If business owners and entrepreneurs are serious about working towards reconciliation with Indigenous people, then they must have an understanding that everyone at all levels has to get involved, and that no one can just sit back and hope for change.
That was the message sent to Winnipeg’s business community on Thursday, when the Honourable Murray Sinclair, and his son Dr. Niigaanwewidam James Sinclair spoke side-by-side at an event hosted by the Winnipeg Chamber of Commerce.
The luncheon featured a one-on-one conversation between the father and son, where they spoke about what all business owners and leaders in Manitoba must do if they want to see reconciliation happening in the business and corporate world and beyond.
Murray Sinclair, a former Senator and longtime advocate for Indigenous rights in Canada who served as chairman of the Indian Residential Schools Truth and Reconciliation Commission from 2009 to 2015, said that all business owners must understand that if they witness racism they can never turn a blind eye to it, even if they think they aren’t directly involved.
“The important thing for the business community to understand is that reconciliation is not a spectator sport, it requires the participation of all the players,” he said. “You cannot stand by and watch things happen around you and say, ‘well that doesn’t involve me.’
“Don’t ever think it doesn’t involve you, if someone else is calling someone else names, it involves you so call it out, and get in between the racist and the victim, because you have an obligation to.”
He also said it is very important for business owners to know that they might not even understand all the ways that racism can manifest itself and that they may be taking part in racist or bias practices without even knowing it.
“The worst kind of racism in Canada is not the racism where people deliberately set up to harm someone, the worse kind of racism is unconscious racism where you are doing something and don’t even know you are doing it, because you are following a policy based on western society’s ways of thinking and doing,” Sinclair said.
He said an example of that unconscious racism is that employers in Canada often won’t give Indigenous people time off for ceremonies that he said are often just as important in Indigenous cultures, as religious ceremonies like Christmas and Easter are in western cultures.
“This is very important and they say ‘no we can’t do that, it’s not in the policy.’”
The former Senator said that all business owners should have an “action plan in place” when it comes to reconciliation and working with Indigenous people and communities and that those types of plans will not only help move Canada closer to reconciliation but ultimately be good for their own business.
“It’s important because it will help you to engage in dialogue that is going to be meaningful not just for them, but also for you,” Sinclair said.
“You not only are trying to change the way that you do business, but you will benefit through the way that you do business through reconciliation, because it will enhance your relationship with Indigenous communities, with Indigenous employees, and will result in you doing business better.
“You will become not only better businesses, but you will become better humans too.”
The responsibility of business owners to work towards reconciliation is outlined in the Final Report of the Truth and Reconciliation Commission (TRC) as Call 92 in the report states, “we call upon the corporate sector in Canada to adopt the United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples as a reconciliation framework, and to apply its principles, norms, and standards to corporate policy and core operational activities involving Indigenous peoples and their lands and resources.”
— Dave Baxter is a Local Journalism Initiative reporter who works out of the Winnipeg Sun. The Local Journalism Initiative is funded by the Government of Canada.
Dave Baxter, Local Journalism Initiative Reporter, Winnipeg Sun