to address harassment, bullying and discrimination

 with Stephen Hammond


In the early 1980s, my sister Sharon, while studying at the University of Winnipeg, participated in an exercise that examined the barriers Indigenous Canadians face in their search for housing. Two couples would go looking to rent an apartment - one couple Indigenous, and the other (including my sister), non-Indigenous. 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 Indigenous couple always arriving first. Every time (with one exception), the Indigenous couple was told the apartment was no longer available, while every time without exception, the non-Indigenous couple was offered the apartment. (Remember the non-Indigenous couple applied and were accepted AFTER  the Indigenous couple was told it was already taken.)


While the Indigenous couple expected these results, it had a personal effect. 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 Indigenous Canadians 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, Irene Khan, the head of Amnesty International, 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 Indigenous 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."


Interestingly enough, in September 2017, Prime Minister Justin Trudeau addressed the United Nations General Assembly in New York, being blunt about the living conditions of many Indigenous Canadians. He took flak for speaking the truth, but tragically, it was just that – the truth.


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 Indigenous population, made up of First Nations, Inuit and Metis. While they comprise a small percentage of the population, 4.9% as of 2016, Indigenous people will continue to grow as a percentage of the population.  And in some provinces, such as Saskatchewan and Manitoba, Indigenous people make up a much larger percentage of the population.  In 2016 Indigenous Manitobans made up 18% of that province's population and it is estimated to be 21% by 2031.


What is your workplace doing to attract and retain Indigenous 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 Indigenous employees? Is there a record of employees feeling comfortable? There are still many workplaces where there are no Indigenous employees or no one knows the Indigenous 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 Indigenous 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 all employees. There are still so many negative stereotypes about Indigenous 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. Sure, there are differences between Indigenous cultures and non-Indigenous cultures, but when it comes to employment practices, there aren’t that many. 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 #24 of 26 BI-WEEKLY TIPS for managers and supervisors. 
It is available on a subscription basis.

Click on the "STORE" link in the top menu for more information.