Want to retain indigenous employees? It’s going to require change
- Jay Bird | May 16, 2023
Was colonialism all bad? Yes. Yes it was. Full stop.
The Oxford dictionary describes colonialism as “the action or process of settling among and establishing control over the indigenous people of an area”. Nothing in that definition works in the favor of the Indigenous people in the Canadian context. It’s plainly about settling on the land and taking control over Indigenous people’s livelihoods.
The core problem is colonialism sought to replace Indigenous cultural values and ways of being in every institution and used those institutions to subjugate, or assimilate, Indigenous people into Western mindsets. This influence is most obviously seen in the residential school mandate from the late 1800’s to the mid 1900’s. However, it is in every institution from health, education, business, justice, and social services. Indigenous people are made to feel bad, or less than, for not lining up with the value systems and policies these Western institutions implement.
Did these systems disappear or are they still active in today’s society? They are still here, and they are still trying to make Indigenous people assimilate into Western worldviews.
Lots of companies are seeking to Indigenize or recruit and retain Indigenous employees. They almost never fully comprehend why they have issues keeping their Indigenous numbers higher, or how to make their systems more Indigenous friendly. I would say, they do basic touch ups, things you can see, like hanging some art or using a Cree name, and call it Indigenization.
However, that is not Indigenization.
Indigenization of Western systems should be about changing the values of these systems, how they work, and how they can be changed to use an Indigenous worldview lens. This requires a process of decolonization: Western values replaced by Indigenous values. This is much deeper than some artwork or a flag, this is about radical change of how companies do business. This is changing the actual culture and values the business is built on.
Do companies take this seriously? I have my reservations of saying yes based on what I have seen.
Changing the culture of an organization is probably the toughest thing to do in a business. There is usually resistance and change is tough to implement, most people like staying in their comfort zones. However, change management is what companies need to do to properly Indigenize their company.
Indigenous people have had to change the way they live to be part of these companies, and at some point, something must change, one way or another. Indigenous recruitment and retention numbers are usually low, as Indigenous people don’t feel valued because of the systems in a company. They are opposite our worldviews and staying means changing to the values of these systems, which run counter to what we think and believe. This leaves Indigenous employees in an ethical conundrum concerning staying or leaving, do I stay where my values are not represented? Or do I leave and risk losing my career for peace of mind?
Many people leave. Those who stay have hopes their worldviews will make it into policy in these systems. Overall, companies need to do a better job of changing their systems, policies, and procedures to reflect Indigenous worldviews, if they want to recruit and retain employees.
This is what I will address going forward with this column, Indigenous worldviews leading to change management for companies, to lead to our inclusion in these systems. I believe it is time we challenge the status quo of these companies and start seeking that our worldviews be respected, valued, and included.