Corporate Indigenization: Pimaatisiwin in Practice
27 May 2021
In recognizing that “all knowledge is positioned”, I acknowledge that as I compose this offering, I am situated on land that is the traditional home of the Haudenosaunee, Anishinaabe, and Neutral People, I fully acknowledge that I am not Aboriginal nor do I claim to have any special knowledge or understanding of the Aboriginal culture. This paper is written in the spirit of scholarly allyship in an effort to help inch the reconciliation movement forward.
Canada has a devastating legacy when it comes to Aboriginal peoples. What started as peaceful and friendly alliances based on mutual respect between Aboriginal peoples and European explorers ultimately devolved into exclusion and cultural genocide inflicting irreparable harm on generations. With the rise of European settlement came the emergence of capitalism. Many point to capitalism for the atrocities inflicted on Aboriginal peoples by a calculated and continual regime of forced assimilation and segregation. In a spirit of reconciliation, there is now an urgency for corporations to develop meaningful and shared opportunities for collaboration. Robust and ethical environmental and social corporate governance in Canada is best aligned through an indigenization lens. In the context of reconciliation, the connection between colonialism and capitalism justifies a uniquely Canadian “recolonialization” approach. Given the role and reputation of women in Aboriginal communities, this indigenization approach is best rooted in an Aboriginal feminist theory perspective. We are all here to stay. Our way forward is best done together.
This paper begins by providing a brief historical and legal context of Aboriginal peoples in Canada; it will then be argued that given the differentiated impact of colonialism on women and in light of their caretaking role within the community, it is appropriate to adopt an Aboriginal feminist doctrinal perspective when analysing this issue and constructing a way forward; the concept of indigenization will be introduced and offered as a legitimate approach for decolonization within corporate enterprise; environmental and social governance will then be explored from an Aboriginal feminist lens; and finally some practical suggestions for such an approach to support a way forward will conclude.
Indigenous Peoples are said to have been in Canada since time immemorial. The lands of Canada, rich in resources, provided the materials for a dynamic economic system of trade and exchange. It was this wealth potential that attracted European explorers and mutual partnerships between Aboriginal peoples and fur-traders were formed.
During the early days of this venture, King George III did not want war and prohibited European colonists from interfering with Aboriginal land by conquest. Land could only be acquired through a process of negotiation and purchase. These are commonly remembered as peace and friendship treaties.However, as colonization expanded the power balance shifted. Europeans inevitably assumed a majority and proceeded to subsume Aboriginal culture through racist assimilation strategies such as relocation and dispossession. The devastating effects of colonialism and capitalism on Aboriginal communities has been well documented.
Legal tools were especially instrumental in this cultural genocide. Section 91(24) of the British North America Act excluded Aboriginals from Canadian citizenship isolating matters related to “Indians, and Lands reserved for the Indians” to the exclusive authority of the federal government. The Indian Act has also had rather pernicious effects as a weapon of ongoing oppression against Indigenous peoples. Originally conceived as a solution to “the Indian problem”, it has been described as a patriarchal assimilation policy that has impacted Indigenous women disproportionately.
“Status” in this system defined who was an “Indian”. Only “Indians” had access to treaty rights or could participate in band activities. Gender discrimination through the status system can be seen in how only men could give status to their children, women who married non-Indigenous men or enfranchised men lost their status, and women were largely excluded from male dominated band activity. Even the very act of becoming a full Canadian citizen necessarily involved the termination of official “Indian” identity through the process of enfranchisement. Registry lists were maintained by the government and without “status”, they could not “be” “Indian”.
The government was not alone in the annihilation of Indigenous way of life. This started after settlement. It was the promise of wealth that interrupted the harmony. Colonialism started with capitalism and it is proposed here that colonialism can also end with capitalism.
Aboriginal Feminist Perspective
Human personhood can be identified through various core components. For Aboriginal women, this includes not only race and sex but sometimes class. The main feminist movements including liberalism, Marxism, and socialism declined to appreciate and account for an intersectional appreciation in this analysis. To a large degree, these movements have all failed to include Aboriginal women in their plight. This is illustrated by how the rights of Aboriginal women were largely ignored by these various women’s movements in their fight to get the right to vote, secure property rights, and have legal status apart from their husband. Women’s rights, in these cases, excluded Aboriginal women from their agenda. Shunned and devalued, Aboriginal women were not “women” in the universal sense.
