Working with Indigenous Advisors

It is important to acknowledge that, ideally, reconciliation work should be facilitated by an Indigenous person/people. If that is not possible, consider the philosophy of “nothing about us, without us” and how you will ensure that Indigenous voices and perspectives inform your work.

For example, the CBA chose to strike an Indigenous Advisory Group – an  informal group to provide advice and consultation as the organization develops its own reconciliation work.

Here are a few things to consider:

  1. Representation matters. Ideally, your advisory group will reflect gender and geographic diversity. Importantly, try to include members from Métis, First Nations, and Inuit heritage for a broader and more inclusive perspective.
  2. The Indigenous community is not a monolith. Every community will have its own considerations, history, and nuanced perspective, and it will not be possible to represent all of that in your decisions. Be mindful and be respectful.
  3. Do your homework. It is not the job of your Indigenous advisors to educate you on anti-racism, Canada’s colonial past, Indigenous history etc. Your advisors are there to share an Indigenous perspective. Be respectful of their time and role and do as much as you can to educate yourself – there are many resources available (like the CBA’s The Path, for example). If you want a broader education on such matters, discuss in advance with your Indigenous advisors to see whether they are willing to provide this or if you need to involve additional advisors.
  4. Approach with humility and sensitivity. Remember that reconciliation work is hard. Not just for you, but for your Indigenous colleagues/advisors too, and probably for different reasons. Your discussions may be triggering personal and community trauma, and you need to be sensitive and alive to that possibility. Consider educating yourself further on trauma in the Indigenous community (Myrna McCallum’s podcast on Trauma-Informed Lawyering is an excellent place to start) and incorporate that understanding in how/what you pose to your advisors.
  5. Understand and respect cultural differences (and don’t make assumptions). Be aware that there may be differences between your communication style and that of your advisor(s). Educate yourself on these differences and ensure that you are mindful during interactions. A few examples:
    • It is common in some Inuit communities to use facial expressions, not words, to answer questions.
    • If a questioner is not a person they consider close, some First Nations people are likely to respond less completely to a question.
    • Leaving a long pause after someone speaks to ensure that they are finished speaking is considered polite. It also is a form of communication (for example, “what are they not saying”) as well as a time when someone considers if they want to add more to what they have said.
    For more information on cultural differences, see Increasing Your Indigenous Quotient.

Meet CBA’s Indigenous Advisory Group