Moving the needle on Indigenous-first diversity
New firm aims to help businesses achieve better outcomes in their efforts at reconciliation
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Among the film industry players and politicians in the Manitoba mission to Los Angeles a week ago to meet with the Hollywood film industry was a highly accomplished Indigenous educator and policy creator and advocate.
Rebecca Chartrand was asked to join the group on the chance that industry big-wigs might grill the local industry promoters about diversity representation.
As it turned out, they did.
Chartrand’s presence there — along with the industry’s bona fides when it comes to the number of productions of Indigenous stories — proved to be an important boost for what was by all accounts a fruitful trip.
Not that she needed verification from entertainment industry honchos about the need for more work to be done to enhance diversity — or as Chartrand puts it “Indigenous-first diversity” — in Manitoba.
But it was a real world example of the kind of demand that exists in the market for thoughtful expertise in the field and the gap that currently exists.
Chartrand, along with Michelle Boivin, who organized most of the events for the Truth and Reconciliation Commission, and Ben Carr, a (non-Indigenous) educator and former federal government policy adviser, have formed a new business called Indigenous Strategy Alliance to help fill that void.
“To hear one of the industry executives say, they are really interested in seeing the growth of diversity in the film industry and that if they come to Canada they would expect diversity… It’s almost like the industry is being nudged along, in some ways almost getting marching orders from the top executives,” she said.
Chartrand, a member of the Pine Creek First Nation who also identifies as Métis, said the example also emphasizes an issue that she hopes her new firm will address.
“The film industry (and every industry) is going to need to look at its diversity strategy and they are going to need to look and see what its numbers are,” she said.
As well as addressing all the difficult issues around institutional racism, Chartrand said there is a real need for better data about outcomes.
For instance, with more capital being made available to try to improve Indigenous education outcomes, Chartrand is hoping to be able to do work that will ask the question, ‘What are post-secondary institutions doing to enhance Indigenous achievement across the country?’
“I think we have to ask ourselves what are the approaches we are using and are they actually working?” she said. “We need to put some accountability measures in place and some criteria for success.”
The young firm, which just started in the spring, has already received endorsements from former prime minister Paul Martin and senior leaders in the fields of banking, education and religion.
Rod Bruinooge, the CEO and film commissioner of Manitoba Film & Music, said, the industry is proud of its track record telling Indigenous stories — the CBC comedy Acting Good and the EagleVision production Burden of Proof are just a couple of examples.
“When we were in L.A. last week there was a high level of interest in having Indigenous stories be more recognized and having Indigenous talent be a part of productions,” Bruinooge said. “We were thrilled that Rebecca was down there. She really represented the community well.”
But Chartrand, Boivin and Carr are keen to get past the words and start to “move the needle.”
Carr said after a recent op-ed in the Free Press that he wrote, there was plenty of racist commentary.
“This is the reality that Indigenous people are living every day,” he said. “This is why it is so important that Indigenous Strategy is an alliance — a partnership between Indigenous and non-Indigenous. It is not for Indigenous people alone to do the work.”
The firm has already become the go-to source for careful, thoughtful work in the field. It has a couple of pending submissions for work with healthcare and social service organizations.
“We want to build bridges,” Carr said “We want to be an organization that not only helps to advance truth and reconciliation in a variety of ways but also a place where people come and can start to explore where they are at and to provide the type of guidance that a lot of people need.”
In addition to helping First Nations establish the infrastructure they may need to access funding for health care and education, the firm will also work with non-Indigenous private sector firms who want to engage in reconciliation but do not know how to start or what to do.
As a veteran in the education world, Chartrand said that in-community educational experiences — which partner with established institutions — seem to have better outcomes.
“Ben and I both worked in education at senior levels and being educators we’re always having to look at data, looking at outcomes,” Chartrand said. “That is where our strength is.”
Martin Cash has been writing a column and business news at the Free Press since 1989. Over those years he’s written through a number of business cycles and the rise and fall (and rise) in fortunes of many local businesses.