Rosalind Delmar defines a feminist as, “someone who holds that women suffer discrimination because of their sex, that they have specific needs which remain negated and unsatisfied, and that the satisfaction of these needs would require a radical change”. Grace Ouellette asserts that “Aboriginal women cannot fit neatly into the feminists’ conceptions of human nature because of different cultural values and beliefs, in other words, because of conflicting worldviews”. Amidst the plurality of feminism, the distinct oppression faced by Aboriginal women must be acknowledged in an effort to make real and lasting social change. It is in this spirit that reconciliation must begin with the Aboriginal woman in mind.
Aboriginal feminism is described by Jaimes Guerrero as the “’historical agency’ in revisioning a pre-patriarchal, pre-colonialist, and pre-capitalist … society, as well as for Native women’s self-determination in reclaiming their indigenous (that is, matrilineal/matrifocal) roles that empower them with respect and authority in indigenous governance”.
There is some ethnographic evidence that indicates that prior to the European invasion some Indigenous groups, such as the Montagnais-Naskapi nation, were an egalitarian society. Women were considered equals with men. However, the arrival of the Jesuits and the development of the fur trade changed all this.
The subordination of Aboriginal women compared with men has been tied to both colonialism and capitalism. Most notably, the imposition of settler’s laws and institutions influenced the role of women in their societies, and dispossessed them of their rights, cultures, and customs.
Within any doctrinal analysis, it vital to appreciate the unique circumstances of the situation. The topic of this exploration being Aboriginal people, it is helpful to consider this issue as it applies to Aboriginal women in Canada considering the many layers of oppression and from the various sources.
In particular, Aboriginal women are recognized throughout the literature as experiencing the effects of colonial oppression and impacts of modern-day industry uniquely. The struggles effecting Aboriginal women are not shared by their male counterparts. For example, Sarah Morales has carefully documented the gendered impacts of resource extraction on Indigenous women. For Aboriginal women, this marginalization has led to “the corrosion and devaluation … of Indian women’s inclusive participation within Indian governance, economies and cultural life”. This calls for a gendered approach to reconciliation through corporate decolonization efforts.
The diversity of First Nations groups is well documented and a common theme that emerges is how Aboriginal women generally assume the responsibility as caretakers for their communities. This includes not only the other women in the group but also the men, children, and elders. In essence, this means that by focusing on the Aboriginal woman, all Aboriginal interests can be included.
If you’re thinking that Indigenous women cannot be feminist, you are not alone. However, as Madeline Rose Knickerbocker convincingly counters, the role of StÓ:lō women includes matriarch, leader, and knowledge keeper in the pursuit to advance Indigenous rights. Although Aboriginal women may seem mostly ambivalent about the label of “feminism”, they have been particularly instrumental in advocating to improve rights. Political activism is most closely associated with radical feminism, yet is distinguished by the motivation for making such change. While the fight with radical feminism is against sexual oppression, the fight for Aboriginal women is against colonial oppression. This type of political activism is been expressed in various ways from participation to prolific litigation to protests, the common motivator is to improve the state of affairs for their community in general rather than to improve rights for women.
Ouellette describes the process of segregation of Aboriginal women as being shunned into a separate fourth world. It is here where Aboriginal women are considered separated from their Euro-Canadian counterparts. Liberation for Aboriginal women in this context tends to be self-determination for their communities as a whole in an effort to combat racism and oppression. Social change focuses on “their home environments, land dispossession and displacement, loss of traditional economies and customs, the rights to self-determination and self-government, and other societal problems affecting their communities as a whole than with male domination”.
