In creating its Aboriginal Cultural Awareness Training, Canadian National Railway wanted to show it is accountable for its past with Aboriginal Peoples and is helping to move forward.
According to CN senior counsel Mélanie Allaire, the CAT is the company’s way of being transparent with employees and building strong and healthy relationships with Aboriginal Peoples based on mutual trust and respect.
In 2014, Allaire developed, with the help of Amik Inc., an Aboriginal consultant based in Winnipeg, the CAT, forming an important part of the strategy behind CN’s Aboriginal Vision adopted in 2013, which calls upon increased employee engagement throughout CN.
“One of the pillars behind the strategy behind the vision was to increase employee engagement with Aboriginal communities. In order to do that, we couldn’t ask our employees to do so without knowing how to do it,” says Allaire, who is senior counsel environmental and Aboriginal affairs and the lead of the Aboriginal relations team at CN. “Therefore, we developed the cultural awareness training.”
The training provides information about beliefs, history and the culture of Aboriginal people and it covers the Aboriginal vision and strategy of CN. It also gives all CN employees ideas on how to implement the vision in their day-to-day work.
“It gives CN the opportunity to live its Aboriginal vision,” says Allaire.
In 2017, an e-learning version of that training was launched to reach out to more employees faster.
This training introduces CN employees to Aboriginal culture and history, describes the makeup of Aboriginal political and social communities and suggests ways to forge healthy, safe and positive relationships with Aboriginal Peoples in Canada.
Currently, more than 200 employees from various departments in Canada and the United States have received the live training session and, since early 2017, more than 1,700 Canadian employees (75 per cent of which are unionized employees) took the e-learning version of the training developed as an e-learning to reach out faster to more employees.
“CN has operations adjacent to more than 200 reserves across Canada linked to more than 110 different First Nations. That means Aboriginal people are our neighbours, our business partners, our employees and investors, so it’s crucial for a company like CN to offer an inclusive workplace for its employees. It’s also important for our employees to be cognizant of Canadian history,” she says.
Allaire says the training has been “a revelation and game changer” for many employees and contributes to the positioning of CN as a leader in the field of Aboriginal relations. In 2017, the CAT e-learning became mandatory as part of new employee training at the Winnipeg training centre.
In the past, CN customers — having recognized the company’s leadership in the area of Aboriginal awareness — approached CN about making the training available to their own employees.
“We modified the CAT into a generic version, which our clients can now benefit from, and AltaGas was the first company to receive this training at the end of 2016 and they greatly appreciated it,” says Allaire.
Aboriginal relations managers Stephanie Ziemer, Doug Devlin and Daniel Gagné also helped in the practical portion to ensure examples used in the e-learning are real-life examples. Also, Lauréanne Fontaine, Aboriginal relations co-ordinator, ensured the manual was updated as needed for the course.
CN officially became a Progressive Aboriginal Relations committed company in September 2016 and has since been working toward its PAR certification delivered by the Canadian Council for Aboriginal Business.
In terms of tangible results, the number of Aboriginal employees has increased and is now almost at the level of the market availability for the railroad industry.
“We haven’t experienced a blockade of our operations in the past two years, we have found great business opportunities, which benefit both CN and the Aboriginal communities, and we have been offering help to our customers in developing their projects and helping them with their Aboriginal engagement,” says Allaire.