Canada’s institutional investors have reached an inflection point on Indigenous economic reconciliation, says Joseph Bastien, project manager of the Reconciliation and Responsible Investment Initiative.

“There’s a greater awareness and acceptance among institutional investors that considering these issues as an opportunity and a responsibility is important. . . . Now, we’re no longer telling them about economic reconciliation for the first time. They understand, in broad strokes, what it means. The key, now, is connecting it to what actions they can take.”

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The RRII, a non-profit collaboration between the National Aboriginal Trust Officers Association and the Shareholder Association for Research and Education, seeks to build a financial system that recognizes Indigenous perspectives and protects their rights and land titles.

As part of its work, the organization aims to mobilize Canadian institutional investors to use their voices and capital to promote positive economic outcomes for Indigenous peoples. To that end, the RRII delivered a record number of presentations to financial institutions — including defined benefit pension plans — in the past year.

One message it’s been delivering relates to specific actions that institutional investors can take to further the cause of reconciliation between Canada and its Indigenous peoples. “There are a few ways [DB plan sponsors and other institutional investors] can work on being an ally,” says Bastien. “The first is having a clear statement of investment principles that ensures investing in companies that respect and protect Indigenous rights and title, and are taking steps to address incidents where company policies or practices are having negative impacts on Indigenous peoples.”

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When pension plan sponsors do have concerns about an investee company’s relationship with Indigenous communities — both in Canada and around the world — Bastien suggest they consider their approach carefully. “When they find they have holdings in certain companies that are having negative impacts on Indigenous lands, rights and title, we encourage them to explore options for engagement, leveraging their voice as shareholders to support policies and practices that can advance Indigenous reconciliation issues.”

The RRII’s third piece of advice is for DB plan sponsors to consider Indigenous voices in their decision-making processes. “Investors can educate themselves and their teams about Indigenous issues in Canada and look at ways to incorporate their perspectives into their operations,” says Bastien. “That can mean increasing their representation within the workforce or engaging with Indigenous advisors to provide those perspectives on their operations.”

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The highest priority for the RRII is encouraging Indigenous people to expand their presence in senior positions, he says. “There’s a gross under-representation of Indigenous people within the finance sector. That’s bigger at the board and executive levels.”

One method Bastien believes could facilitate more diverse representation, at least in the long term, is for institutional investors to speak directly with Indigenous youth. “We need to build an interest in the financial sector from a very early age. Presentations to kids in middle school and early high school about opportunities in finance will help draw them toward the sector.”

In the shorter term, institutional investors have a few options for attracting Indigenous talent, including creating ways to encourage them to work within their communities and ensure cultural practices are accommodated and respected within the workplace, he says. “Those are very easy things to do in the current market.”

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