I was reading the Human Resources Management in Canada textbook for a course I am taking. There was a section on diversity in the workplace, which is something that I am very passionate about, with a paragraph about Indigenous people. It stated: “Most Indigenous employees in the workforce are concentrated in low-skill, low-paid jobs, such as trades helper.”
I sat there reading the screen of this ebook saddened and disheartened. I know many Indigenous leaders who are making real changes and advancements in our society, and that sentence sends an opposite message. This book was published in 2019, so it’s not decades old. It’s the most up-to-date human resources textbook in Canada.
Reading this sentence made me question if the authors of the book ever imagined an Indigenous person would even read the book. Unfortunately, I don’t think they did.
I wonder how this could impact an Indigenous student who mustered up the courage to enter into post-secondary education. Imagine a student second-guessing themselves every step along the way, and then they stumble upon that paragraph. Could that sentence alone be the straw that broke the camel’s back for that individual? It is also sending the message to every one of their classmates that the Indigenous student has no place in the classroom as they are destined to be in a “low-skill, low-paid job.”
I know many strong, powerful Indigenous leaders who I look up to and who support me in the work I do. There are many Indigenous people who are paving the way for young, Indigenous people to have a space at board tables, in management, in politics and beyond.
I turned to Asma-na-hi Antoine to talk about this paragraph. Antoine is the manager of Indigenous Education and Student Services at Royal Roads University, and she is currently on leave while pursuing a PhD at Simon Fraser University. Antoine is a strong Indigenous woman who is fully immersed in the world of academia, and sentences like this one are nothing new for her.
“I’ve seen textbooks that say treaties don’t exist in Canada,” said Antoine, adding it should be the professors responsibility to tell students the textbooks have incorrect information in them. “They should be choosing books that they have read.”
It shouldn’t just be the responsibility of Indigenous people to identify these statements. I think it is all of our responsibility to question statements such as this when we read them.
“There is systemic racism in books, and when Indigenous students speak out about them they are viewed as radical, overreacting or called way too sensitive,” Antoine said. “There is a lack of safety for Indigenous students in this classroom.”
During our conversation, Antoine talked about how an educator could use these inaccuracies in lectures and to facilitate classroom conversations, but she has some strong recommendations that go along with that. Antoine mentioned that in classroom conversations, students might raise points that subtly or unsubtly reinforce systemic racism and stereotypes, and that the educators need to be able to identify this and address it when it happens.
If that classroom conversation goes sideways, then the student is then being hit by a textbook saying they have no place in the classroom, and then their peers and educator are saying the same thing. It is not the role of Indigenous people to continuously point these things out.
Antoine has devoted herself to academia and admits it’s tiresome to be the one always raising concern.
“As an Indigenous person, I see racism everyday. I’ve been dealing with it over and over again,” she said. “I get empathy burnout and I have to pick my battles.”
I always say that it shouldn’t just be Indigenous people standing up for Indigenous rights. I really hope when sentences like this are published, that more people speak up. I wonder how many people have read that textbook and that paragraph and thought nothing of it.
Indigenous people have been suppressed for so long, and damaging statements are only going to continue that. The fact that it was published is sending the message that no one even realized it could be hurtful, and that is the worst part.
Charla Huber is the director of communications and Indigenous relations for M’akola Housing Society.