How to Prevent Indigenous Discrimination in the Workplace

  • Discrimination
Olivia Cicchini

Olivia Cicchini, Employment Law Expert

(Last updated )

According to a 2022 survey, 40% of Indigenous employees in Canada reported experiencing workplace discrimination due to their Indigenous identity. For First Nations employees, this percentage was even higher, at 47%.

Additionally, another report found that 52% of Indigenous peoples surveyed felt like they had to be “on guard” at work, while about 60% felt physiologically unsafe at their workplaces.

Discrimination against Indigenous peoples has been a prevalent issue in Canadian society for centuries. Despite being the original inhabitants of this land, Indigenous peoples have faced systemic discrimination, racism, and marginalization. This has resulted in significant disparities in areas such as health, education, employment, and income between Indigenous and non-Indigenous Canadians.

Indigenous peoples experience isolation, wage gaps, and underrepresentation in the workplace. They are also frequently surrounded by managers, colleagues, and senior executives who are unfamiliar with their cultures, histories, and burdens.

As an employer, it is essential to understand the unique challenges that Indigenous peoples face and take proactive measures to prevent discrimination in the workplace. In this guide, we’ll explain what Indigenous discrimination is, examples of it in the workplace, and how to prevent it.

What is the definition of Indigenous peoples?

Canada recognizes three distinct groups of Indigenous peoples. The most prevalent group is the First Nations, a diverse community spread across Canada that identifies separately from the other two groups, the Inuit and Métis. First Nations peoples typically reside on reservations or in major towns and cities.

The Inuit are the second recognized group and consist of Indigenous peoples who live in Canada’s northern territories and Arctic regions of certain provinces, including northern Saskatchewan, British Columbia, and Manitoba.

The third group, known as the Métis, are individuals of mixed Indigenous and European ancestry who identify with the distinct Métis culture and heritage and are recognized by the Métis Nation.

What constitutes Indigenous discrimination in Canada?

Indigenous discrimination is when an individual or group is treated differently because of their Indigenous background. Discrimination towards Indigenous peoples often falls under the following protected grounds listed in the applicable human rights legislation:

  • Ancestry
  • Citizenship
  • Colour
  • Creed (including Indigenous spiritual practices)
  • Race
  • Ethnic origin
  • Place of origin

What is the history of Indigenous discrimination in Canada?

To prevent discrimination against Indigenous peoples, it is crucial to understand the history of colonization and its impact on Indigenous communities. Canada’s colonial history includes the forced removal of Indigenous children from their families and communities to attend residential schools, where they were subject to physical, emotional, and sexual abuse.

This traumatic experience has resulted in intergenerational trauma and has significantly impacted Indigenous peoples’ mental health and well-being. As an employer, it is essential to acknowledge and understand the impact of Canada’s colonial history on Indigenous peoples and their communities.

What are the effects of discrimination against Indigenous peoples in the workplace?

Discrimination against Indigenous peoples in the workplace can have profound and long-lasting effects. It can lead to underrepresentation, isolation, and feelings of being undervalued, which can contribute to a lack of belonging and decreased willingness to speak up about concerns.

Indigenous employees may experience discrimination in the form of overt hostility or more subtle biases, such as being overlooked for promotions or opportunities for professional growth. This can ultimately result in a hostile work environment that affects not only Indigenous employees but also the organization as a whole. It is essential to recognize and address discrimination against Indigenous peoples in the workplace to foster a more inclusive and equitable work environment and ensure the well-being of all employees.

Is Indigenous discrimination federally or provincially regulated?

Indigenous discrimination in Canada is protected under human rights legislation. Each province has their own established human rights legislation. For example, human rights protections for provincially regulated employees in Ontario are provided under the Ontario Human Rights Code. Other provinces include:

  • Human Rights Code of British Columbia.
  • Alberta Human Rights Act.
  • The Human Rights Code of Manitoba.
  • The Saskatchewan Human Rights Code.
  • New Brunswick Human Rights Act.
  • Nova Scotia Human Rights Act.
  • Newfoundland & Labrador Human Rights Act.

