The discovery of unmarked graves at former residential schools across Canada has once again brought to light the horrific legacies of colonialism and residential schools in Canada. It is lamentable that it has taken the discovery of thousands of stolen children to galvanize national attention to a history of disappearance and loss so well known to First Nations, Inuit and Métis communities. But here we are, 25 years after the last residential school closed, and 6 years after the Truth and Reconciliation Commission published its final report and Calls to Action.
Our teams at SHARE and the National Aboriginal Trust Officers Association (NATOA), alongside many others across Turtle Island, have expressed our grief and solidarity with the Indigenous communities and families of the lost children. But, more than our grief, we know that reconciliation requires action – action from all levels and sectors of society, including, and perhaps especially from those of us who work in the world of responsible investment.
NATOA and SHARE came together in 2016 and formed the Reconciliation and Responsible Investment Initiative (RRII) as a place for collective investor action. RRII is a place where Indigenous and non-Indigenous investors are supported in using their voices and their capital to uphold Indigenous rights, promote positive economic outcomes for Indigenous peoples and centre Indigenous perspectives in investment decision-making.
Since its launch, RRII has conducted research on corporate Canada’s alignment with Call to Action 92, directed at business in Canada. We have developed resources for non-Indigenous investors on advancing reconciliation across their portfolios. We have also worked with Indigenous trusts to help align their investment policies with their values and aspirations in ways that build on the stewardship protocols and traditions that have sustained Indigenous communities for generations.
Building on this previous work, in 2020, we turned our attention to better understand the role that asset managers could play in advancing reconciliation. We knew that asset managers had the potential to be important allies as employers, economic actors, shareholders and, for those with Indigenous clients, stewards of Indigenous wealth. But what were asset managers already doing and where were they falling short?
What we found were both tangible examples of leadership that we hope will be replicated, along with ample opportunities for investment managers to raise the bar in advancing reconciliation in their organizations’ policies and practices.
For example, some firms are taking important steps to create employment and training opportunities for current and potential Indigenous staff. Almost half of the investment management firms surveyed had established policies to increase both the pipeline of prospective Indigenous employees as well as the supply of jobs available to Indigenous people in their firm. One noteworthy practice is the creation of scholarships and bursaries for Indigenous students. Another is the set-aside of specific spots for Indigenous graduates in internship programs.
Around half of surveyed firms reported having educational programs for management and staff on the history of Indigenous peoples. This is both a bare minimum, and critical element of the Truth and Reconciliation Commission’s Calls to Action. We hope that asset management firms across the country will prioritize education for management and staff on Indigenous rights and history.
A leading stewardship practice that was identified was one firm’s efforts to work together with its portfolio companies to support equity partnerships and other profit-sharing relationships with Indigenous communities. The same firm also noted advocating to governments to embrace the principles of the United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples (UNDRIP), including Indigenous peoples’ right to free, prior, and informed consent.
In addition to these practical examples, other opportunities to further advance reconciliation are identified in the report.
For example, we were particularly inspired by the efforts of large superannuation funds in Australia. Several have developed Reconciliation Action Plans that go beyond just talking about reconciliation and set out specific responsibilities, timelines and targets. Imagine if some of Canada’s largest public sector pension plans established their own reconciliation action plans. The positive impacts for Indigenous inclusion and growing the Indigenous economy would be significant.
Prioritizing procurement from Indigenous owned businesses is another tangible action that investment management firms can use to advance reconciliation. Leading Indigenous organizations such as the Canadian Council for Aboriginal Business, are calling on government and industry to establish procurement targets from Indigenous businesses as a powerful and practical step to support Indigenous economic development.
Finally, investment management firms are well positioned to give credibility to the inclusion of reconciliation and Indigenous rights recognition as a central aspect of good corporate governance. Incorporating explicit reference to UNDRIP in responsible investment principles and ensuring guidance related to Indigenous rights recognition in proxy voting guidelines are concrete steps that investment managers can take.
When large asset managers get behind efforts to align corporate practices with reconciliation, the results can be significant. For example, in May, 98% of shareholders voted in favour of a resolution on Indigenous inclusion and reconciliation at TMX Group Ltd. Through RRII, SHARE and NATOA will continue to build on this win as we seek to ensure reconciliation goals are included in corporate equity, diversity and inclusion practices across Canadian capital markets. We hope investment management firms will carry forward their support of these efforts with other companies in their portfolios.
In our survey of Canadian asset managers, we were heartened to hear one respondent plainly state that economic reconciliation benefits all involved, and that the investment management industry has much to gain from Indigenous teachings and the holistic approach that Indigenous values bring to the investment process.
We couldn’t agree more. The work of RRII is not inspired by charity. It is not built on the misconception of allyship as being a one-way street. The partnership between SHARE and NATOA recognizes that our future is a collective one where our successes and failures are deeply interconnected. And in that spirit of reciprocity, we will continue to work together towards change.
We hope that more individuals and organizations in the responsible investment ecosystem will join us on this journey from awareness to action.