April 8, 2024

Indigenous Panel Explores Business's Role in Contributing to Truth and Reconciliation

Jarislowsky Fellowship dinner exposes Haskayne MBA and EMBA students to new ideas on Indigenous ways of knowing
A group of four people sit on a stage
Moderator John Ralston Saul, centre right, with panel members from left: Lisa Meeches, Jean Teillet and Mark Podlasly. Kelly Hofer

Canada’s business leaders play a crucial role in the country’s Truth and Reconciliation journey. 

This was the primary message of a discussion panel at the Winter 2024 Jarislowsky Fellowship in Business Management Dinner and Discussion, hosted by the Canadian Centre for Advanced Leadership at the Haskayne School of Business for students in its Master of Business Administration (MBA) and Executive MBA (EMBA) programs.

People sit at round tables with white tablecloths

Jarislowsky Co-Fellow Karen Radford, left-centre, and MBA students listen to the panellists during their discussion on Truth and Reconciliation.

Kelly Hofer

The panellists added an extra layer of insight and relevance to dialogues spanning topics that included Kiipaitapiiyssinnooni (Our Way of Life), business and economic empowerment, media representation, education and workforce-integration, and meaningful land acknowledgements. The discussion was moderated by John Ralston Saul, award-winning essayist, novelist and co-founder of the Institute for Canadian Citizenship.

The role of business leaders in Truth and Reconciliation

The panellists underscored businesses' critical role in addressing historical injustices and promoting reconciliation. They emphasized the need for businesses to go beyond mere acknowledgment of the past and actively engage in initiatives that empower Indigenous communities.

Panellist Mark Podlasly, chief sustainability officer at the First Nations Major Projects Coalition, spoke about the importance of meaningful engagement with Indigenous communities underlining the need for businesses to prioritize sustainable development.

"Sustainability and meaningful engagement are essential components of any major project involving Indigenous lands and resources," said Podlasly. "True sustainability cannot be achieved without the active participation and benefit of Indigenous communities."

Podlasly stressed the importance of businesses not merely going through the motions of seeking advice on Indigenous issues, but actively prioritizing the hiring of Indigenous individuals into leadership positions.

"Indigenous Peoples are educating ourselves faster than the general population," said Podlasly. "Knowing and understanding how to connect with Indigenous Peoples for your company is important as they are your best conduit back to the communities because they can speak on your behalf if you have that partnership with them."

Another panellist, Lisa Meeches, a trailblazing figure in the television and film industry, spoke of the power of storytelling in advancing Indigenous narratives.

People sit together at tables

MBA and EMBA students participate in table discussions between panel sessions on how their organizations are working towards Truth and Reconciliation.

Kelly Hofer

"Businesses have a responsibility not only to acknowledge the injustices of the past, but also to actively work towards reconciliation in the present," said Meeches. "Storytelling has the unique ability to bridge gaps and foster understanding."

Meeches encouraged the students to work towards Truth and Reconciliation by learning and understanding traditional Indigenous ceremonies and practices so they can be implemented in their organizations.

"I know how it's going to look in my business. What is it going to look like for each of you," Meeches asked. "Because, believe it or not, in the linear world of business, a lot of times those spiritual teachings are forgotten, and Indigenous business is full of those types of teachings and ensuring that we are doing business in a good way."

Retired Indigenous rights lawyer and author Jean Teillet spoke on how businesses have an obligation to understand the legal and historical dimensions of reconciliation and also discussed the value of land acknowledgments.

"Recognition of Indigenous rights and honouring treaty obligations are fundamental to achieving reconciliation," said Teillet. "Reconciliation requires respecting Indigenous sovereignty and upholding the rights enshrined in treaties."

As for land acknowledgments, Teillet said they "are an important step towards acknowledging the Indigenous Peoples who have stewarded these lands for generations. By acknowledging the traditional territories, we honour the Indigenous Peoples' connection to the land and their enduring presence."

Student impact

A man stands in a crowd of seated people talking into a microphone

MBA and EMBA students ask the panellists questions on how to better understand reconciliation through business.

Kelly Hofer

Understanding the role of business in Truth and Reconciliation is crucial for fostering ethical leadership and sustainable practices. Participating in discussions like these not only broadens students' perspectives, but also equips them with the knowledge and empathy needed to navigate complex social issues in their future careers.

"Business efficiency is the responsibility to create an impact and to achieve that through economic means," said dinner attendee Colten Esser, BComm'19, an MBA student. "It's really connecting the dots between the enablement and empowerment that we see with business and the ability to create widespread impacts in diversity and community settings, as well."

The Jarislowsky Dinner and Discussion is offered twice a year to MBA and EMBA students, each with a distinct panel and subject. This panel was selected by Jarislowsky co-fellows Karen Radford and Irfhan Rawji.

The Jarislowsky Fellowship in Business Management was established in 2006. It provides Haskayne School of Business MBA and Executive MBA (EMBA) students with a chance to delve into contemporary business leadership issues. This approach is inspired by philanthropist Stephen Jarislowsky's belief that exposure to leaders helps students grasp the importance of a well-rounded perspective in business success. This includes involvement in the community, appreciation for arts, international culture, religion, politics and diversity.

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