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Progress report on Global Affairs Canada’s Action Plan on Reconciliation with Indigenous People – 2021 to 2022

Progress for fiscal year 2021 to 2022

Global Affairs Canada’s (GAC) Action Plan on Reconciliation with Indigenous Peoples 2021-2025 (hereinafter “Action Plan”) was launched in June 2021. The Action Plan was developed in consultation with GAC’s Indigenous Peoples Network (IPN) and more than 35 divisions across the department. It builds on pre-existing initiatives and provides a framework to guide the department’s efforts to advance the rights, perspectives and prosperity of Indigenous peoples in Canada and around the world, from 2021 to 2025. The Action Plan outlines the following 6 goals:

  1. Make GAC an inclusive and supportive space for Indigenous peoples.
  2. Increase all employees’ knowledge and understanding of the rights, histories, heritage, cultures, and diverse perspectives of First Nations, Inuit and Métis peoples and the importance of advancing reconciliation.
  3. Expand and deepen partnerships with Indigenous peoples in Canada and around the world to enhance their participation and respond to their identified priorities.
  4. Promote respect for Indigenous peoples’ rights and perspectives.
  5. Enable First Nations, Inuit and Métis peoples in Canada to access economic opportunities.
  6. Strengthen the collection and use of data as well as reporting on engagement with Indigenous peoples.

The annual progress report is developed through self-assessment and reporting by responsible divisions, and is reviewed by an Advisory Group, comprising Indigenous and non-Indigenous employees. Their recommendations are included in this report.

Historically, Canada has denied the rights of Indigenous peoples – First Nations, Inuit, and Métis – through assimilationist policies and programming, resulting in lasting anti-Indigenous racism, discrimination and stigmatization. The continued identification of unmarked graves near former residential schools in 2021 reminded Canadians of the ongoing legacy of colonialism. The Government of Canada recognizes the need to accelerate its efforts to strengthen relationships with First Nations, Inuit and Métis peoples in Canada based on a renewed, nation-to-nation, government-to-government, and Inuit-Crown relationship, self-determination and the recognition of rights, respect, trust, cooperation and partnership.

The launch of GAC’s Action Plan marked an important step toward advancing reconciliation within the department and its work. Divisions across GAC business lines increasingly demonstrated a desire to engage with Indigenous peoples in their work and continued to value their expertise and knowledge as agents of change. At an international level, GAC regularly engages with Indigenous partners and their allies through Crown-Indigenous Relations and Northern Affairs Canada (CIRNAC) to inform Canada’s engagement on United Nations Third Committee and Human Rights Council (HRC) resolutions. These measures promote respect for Indigenous peoples’ rights and perspectives. The Global Arctic Leadership Initiative also has three contribution agreements with Indigenous partners (Arctic Athabaskan Council, Gwich’in Council International, and the Inuit Circumpolar Council) to advance their priorities and ensure they can enhance their capacity to engage in Arctic foreign policy and programming. GAC will continue to work to deepen partnerships and encourage engagement that aims to ensure Indigenous voices remain central to Canada’s participation in multilateral discussions on issues directly affecting them.

GAC’s network of Embassies and Consulates (missions) abroad engaged in diplomatic initiativesFootnote 1 in order to promote the rights and perspectives of Indigenous peoples. In 2021-2022, 72% of these diplomatic initiatives met their stated objectives. GAC also provides bilateral international assistance via numerous projects at a global scale; the department supported more projects in fiscal year 2021 to 2022 than in the previous fiscal year, which included traditional knowledge or sought to promote and protect the human rights and improve the lives of Indigenous peoples. In this respect, the total value of the department’s investments targeting Indigenous issues also grew from fiscal year 2020 to 2021 to fiscal year 2021 to 2022.

GAC also works to enable Indigenous peoples in Canada to access economic opportunities. For instance, the Trade Commissioner Service (TCS) collaborates with partners representing Indigenous businesses to organize and/or support initiatives to help Indigenous exporters. Although the total value of procurement contracts awarded to businesses that self-identified as Indigenous-owned decreased from fiscal year 2020 to 2021 to fiscal year 2021 to 2022, the number of multi-year procurement contracts provided to Indigenous-owned businesses has increased in recent years. Multi-year funding strengthens relationships and partnerships with Indigenous peoples as it allows for sustainable business development and capacity building. These efforts support GAC’s participation in the Government of Canada objective to have 5% of federal contracts awarded to businesses managed and led by Indigenous Peoples by 2023. The International Aboriginal Youth Internship initiative organized virtual internships for First Nations, Inuit, and Métis youth resulting in 99 virtual internships. The transition to remote work addressed challenges posed by the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic and allowed Indigenous young professionals to participate in GAC-led international work.