The Aboriginal women’s movement can be said to have started with the development of the Indian Homemaker’s Clubs (IHC) that were involved with essential work in their communities. IHC’s were mandated to “[improve] the living conditions on the Reservation by endeavoring to show the women how they could help themselves, and to fill in as best we could, the gap between their revenue, what the Department can do for them, and emergent conditions”. Although supervised under the Department of Indian Affairs in an effort to build Euro-Canadian domestic skills, the women in these clubs “used the skills, resources, and political spaces available to them to produce decisively activist responses to their conditions”. This included “lobbying for better reserve conditions, education, and health care” for their communities.
The Aboriginal women’s movement continued to develop with the work of the Native Women’s Association of Canada (NWAC) and other provincial organizations including the Voice of Alberta’s Native Women’s Society (VANWS) and the Saskatchewan Indian Women’s Association (SIWA) among others. The NWAC began with their efforts to combat the discriminatory effects of section 12(1)(b) of the Indian Act that originally penalized Aboriginal women “who married a person who is not an Indian” by stripping her of her “Indian” status.
The Aboriginal women’s movement identifies colonialism and racism as the sources of the sexual oppression experienced by them. This shows how activism in the Aboriginal feminist movement is directed at the oppressive forces of colonialism and racism rather than against the domination of men in general. Essentially, this is how liberation for the Aboriginal woman is sought as an expression of their self-determination.
Given that the effects of colonialism has impacted Aboriginal women uniquely and that it is Aboriginal women who have organized against their oppression by working in the interests of their communities as a whole, current corporate direction is best achieved when viewed through an Aboriginal feminist lens.
Corporate Decolonization Through Indigenization
In response to discrimination faced by Aboriginal peoples, Canada has implemented some changes including the incorporation of new rights for Aboriginal Peoples in section 35 and 35.1 of the Canadian constitution; amendment to section 12(1)(b) of the Indian Act; and compiling a report by the Truth and Reconciliation Commission (TRC) regarding the effects of colonialism. In particular, the TRC includes 92 calls to action to assist with the reconciliation efforts in Canada. In particular, the final call to action, is directed at businesses.
“we call upon the corporate sector in Canada 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. This would include, but not be limited to:
• Commit to meaningful consultation, building respectful relationships, and obtaining the free, prior, and informed consent of Indigenous peoples before proceeding with economic development projects;
• Ensure that Aboriginal peoples have equitable access to jobs, training, and education opportunities in the corporate sector, and that Aboriginal communities gain long-term sustainable benefits from economic development projects;
• Provide education for management and staff on the history of Aboriginal peoples, including the history and legacy of residential schools, the United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples, Treaties and Aboriginal rights, Indigenous law, and Aboriginal–Crown relations. This will require skills based training in intercultural competency, conflict resolution, human rights, and anti-racism.” 
The purpose of this paper is to offer an approach to help corporations realize this urgent plea. The way forward, may be found through the embrace of an indigenization approach.
Indigenization refers to the collaboration between non-Indigenous and Indigenous People to “disconnect … cultural ties between the settler society and its metropolitan homeland”. This has been described as “the process by which Indigenous ways of knowing, being, doing and relating are incorporated into educational, organizational, cultural and social structures of the institution”. Indigenization recognizes the validity of indigeneity by incorporating Indigenous values and culture into an integrated and cohesive practice.Developed from the social work and educational spheres, it is conceived along a continuum from inclusion, to reconciliation, and finally decolonialization. It holds that “knowledge should arise from within the culture, reflect local behaviours and practices, be interpreted within a local frame of reference and thus be locally relevant, that is, it should address culturally relevant and context-specific problems”. Indeed, the context here springs from a need for change within the corporate sector that calls out for “a process built on collaboration, consensus and meaningful partnership”.
Indigenization is conceived as a transformative approach meant to provide a framework for consensus-building between Aboriginal peoples and corporate actors. As part of its policy and practice, it is directed at actively seeking out Indigenous Canadians for inclusion in corporate activities, pooling knowledge and resources towards the pursuit of a mutually beneficial shared vision, and focuses on restructuring pluralistic governance protocols in dynamic and environmentally and socially responsible ways.
Inclusion is about developing corporate space where Aboriginal peoples feel welcomed and included. Where they can see their values reflected in the corporate culture and direction. Where they are accepted as equals in the corporate structure and are encouraged to contribute in meaningful ways.
