“Indigenous Peoples” Are Not a Topic

When industry treats diverse humans and communities like a topic, an urgent opportunity is missed and harm continues.

B. Lorraine Smith

--

Yes, companies must be inclusive of Indigenous communities. But more importantly, they must recognize the diverse and important nature of what’s going on outside their four walls.

Sorry we stole your car — now, how do we drive it?

I remember a conversation with my Mohawk friend Chuck. I asked, “Do you ever feel like we stole your car, and now we’re driving out of control towards a cliff with no operating manual, so we’re calling you to ask how to drive this thing?”

He gave me one of his long, penetrating stares before answering, “Yes.”

I am a white settler in Canada, born into a multi-generation settler family of varied European origins. While I have friends and connections with people from several Indigenous communities — who among other things are great at setting me straight — I am not showing up here as an “expert”. Rather, I am an observer of something that doesn’t seem right, sharing what I sense.

I have written (in Truth Before Reconciliation) about how my heritage has skewed me towards both a privileged, clueless path, as well as in “215”, where I express my concerns with how the media and public sentiment obscure more pertinent information.

In this piece I’ll reflect on where I see companies missing an important point, which is:

We are continuing to live in an economic system that does structural harm to Indigenous communities around the world, while missing an opportunity to learn and adapt based on their more inclusive worldview which would serve us all.

This was one of the key findings from the TD Matereality assessment. As I mention in the opening letter of that assessment, this is not unique to TD Bank. But taking a closer look at their communications illustrated the point.

Two ways companies address the “Indigenous” topic

In the case of a major bank in Canada, and other companies in similar contexts, there are two main ways they address the “Indigenous” topic:

  1. They make an effort to include Indigenous people, as customers and employees — for instance, TD has a web page dedicated to “Indigenous banking”.

--

--

B. Lorraine Smith

Former sustainability consultant replacing ESG with reality-based insights about corporate purpose and impact. https://www.blorrainesmith.com/