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Global Affairs Canada’s path to reconciliation

Orange elements representing First Nations, Inuit and Métis, with a pathway representing reconciliation.

Canada is a beautiful country, known by many for the kindness of its people. What we do not say enough, however, is that it’s also a country built on the ancestral lands of First Nations, Inuit, and Métis peoples. This country has historically denied Indigenous peoples their rights through assimilationist policies and practices, including through a residential school system that lasted for over a hundred years, with the last federally run school closing in the late 1990s.

Through a process that included a settlement agreement and the establishment of a Truth and Reconciliation Commission, Canada recognized these injustices, and we have started on a path to reconciliation with Indigenous peoples.

So what does this mean for employees at Global Affairs Canada (GAC)—the department in charge of managing diplomatic relations and advancing Canada’s interests and values globally? How do we reverse dated assimilationist policies and programming, which have led to lasting anti-Indigenous racism, discrimination and stigmatization?

It starts with employees acknowledging that the Government of Canada played a role in the country’s colonial history, and that today it has a responsibility to promote systemic change.

But this isn’t enough—concrete, tangible actions are needed.

That’s why, in June 2021, GAC launched its Action Plan on Reconciliation with Indigenous Peoples. The Action Plan guides the department’s efforts to advance the rights, perspectives and prosperity of Indigenous peoples in Canada and around the world over a 4-year period, from 2021 to 2025. It was developed in close collaboration with the department’s Indigenous Peoples Network, other Indigenous employees and 35 divisions across GAC. 

Working toward the six goals in the action plan and advancing reconciliation means listening to, learning from and working in partnership with Indigenous peoples. We all must strengthen our understanding and respect for the rights, histories, traditions, cultures, languages and perspectives of Indigenous peoples and continue to reflect on the ongoing impacts of colonialism experienced by Indigenous peoples.

A priority in Canada’s international engagements is to collaborate and engage with Indigenous peoples on issues that affect them. For example, the department is developing policies to ensure that Indigenous communities and businesses can take advantage of the opportunities that come from international trade. This was recently demonstrated by Canada’s endorsement of IPETCA—the Indigenous Peoples Economic and Trade Cooperation Arrangement. This is the first trade arrangement to recognize and support Indigenous businesses and entrepreneurs on a global scale.

In June this year, GAC employees looked at progress and results from the action plan’s first year of activities. The progress and results demonstrate a desire within the department to improve and align initiatives to better support, collaborate with and learn from Indigenous peoples.

This is an encouraging start, but we know that implementing the action plan will take hard work. Many of us GAC employees are on a learning journey and as we approach Canada’s National Day for Truth and Reconciliation on September 30, there are many opportunities for public commemoration and exploring the rich and diverse cultures, experiences and stories of the First Nations, Inuit, and Métis peoples.

We will continue to apply a reconciliation lens to our work within diplomacy and advocacy, trade and investment, security, international assistance, and consular and management affairs. It’s more than time!

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