Courageous Conversations: The history of Indigenous exclusion and creating a path of inclusion

The recent discoveries of unmarked graves containing the remains of Indigenous children at former residential schools are exposing the horrors of Canada’s past.

“It’s definitely a time of reckoning for us at Walmart Canada,” Nabeela Ixtabalan, Walmart Canada’s executive vice-president of People and Corporate Affairs, told viewers watching Monday on Zoom and live on LinkedIn. “We’re all reflecting on what we don’t know, what we are yet to learn and what actions we need to take.”

Nabeela was joined by Kelly Lendsay, president and chief executive officer of Indigenous Works, to have a discussion about Canada’s historical injustices against Indigenous people. The event was part of Walmart Canada’s “Courageous Conversation” series, which is being held for associates to discuss important societal issues on diversity, equity, inclusion and well-being.

“This is a living history that’s coming to light,” Kelly said. “It has really hit a nerve with Canadians.”

Many unmarked graves have recently been found in British Columbia, Saskatchewan and across the country, leaving many Canadians shocked and horrified. But for Indigenous people, these findings are not surprising, Kelly said.

“The reason we don’t know this information is it was not taught in our schools,” he added. “For the most part, there’s a huge knowledge gap.”

Kelly explained that Indigenous people have been unfairly treated for centuries in North America, facing roots of exclusion that are political, social, economic and educational. Under Canada’s Indian Act, Indigenous Canadians couldn’t vote until 1960 – 93 years after Confederation. Less than 100 years ago, Indigenous people needed written permission to leave their reserve.

There were 139 residential schools identified in Canada and the last one closed in 1996. These institutions were run by the Catholic Church and sponsored by the Canadian government. In 2015, the Truth and Reconciliation Commission’s final report said this system was a central element of Canada’s “cultural genocide” against Indigenous people.

So how do we overcome?

“Once we know better, we should do better,” Nabeela said. “The days are gone where organizations can be silent.”

Nabeela acknowledged it’s important for Walmart Canada to stand for integrity, honesty and truth as we seek reconciliation with Indigenous people.

“It starts with awareness,” Kelly said. “We need to start shining a light on what’s working and how we can accelerate that.”

We can do this by educating ourselves on Indigenous history, culture and traditions. For example, we can adopt the “Seven Generations” approach to consider how our decisions will be felt seven generations later to promote sustainability in our business.

“We need to break down the barriers to allow deeper conversations,” Kelly asserted. “More will be gained by creating opportunities for dialogue for voices and hearts to be exchanged.”

The path towards reconciliation requires us all to commit to doing better as we build a more inclusive Canada that everyone will want to celebrate.

“We’re going to rebuild this on relationships and partnerships,” Kelly added.

And remember, it’s OK to not be OK. Reach out if you need help.

For more information about the Truth and Reconciliation Commission reports, please visit their website.