Reconciliation requires new ways of sharing power and vision. It is essential that this take the form of a substantive culture shift rather than predicated on rhetoric and tokenism. Indigenous-led processes must define the praxis.
Decolonialization “is something that aims to unsettle and dismantle settler colonialism”. It involves a process that “exposes places where dominant structures must be re-made to embrace other than dominant ways of knowing and doing”. This requires not only challenging the dominant culture but affirming Indigenous worldviews. Indigenous resurgence involves the revitalization of Indigenous culture, knowledge, and governance. Decolonial indigenization at a corporate level empowers Aboriginal peoples to reclaim their place in industry.
Indigenization is about developing a community of shared vision, resources, and practice. Nsyilxcәn is Okanagan for “community”. Literally translated, it means “of one skin” and describes a shared source of security. Through a process of Enowkinwixw, consensus is developed through adherence to the principles of respect, trust, and inclusion.
This is not cooperation. This is not partnership. This is integration. It is about engaging in deep long-term collaboration as a living community. Conceptualized as a drop of liquid being absorbed by the mind, En’owkin is the process of understanding through integration. As an immersive activity, it cannot be intellectually separated from its parts. It cannot be learned by reading. Rather, it must be achieved through doing. True integration is an active process of community-building. In particular, this involves information gathering, brainstorming, and creative problem-solving directed towards achieving consensus for action. This is participation based on values and traditional knowledge and conceived within a multi-generational approach.
Community is about connectiveness rather than democratic divisiveness that pits a majority against a minority. It is about remediating wrongs and moving towards a sustainable solidarity where all voices of the community are heard, acknowledged, and considered. By being together in community, both Indigenous voices and corporate actors can ignite shared and lasting vision.
Without consent, there is no way forward. Without active consensus, there is no reconciliation. In this respect, the debate over whether the principle of free, prior, and informed consent, discussed below, is in fact a veto power, is moot. The focus of consensus is on how to share, not on whether or not to share.
Part of building community is the collaboration process. Although section 35, supplemented by the common law, has introduced sui generis rights for Aboriginal peoples that includes the right to be consulted where there is a state link between industry and potential interference with Aboriginal rights, the indigenization approach requires more. Arguably, the next stage of the relationship continuum is the principle of free, prior, and informed consent.
Voluntary agreement is essential to forming long-lasting relationships between parties. From a contract law perspective, lack of consent simply negates the validity of what has transpired. While consent, per se is not required as part of any duty to consult in a legal sense, the ramifications of proceeding without consent manifests in the practical realities of corporate liabilities in the form of business delays and resource management challenges stemming from protests and public relations backlash.
Free, prior, and informed consent is a principle introduced in the Indigenous and Tribal Peoples Convention that guarantees the right of Indigenous peoples not to be displaced from their land without their consent and only when necessary and with compensation. This idea was developed in the United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples (UNDRIP) to guide engagement processes involving the rights Indigenous peoples. As part of the reconciliation process in Canada, the Truth and Reconciliation Commission recommended that the corporate sector adopt the principles as outlined in UNDRIP. Neither the ILO Convention nor UNDRIP have been formally recognized in Canada. Although the current Bill C-15, An Act respecting the United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peopleshas recently passed second reading, it is the eighth iteration of such an attempt to incorporate UNDRIP into Canadian law. Encouragingly, it has been incorporated in British Columbia provincial law since November 28, 2019.
Part of self-determination is the ability to transcend from a position of equality to a place of autonomous and ongoing wealth development. While this may involve Indigenous led enterprises, the true potential is in realizing this as a shared venture. Some suggest that wealth creation and sustainability is at the very heart of what is economic reconciliation.
The Way Forward
Although the question remains about who’s land this is, the practical and entitled reality that “[w]e are all here to stay” continues. The question remains therefore, how do we move forward together?
Good governance is “the process of decision-making and the process by which decisions are implemented (or not implemented)” and includes: accountability; transparency; efficiency ; responsiveness; inclusion; consensus-building; participatory; and operating according to law.
