, Irene Khan was in Alberta encouraging Canadians to speak up and take action. She praised Canada for the good that has flowed from the Charter of Rights and Freedoms, however she reminded us that we shouldn't get too smug when it comes to human rights and Aboriginal people. "Canada must begin with the rights of indigenous people," she said. "Unless Canada is willing and ready to put its own house in order, it won't be in a position to promote this approach to human rights abroad."


Recently I was preparing for a presentation to people at a Canadian university. I was talking to the person involved with Aboriginal studies. In an attempt to get more First Nations students to study and to get Education degrees in particular (with a desire to work with First Nations youth in various communities), they couldn't keep up with the demand. They had plenty of spaces for students and plenty of students wanting to fill them. Just one problem. They couldn't find enough housing for the students. The university had limited housing of their own, so they worked with the community to help students live on their own or with families. But due to stereotypes, it was very hard to find people who would rent to a First Nations student. And when it came to the young men, forget it.


In all of Canada, the birth rates of all demographic groups are dropping (some staying the same for a short while, but most dropping). There is one exception and that is Canada's Aboriginal population, made up of First Nations, Inuit and Metis. While they comprise a small percentage of the population, 4.3% as of 2011, Aboriginal people will continue to grow as a percentage of the population.  And in some provinces, such as Saskatchewan and Manitoba, Aboriginals make up a a much larger percentage of the population.  In 2011 Aboriginal Manitobans made up 16.7% of that province's population and it is estimated that by 2031 it will be 21%.


What is your workplace doing to attract and retain Aboriginal employees? Is the workplace culture respectful, or will you find examples of people making jokes or continuing hurtful stereotypes? How has your track record been when you've had Aboriginal employees? Is there a record of employees feeling comfortable? There are still many workplaces where there are no Aboriginal employees or no one knows the Aboriginal heritage of these employees. So it might not seem like there's an issue. Sometimes you don't know if there's going to be an issue until an Aboriginal employee starts working with you. Let's hope it's a good experience, but you'll want to be sure. Like all examples of respecting people's human rights, it takes very little to make your workplace welcoming - but it often takes some initiative.



1). Get beyond the stereotypes - just as we should do with other employees. There are still so many negative stereotypes about Aboriginal employees, that many times when considering a candidate we may find ourselves wondering if this person will be different from the stereotypes we hold onto. Get beyond that by considering this person as you would any other.


2). Don't worry about a human rights complaint - as this works against people in many ways. When hiring a white male, no one ever thinks, "if he doesn't work out, will he run to the human rights commission?" But when it's someone else, such as a Metis candidate, you'd be surprised how often that fear goes through our heads. No one comes to a job looking to run to anyone if things go wrong - unless it's such a bad experience.


3). Be culturally sensitive, but don't go overboard - it's a balance, but not that big a deal. Sure there are differences between Aboriginal cultures and non-Aboriginal cultures, but not that many, especially when it comes to employment practices. Living in Canada, many of us are already aware of some differences, so you don't have to do a research paper. But if you want to ask some questions, or be open to requests, then you'll go a long way.

This is TIP #20 of 52 WEEKLY TIPS for managers and supervisors. 
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