The Canadian Human Rights Act provides human rights protection from discrimination for federally regulated employees. Some examples of federally regulated workplaces are certain First Nation bands or governments, air transportation, and railway services.

There is a general misconception that Indigenous peoples are only protected under federal jurisdiction. However, the Courts have determined that employment matters are provincially regulated. Unless the company has an inherent functional nature that is Indigenous-focused and located on native reservations.

How can employers prevent Indigenous discrimination at work?

Create an inclusive workplace culture

Creating an inclusive workplace culture is essential to preventing discrimination against Indigenous peoples. Employers should ensure that their policies and practices are inclusive and respectful of Indigenous cultures and traditions. This includes providing opportunities for Indigenous employees to share their cultural knowledge and promoting Indigenous culture in the workplace. Employers can also consider implementing traditional practices, such as smudging and drumming, to create a welcoming and inclusive environment.

Provide cultural sensitivity training

Providing cultural sensitivity training to employees is an effective way to prevent discrimination in the workplace. This training should focus on the history of Indigenous peoples in Canada, cultural awareness, and sensitivity to Indigenous traditions and values. Employees should also be educated on the impact of colonization and residential schools on Indigenous communities. Cultural sensitivity training can help employees understand and appreciate Indigenous cultures and reduce the likelihood of discriminatory attitudes and behaviours.

Recruit and retain Indigenous employees

Recruiting and retaining Indigenous employees is an essential part of preventing discrimination in the workplace. You should actively seek out Indigenous candidates and provide opportunities for career advancement and professional development. Employers can also establish partnerships with Indigenous organizations and communities to recruit and retain Indigenous employees. By hiring Indigenous employees, employers can benefit from their unique skills, knowledge, and perspectives while creating a diverse and inclusive workplace.

Provide accommodations for Indigenous employees

Employers should also provide accommodations for Indigenous employees to ensure they can fully participate in the workplace. This includes accommodating Indigenous employees’ cultural and spiritual practices, such as attending ceremonies and events. Employers should also provide accommodations for employees with disabilities. Providing accommodations demonstrates an employer’s commitment to creating an inclusive workplace where all employees can thrive.

Recognize the National Day for Truth and Reconciliation

As an employer in Canada, it is essential to acknowledge the country’s history of colonialism and the harm inflicted on Indigenous peoples. One way to demonstrate your commitment to reconciliation and preventing discrimination against Indigenous peoples in the workplace is to recognize the National Day of Truth and Reconciliation holiday. This holiday is an opportunity for all Canadians to reflect on the legacy of residential schools and the ongoing effects of colonialism on Indigenous peoples.

The National Day for Truth and Reconciliation in Canada is observed on September 30 in Canada and is a statutory holiday for federally regulated public and private sector employees. This means all federally regulated employees (public services, banks, airlines, and postal services) get paid time off work on this day every year. For provincially-regulated companies, some provinces have made this a stat holiday, while others have not. If it is not mandatory in your province you still have the option of recognizing this day.

It is important to remember that reconciliation is an ongoing process, and small actions like recognizing this holiday can have a significant impact on fostering a more equitable and just society.

Do you need advice updating your policies regarding discrimination?

It is important to remember the history of Indigenous peoples in Canada. It’s also important that all non-Indigenous Canadians know that they have a role to play in the reconciliation process. It is your responsibility as an employer to foster inclusion for all your employees to prevent discrimination in your workplace.

Preventing discrimination against Indigenous peoples in the workplace requires a commitment to creating an inclusive workplace culture and providing cultural sensitivity training. Employers should also actively recruit and retain Indigenous employees, provide accommodations for Indigenous employees, and understand the history of Indigenous peoples in Canada. By taking proactive measures to prevent discrimination, employers can create a workplace that is respectful, inclusive, and welcoming to all employees.

If you need assistance with addressing indigenous discrimination in the workplace or guidance on implementing an anti-discrimination policy, Peninsula’s services allow you to receive quality advice on any employment issues you may have. Contact us at 1 (833) 247-3652 to speak with one of our experts today.

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