Reconciliation includes economic reconciliation. By prioritizing reconciliation through a holistic Indigenization approach, benefits can be derived for the corporate-community as a whole. By transcending through the continuum from consultation to consent to collaboration, benefits move from financial accommodations to benefits sharing to equity ownership. This process can include: a holistic awareness of wealth; well-being; social innovation and social finance; entrepreneurship; co-operatives; essentials; knowledge, traditions, ceremony, and protocols; self-determination; healing; and forgiveness. It is driven by the interconnection of membership, community values, multi-generational, and traditional knowledge. It is intended to support a foundation of trust and curiosity where new economic systems are mutually developed from traditional principles to create a platform from which to address current and future needs of Indigenous peoples.
The oppression remedy set out in section 241 of the Canada Business Corporations Act (CBCA) and section 248 of the Ontario Business Corporations Act (OBCA) “gives a court broad, equitable jurisdiction to enforce not just what is legal but what is fair”. This provides recourse for a broad range of complainants including community members. This uniquely Canadian remedy has invoked a need for boards to respond to stakeholders interests. Indigenous interests are corporate interests. This statutory requirement makes it incumbent for corporations to appreciate the wide-range of issues of Aboriginal peoples when making decisions. Indigenization is an authentic and legitimate way towards both corporate success and Aboriginal autonomy and wealth creation.
Environmental and Social Governance
A growing trend in corporate governance is environmental and social governance (ESG). This includes the reporting of sustainability and societal metrics. It can help demonstrate the extent to which “frameworks, practices, and capabilities are in place to identify and address material E&S factors as they emerge and to provide relevant and sufficient disclosures to shareholders along the way. Investors are facing increased responsibility to include E&S factors in their investment decision-making”.
In so far as Canada entertains a developing legal pluralism, notions around environmental governance and can differ. This can be the source of divergence especially in the area of natural resources. Expertise of Aboriginal peoples has been noted in various international declarations such as the Rio Declaration on Environment and Development stating that “indigenous people … have a vital role in environmental management and development because of their knowledge and traditional practices. States should recognize and duly support their identity, culture and interests and enable their effective participation in the achievement of sustainable development.” As Benjamin Richardson points out, although Aboriginal environmental practices widely support sustainability, it is best served when supplemented by modern science.
Posey suggests that “high levels of social co-operation, local-scale self-sufficiency and concern for the well-being of posterity” help to support an Indigenous approach to ecological sustainability. By adopting an intergenerational equity approach based on a Haudenosaunee’s ‘seven generations’ principle where consideration is extended seven generations into the future, a balance between economic and environmental priorities can be achieved. By utilizing the traditional environmental knowledge of Indigenous peoples can help to inform management practices. In a more macro sense, there has been a link between “cultural diversity, linguistic diversity and biological diversity and that the quickening pace of loss of traditional knowledge was having a corresponding devastating impact on all biological diversity”.Richardson suggests that resource management be guided by a spirit of collaboration that melds a variety of expertise.
Consultation and compensation are key components to environmental governance. In particular, this engages the principle of free, prior, and informed consent. An example of such assistance that is available to help develop sustainable practices in connection with Indigenous traditions is the Centre for Indigenous Environmental Resources (CIER). The CIER advises and facilitates consultation on environmental issues with Aboriginal communities.
Societal issues within ESG can include the human rights concerns of Aboriginal peoples. UNDRIP recognizes and affirms that “indigenous individuals are entitled without discrimination to all human rights recognized in international law, and that indigenous peoples possess collective rights which are indispensable for their existence, well-being and integral development as peoples”. Of particular note in the UNDRIP includes the right to health and physical well-being; the right to property; the right to culture; the right to religion; the right to economic and social conditions; and the right to protection against violence and discrimination.
Sustainability means moving from a perspective of shareholder primacy toward a position of stakeholder harmony. Shareholder interest has been described as the primary concern within the corporate structure. However, with the recent introduction of various soft-law instruments combined with the oppression remedy discussed above, protecting the bottom-line is now assessed according to broader objectives. ESG is key to responsible and effective corporate governance. Arguably, as part of the Truth and Reconciliation’s Calls to Action, engaging in a process of indigenization can support an ESG agenda.
