A new federal holiday offers new opportunities for Canadian employers to support Indigenous employees this week and beyond, say experts.

This Thursday, Sept. 30, is the first-ever National Day for Truth and Reconciliation, a statutory holiday for all federal employees and workers in federally regulated workplaces after the House of Commons unanimously supported the legislation in June.

Six of Canada’s provinces and territories — Newfoundland and Labrador, the Northwest Territories, the Yukon, Manitoba, Nova Scotia and Prince Edward Island — are also observing the federal holiday, while seven others — Alberta, British Columbia, Saskatchewan, Quebec, Ontario, New Brunswick and Nunavut — aren’t recognizing the date as a provincial statutory holiday this year. Private sector employers can opt to give employees Sept. 30 off.

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Whether or not employees have the day off, employers can use the National Day for Truth and Reconciliation as an opportunity to engage Indigenous and non-Indigenous staff this week, said Gene Jamieson, managing director of Turtle Clan Management Consulting, in an email interview with Benefits Canada.

“Encourage employees to wear their orange shirts. Encourage employees to share their personal commitments to reconciliation in [workplace] internal social networks. Host an information session to educate employees on the history of residential schools and the impacts of these schools to Indigenous people. Just make sure you do something.

“No matter what you do, do not make Indigenous employees do the work. Engage them, but in an advisory role, rather than them holding the responsibility to make these things happen.” 

Beyond marking the new federal holiday, employers can also review benefits offerings with an eye toward ensuring offerings are supportive of Indigenous employees, added Jamieson.

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“Ultimately, it all boils down to meeting employees where they’re at and providing them [with] the tools and resources that will reflect their local communities, tribes or nations. [Much] of this can be accomplished [by] flexing current benefits policies or enhancing them by engaging Indigenous vendors within . . . current benefits policies to provide a more Indigenous-relevant offer[ing] to Indigenous employees.”

Kelly Lendsay, president and chief executive officer of Indigenous Works, agrees the new holiday can serve as the catalyst for employers to take another look at benefits offerings and diversity, equity and inclusion policies through an Indigenous lens.

He notes one of the Truth and Reconciliation Commission of Canada’s calls to action asks organizations “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.”

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While marking the National Day for Truth and Reconciliation is a first step, Lendsay hopes employers will keep moving toward making the workplace more equitable for Indigenous people well beyond this week.

“What, and how, can employers support people after that date?” he asks, suggesting employers take a look at how to answer the call to action from the truth and reconciliation commission via benefits offerings, as well as via human resource and DEI policies “because it’s good for the company, it’s good for the employees and it’s good for Indigenous people.”