The legacy of colonialism in Canada continues to reveal appalling evidence of how Indigenous Peoples have been subjected to unfathomable treatment, trauma and pain. Recent confirmation by the Tk'emlúps te Secwépemc First Nation that the remains of 215 Indigenous children were located in an unmarked grave at the site of the former Kamloops Indian Residential School is distressing for our employees, clients and communities. However, we know that more revelations of the Residential School System’s impact continue to emerge, including now the discovery of 751 unmarked graves at the Marieval Indian Residential School in Cowessess First Nation. These findings continue to be a source of pain and inter-generational trauma for many of our Indigenous team members. During National Indigenous Peoples Month, we grieve for this certainty and reflect on the work in progress and ahead.
At CWB, we stand in support of any individuals impacted, and we offer open hearts as we take early and concrete steps towards reconciliation with Indigenous peoples.
In addition to the tragedy associated with the residential school system, Indigenous people in Canada are subject to individual and systemic racism, discrimination, and face significant barriers to basic life needs like accessible healthcare, affordable housing, food security, clean water, employment, education and the freedom to use traditional Indigenous ways of knowing and celebrate the richness of their Indigenous culture. It is important to take accountability for the fact that while we might not be responsible for this reality at an individual level, many of us continue to benefit from colonialism in Canada and the adverse impact it has had on Indigenous People.
Our current actions
We recognize that each of us as individuals, and CWB Financial Group as an organization, have critical roles to play in active reconciliation, which begins with listening and learning. There is much work ahead, but we are committed to the journey. We are also proud of the steps we have already taken over the past 18 months as part of our ongoing inclusion and diversity strategy:
1. Community: In 2020, CWB dedicated part of our Community Investment Program to Black and Indigenous communities with a goal to grow our investment each year to 2025. Some of this support is distributed through the following partnerships that primarily support Indigenous causes or communities across the country:
- Immediate new funding: CWB will support a national organization that aids reconciliation in Canada and educates and builds awareness around the impacts of the Residential School System through a monetary donation.
- Fort Edmonton Indigenous Peoples Experience (IPE): Through a corporate donation, CWB has contributed to the construction of the Post-Contact Era section of the Indigenous Peoples’ Experience, contributing to community learning about Indigenous history and culture. The experience opens summer of 2021.
- Post-secondary education: CWB supports Indigenous post-secondary students by investing in programs that focus on growth, learning, mentorship and more, currently at the University of Alberta, University of Regina and University of Manitoba.
- Calgary John Howard Society in Reducing Community Barriers for Participants in Employment Services: This program enhances the capacity of community agencies to work with individuals facing barriers to employment, particularly those with criminal records, to become successfully employed.
- Canadian Women’s Foundation: With CWB’s funding, this organization provides economic development grants that will benefit Black, racialized, immigrant and refugee, Indigenous, LGBTQ2S+ women and gender-diverse people in central and western Canada, who are working to move themselves and their children out of poverty through entrepreneurship, skills building, and self-employment.
- iHuman – iSucceed Program: This program builds on leadership, education, employment and a sense of belonging for young people and families, a significant proportion of which are Indigenous, with 85-90% from Treaty 6, 7, and 8; Métis Nation 4 and Inuit communities.
- Innovations for Learning: In 2021, CWB tutors started reading with students in Wiikwemkoong Unceded Territory whose reading and learning have been severely impacted as a result of COVID-19 and other outside factors. So far, we have delivered 83 reading sessions in a matter of a few months.
2. Support and sharing: We have established The Sharing Circle employee represented group, a safe place for our people to learn and grow for Indigenous Peoples and Allies. In the spirit of inclusion and understanding, this group is committed to enabling all people to participate in, and learn about, Indigenous ways of knowing and being. This group has been active in the past several months, sharing resources and supporting one another, including in the wake of the recent discoveries of the remains of Indigenous children.
3. Learning: In addition to the anti-racism learning opportunities that we have rolled out across the organization (with 225 participants so far), we have partnered with the Indigenous Relations Academy to build a learning module for all employees, that provides a better understanding of the history and culture of Indigenous Peoples in Canada. Through this foundational education and certification, our intent is to improve CWB’s organizational cultural competence and individual team members’ awareness to reduce bias and accelerate empathy and action.
We will be engaging with Nehayawin, an Edmonton-based Indigenous-run organization specializing in creating customized learning experiences through storytelling, to provide our executive team with a deeper dive into Indigenous history, awareness, and reconciliation focusing on the evolution of the banking system from an Indigenous perspective.
4. Representation and talent: We know that representation matters and recognize and strive to support diverse representation at the Board of Directors and senior leadership level to provide depth and breadth to our conversations and decisions. We are committed to improving the representation of Indigenous persons on our teams, which is reported annually in our Equity Report.
Earlier this year, we established the Indigenous Internship and Co-op Program, providing high quality employment opportunities to Indigenous post-secondary students and graduates. Partnering with organizations like Our Children’s Medicine and the Rupertsland Institute, we are thrilled to be in the process of onboarding 15 incredible new team members.
5. Performance: In 2020, we implemented a required common performance objective for all employees and leaders focused on inclusion and diversity learning, to advance how our team members make personal commitments to learning and growing.