Diversity, Equity & Inclusion

Building Bridges: Addressing Barriers to Indigenous Employment

John Smith

In September 2022, representatives from 150 countries convened in Mexico for MONDIACULT 2022, the biggest global conference on culture in four decades. The historic Declaration for Culture, which recognizes culture as a ‘global public good’, was adopted unanimously, with a call for it to be included ‘as a distinct objective’ in the development agenda beyond 2030.

Diversity is at the heart of FDM, and we take pride in hosting events that celebrate the many unique cultures, customs, festivals and languages that collectively make us who we are. In the spirit of promoting cultural diversity and dialogue, we want to turn our focus on the Indigenous Peoples and Communities in Canada and explore ways to educate ourselves on their unique struggles and challenges especially in the face of barriers to employment.

We are delighted to have partnered with Indigenous Link, an organization ‘entirely focused on developing connections to Indigenous Communities and Peoples across Canada.’

Their aim is to ‘build awareness, increase understanding, and cultivate trust to create a shared vision. It is about recognizing that we are all connected and can build a future based on a foundation of knowledge, inclusion and acceptance.’

Top stats

The 2021 census recorded 1.8 million Indigenous Peoples in Canada accounting for 5% of the total population. The Indigenous population grew by 9.4% from 2016 to 2021, surpassing the growth of the non-Indigenous population over the same period (+5.3%).

Using the right terminology

The term Indigenous is used by the United Nations and Canada to refer to the original inhabitants of a country. Indigenous Peoples have been in Canada since time immemorial. There are three distinct groups of Indigenous Peoples recognized in the Canadian Constitution: First Nations (Indians), Inuit, and Métis. Each group has its own unique heritage, language, culture, and spiritual beliefs, and they are not considered a homogenous collective.

Canada is home to approximately 633 First Nations communities, 51 Inuit communities, and 23 Métis communities, comprising of around 52 distinct nations or cultural groups. Indigenous Peoples have a presence across the entire country, from coast to coast to coast, and collectively speak over 70 Indigenous languages. Companies that lack knowledge about Indigenous Peoples and their cultures may inadvertently embed systemic barriers in their human resources policies and procedures.

It’s important to address Indigenous Peoples in a way that reflects their own self-identification, whether as individuals or communities. For example – First Nations communities may use terms such as bands, communities, or nations. Taking the time to understand and use these terms accurately is an essential aspect of building trust and fostering meaningful relationships.

Top barriers to employment

Indigenous Peoples (including First Nations, Inuit and Métis communities) have historically faced several barriers to their entry into mainstream employment. Between 2007 and 2022 there have been fluctuations in the employment rate of Indigenous Peoples in Canada, with the rate standing at 60.5% in 2022, up from 56.4 percent the previous year. Some of the most common challenges for the Indigenous communities are –

Literacy and education

Basic literacy and education are fundamental pre-requisites for most jobs. However, only 53% of the Indigenous population (aged 24- 65 years) has some form of post-secondary education, compared to 65% of their non-Indigenous counterparts. The stats highlight the need to provide Indigenous communities with access to better, publicly funded education.

Cultural differences

Most employers and co-workers are insensitive to the distinctive cultural difference between the Indigenous communities. First Nations, Inuit and Métis communities have specific characteristics, challenges and cultural norms that make them different from one another. A lack of cultural awareness creates a workplace environment that could be potentially alienating and inconducive to the synergy of diverse ideas and backgrounds.

Poor transport links

For a majority of indigenous communities living in remote areas, a dearth of transportation options is a serious impediment to mobility. Public transit serves few remote communities and even fewer have access to a personal vehicle. According to a recent survey up to 75% of Indigenous People living on-reserve in B.C. don’t have a valid driver’s license. This lack of proper transport acts as a significant barrier to employment.

Limited access to the internet

Digital connectivity is something that most businesses take for granted. However, several Indigenous communities continue to have limited or no access to the internet. This naturally acts as a significant hindrance particularly during the job search process where most applications are made online.

Lack of Indigenous role models

According to an audit by the Canadian Human Rights Commission, a lack of Indigenous representation within organisations and the absence of Indigenous role models, particularly in the banking and finance sectors, acts as a significant barrier to employment. Some of the findings from the audit were:

Why Education is necessary

Education is the ultimate way to address both ignorance and systemic biases. Learning about the cultural histories of Indigenous communities can help build awareness. An understanding of social and cultural nuances can also help customize recruitment processes to be more inclusive.

Actionable Steps

At FDM we are continually exploring ways to improve our diversity policies and build a work environment where every individual feels supported and empowered to be the best and most authentic versions of themselves.

As we turn our focus on the life and cultures of Indigenous Peoples, we want to educate ourselves on the best ways to reach out to these diverse communities and tailor our recruitment strategy to reflect this – through the use of correct terminology, better accessibility to job adverts and flexible job criteria that focuses on ability and potential over degree.

To help us in this process, we had Chantal Fraser from the company Empowered Path Inc. conduct an Indigenous Recruitment Training session for our staff. This was an office-wide training session to better equip our teams to recruit and retain Indigenous talent. All staff members who are involved in interviewing, recruitment and onboarding were encouraged to attend.

Empowered Path Inc. who have a strategic partnership with Indigenous Link, offer a variety of services such as delivering Indigenous Inclusion sessions to employers in Canada. Their sessions cover:

Key takeaways

The training focused on the importance of building a reputation of trust through consistent respectful outreach and collaboration. Some of the ways to do this is by:

Job postings

When advertising job roles, use multiple media including direct marketing, traditional broadcast media and word of mouth. This ensures you reach the widest cross section of people who you may have missed using only digital platforms. Additionally, you should accept applications in person, by fax, post and email – to allow different options to applicants.

Job descriptions should be inclusive and distinguish essential and non-essential criteria. Read our blog on How to Write Inclusive Job Adverts. Ads should reflect your company’s values and where possible, use images and statements that reflect an inclusive culture.

Chantal Frazer, Empowered Path Inc.

Interview and shortlisting

In Indigenous cultures, working as a community is greatly valued. Group efforts may be highlighted on a resumé rather than individual accomplishments. Also, employment gaps on resumés may be due to a lack of mainstream job opportunities. When screening resumés, it’s important to consider transferable skills demonstrated by volunteer roles or service to the community instead of solely professional roles.

The Interview Team should reflect your company’s diversity and project a welcoming rather than formal ambiance. Where possible, employers should try and arrange an Indigenous Awareness or Cultural Sensitivity session for the interview team. This ensures that interviewers are culturally sensitive without overcompensating.  


If necessary, prepare a skills training plan and follow through. It is extremely important to provide support during initial training – if you miss this step, you could risk early termination.

Looking ahead

We are excited about the prospects of our partnership with Indigenous Link as we look forward to discovering innovative methods of connecting with diverse Indigenous communities and providing them with the support they need to enter the mainstream workforce.

With more than three decades of experience as a strategic talent solutions partner, we’re uniquely positioned to leverage the potential of a largely untapped talent pool and help our clients bridge critical skills gaps.

Take a look at our Business Services and Technical Services or Contact Us for more information.