ESG requires a willingness to adapt to a new way of doing business. Practically speaking, this can be supported by including within the Articles of Incorporation: (1) objective and quantifiable performance measures as the product of collaboration with Aboriginal peoples; (2) a competency matrix that includes Aboriginal peoples; and (3) responsibilities for the shareholders and Directors that supports ongoing Aboriginal priorities.
Various soft-law instruments have been developed to support responsible environmental and social practices. An example of this is the Equator Principles (EP). The EP is a voluntary set of conduct that involves consultation with affected Aboriginal groups in an effort to promote environmentally sustainable development and social justice. Although motives for following these requirements are varied, the corporate bottom line prevails in that by seeking the free and informed consent of affected Indigenous groups, corporations may decrease their risks associated with costly protests and resistance. Free, prior, and informed consent is considered to be so valuable to corporate sustainability that compliance is required in order to receive funding from certain lenders such as the World Bank’s International Finance Corporation.
The United Nations (UN) Guiding Principles on Business and Human Rights (UNGP) articulates a three-pillar approach to corporate social responsibility. As part of this plan, corporations are responsible for respecting human rights. It is designed as soft-law around corporate responsibilities that applies to all states and businesses. Organized around a three-pillar approach, it recognizes that states have a duty to protect human rights, businesses have a responsibility to respect human rights, and people who are affected by human rights abuses have a right to a remedy for violations. While the UNGP is not intended as creating any new legal obligations, the reality is that its due diligence principles, can be considered in establishing proximity from the reasonable foreseeability between the harm and the acts of the corporate defendant in tort law. It has been suggested that failure to implement such a widely accepted practices could be the basis for negligence liability as flowing from both knowledge of non-compliance and from wilful blindness of such conduct.
Although the duty to consult with First Nations is a duty of the Crown, corporations may proactively negotiate with affected Aboriginal communities through impact and benefit agreements (IBA). IBAs are an unofficial, unregulated, and confidential attempt to secure rights through agreements. These agreements can include training, profit-sharing, employment, compensation, and environmental plans. In-line with an indigenization approach, IBAs are best constructed as a product of integrative collaboration including Aboriginal participation.
Sustainability reporting is done through various initiatives including the Global Reporting Initiative (GRI)and the Dow Jones Sustainability Index (DJSI). The GRI is a reporting standard for businesses recognized throughout the world that is designed to enhance corporate transparency and environment and social governance (ESG) performance. DJSI provides a benchmark of sustainability based on ESG performance and is required for inclusion on their index.
In addition to the lucrative financial incentives of ESG reporting, current global trends including public disclosure, consultation and reporting standards can help to promote dialogue between Indigenous stakeholders and corporate bodies. In essence, this can help to forge a way forward back to peace and friendship.
Acknowledging and addressing the effects of colonialism within corporate enterprise through an indigenization approach allows for ongoing wealth creation for both Aboriginal people and corporate shareholders. An approach that is conceived through an Aboriginal feminist perspective permits reconciliatory redress to be directed where it is needed most while caring for the interests of community as a whole. ESG that is achieved through collaboration between Aboriginal peoples and corporate actors that embraces both traditional knowledge and practices supplemented with current scientific expertise can help to support long-term sustainability within a reconciliatory design. Indigenization as the integration of Aboriginal peoples and corporate Canada can help business to strive along the continuum from consultation to consent to collaboration towards the goal of shared and ongoing wealth creation.
Given the egregious history between colonialism and capitalism, the journey towards decolonization is fraught with complications and challenges. To move forward, “[o]ur minds must be as ready to move as capital is, to trace its path and to imagine alternative destinations”. We are all connected. We depend on all others. We can make change together. This is Pimaatisiwin in practice: “the aim and hope of living a good life on this Earth”.
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 Ouellette, supra note 11.
 Knickerbocker, supra note 20 writing about the activism of StÓ:lō and other Indigenous women during the Coqualeetza occupation.
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