As Sept. 30 marks the second annual National Day for Truth and Reconciliation, employer awareness of the impact of Canada’s residential school system has grown since the day was first observed in 2021, but more action needs to be taken, says Kelly Lendsay, president and chief executive officer of non-profit organization Indigenous Works.

“It has caught the attention of employers, but they’re unsure how to make sense of it,” he says, noting employer inquiries to the organization increased by almost 50 per cent in the last year. “The [Truth and Reconciliation Commission] report itself is a roadmap; it has very specific calls to action. They actually have a corporate call to action for employers, so it’s the action side of the agenda that’s needed on reconciliation.”

Read: How employers can mark first-ever National Day for Truth and Reconciliation

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

Among the things employers can do to increase awareness and understanding around truth and reconciliation, Lendsay suggests they start with building the knowledge capital of their employees. “There’s a knowledge gap . . .  so we need to educate [employees] about the truth, the history and also the contribution. Indigenous people have contributed innovations and inventions, from bunk beds to canoes to snowshoes to food.”

His second recommendation is for employers to develop specific workplace and engagement strategies to position themselves as an employer of choice. “Indigenous people are the fastest growing labour force in Canada as a percentage of the population, so the employer needs to develop deliberate and purposeful strategies,” says Lendsay. “They need to look at their brand, how they’re preparing recruitment teams and how they’re engaging with communities.”

Read: How institutional investors can advance Indigenous economic reconciliation

The third component is to implement and measure the company’s performance, he says, adding  employers need to focus on the Indigenous component within diversity, equity and inclusion initiatives.

As part of its Indigenous reconciliation strategy, IKEA Canada is working with 4 Seasons of Reconciliation to offer an online professional development course to all employees beginning Sept. 30. The program will provide foundational knowledge about truth and reconciliation, deepen historical understanding and expand knowledge about current Indigenous realities, according to a press release.

“[IKEA believes] education is key to reconciliation,” says Lisa Huie, public relations leader at IKEA Canada. “With education, we facilitate understanding of Indigenous perspectives, which helps to promote reconciliation. Offering this learning module for all [employees] contributes to an environment where respect for Indigenous rights is integrated into the ongoing movements of our equality plan.”

The company is also hosting Indigenous art installations by the Canadian Library in its stores across the country, featuring bookcases with books displaying the names of missing Indigenous women and children.

Read: Q&A with IKEA Canada’s John Williams