Multilaterally, Canada endorsed the Indigenous Peoples Economic and Trade Cooperation Agreement (IPECTA) in December of 2021. Through GAC’s Indigenous Working Group on Trade Policy, and in close cooperation with Indigenous peoples, Canada’s support for IPECTA seeks to remove barriers to Indigenous peoples’ economic empowerment and ensure that Indigenous businesses have access to opportunities created by international trade and investment.

While there was considerable progress in some areas, there has been less momentum in others. Indigenous representation at all levels of government is an important determinant for measuring diversity in the workplace. Indigenous representation at GAC decreased slightly from 6.5% as of March 31, 2021, to 6.3% as of March 31, 2022, whereas Indigenous peoples labour market availabilityFootnote 2 and workforce availabilityFootnote 3 remained relatively constant (4% and 3.5%, respectively). In relation to substantive level of employment, the greatest proportion of Indigenous employees is at the junior level, but the proportion of Indigenous employees at the intermediate level has gradually grown since 2018. Out of all promotions at GAC in fiscal year 2021 to 2022, 9% were given to Indigenous employees. Indigenous individuals at GAC were promoted in a proportion higher than its internal representation, which is 6.3%. Overall recruitment efforts need to continue as the departure rate is at a proportion of 7.8%, which is higher than recruitment. When isolating specific questions and responses from self-identified Indigenous employees in the Public Service Employee Survey 2020, Indigenous employees at GAC reported greater levels of support and inclusion than Indigenous employees across other departments.

GAC employees continued to participate in opportunities to increase their knowledge and understanding of the rights, histories, heritage, cultures, and diverse perspectives of First Nations, Inuit and Métis peoples and the importance of advancing reconciliation. Initial participation in various courses in the Indigenous Learning Series was promising. Further, there was an increase in the number of GAC employees that completed at least one course in the Indigenous Learning Series between fiscal year 2020 to 2021 and fiscal year 2021 to 2022. Despite this initial progress, the total number of employees who completed at least one course remains low. As a learning opportunity that is available to all GAC employees, the Indigenous Learning Series is illustrative of the disparity that exists between participation and completion. Implementing mandatory training for all GAC employees would respond to the Truth and Reconciliation Commission’s Call to Action 57 and further advance reconciliation efforts. Moreover, when educational tools are applicable to division-specific work, they have the potential to both increase knowledge and encourage more meaningful engagement with Indigenous peoples.

Various GAC divisions and teams identified gaps in disaggregated data collection across GAC business lines, which, if addressed, will help improve departmental data collection and reporting in the future. Throughout the end of the fiscal year, several discussions about how to better evaluate the Action Plan’s progress, accountability and implementation, to ensure its continued momentum, took place. These areas will be key considerations for the Action Plan in fiscal year 2022 to 2023.

The Advisory Group appreciated the high level of input and participation by GAC divisions. However, they felt that the report could be improved with greater reflection on how departmental initiatives could be approached, situated, and presented in a more meaningful manner with the genuine goal of advancing reconciliation with Indigenous peoples.

GAC made important contributions towards advancing the rights, perspectives and prosperity of Indigenous Peoples in Canada, and around the world, but it is clear that challenges persist. With a more robust evaluation function, the Action Plan and its progress report have the ability to further mobilize reconciliation efforts. This could mean formalizing the Advisory Group and re-evaluating how the goals are assessed from year-to-year.

The results of the first year of the GAC Action Plan on Reconciliation with Indigenous Peoples clearly demonstrates the desire of the department to improve and align initiatives to better support, collaborate with and learn from Indigenous peoples. In order to maintain momentum and effect real change, it will be incumbent upon all divisions and employees to remain committed to seeking innovative and meaningful ways to advance reconciliation across the range of their endeavours.

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