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A portrait of Jason Rasevych
Analysis
The Profession

How CPAs can lead the way in reconciliation

Redefining the role of corporate reporting, value creating and financial planning in the era of Truth and Reconciliation

CPA Canada spoke with Jason Rasevych, an Anishnawbe and Cree from Ginoogaming First Nation, about how CPAs can bring a principled approach to balancing purpose and profitability. Jason’s worldview is shaped from work on the family trapline and attending the OKA rallies in Kanawake at a young age. An executive adviser leading Indigenous community development, he is also a part of the Indigenous Advisory Group of the Public Sector Accounting Board.  

Jason sat down with CPA Canada to discuss how corporate Canada is faring on the Truth and Reconciliation Commission of Canada’s Call to Action 92 nearly a decade after it was adopted. 

CTA 92 calls on corporate Canada to adopt the United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples as a framework for reconciliation – including committing to meaningful consultation, building respectful relationships, and obtaining the free, prior, and informed consent of Indigenous peoples before proceeding with economic development projects. 

CPAC: CPA Canada’s 2022 State of Play social disclosure report found that while 56 per cent of companies studied reported on Indigenous matters in their voluntary sustainability disclosures, only 35 per cent reported on their approach to Indigenous matters and very few companies explicitly used the language of free, prior and informed consent (FPIC) when discussing their approach to engaging with Indigenous peoples and communities. What does meaningful consultation and obtaining FPIC entail?  

JR: Section 35 of the Canadian Constitution Act recognizes and affirms the existing Aboriginal and treaty rights of Indigenous peoples. To protect these rights, the doctrine of the duty to consult and, where appropriate, accommodate Indigenous peoples was developed by Canadian courts. Furthermore, UNDRIP stipulates that signatories must consult and co-operate with Indigenous peoples to obtain FPIC on a range of matters that affect them. 


Learn more about FPIC 


 

That means Indigenous peoples and communities need to be involved as early as possible, working together with businesses to develop the business or project plans and not just brought in at the end to get a “rubber stamp” of Indigenous approval on an already fully developed plan.  

Companies should consider including Indigenous knowledge as part of the corporate culture through the establishment of an Indigenous relations office to develop strategies or a reconciliation action plan. These plans may include pillars on talent, education, business contracting and policy or structural change to decolonize internal corporate controls.  

CPAC: What are the business risks of failing to consult or obtain FPIC?  

JR: Businesses can be impacted by allegations of violations of Indigenous peoples’ rights in their operations and supply chains in multiple ways: 

  • Legal risk: A company’s failure to sufficiently comply with standards of consultation carry litigation risks that could result in an injunction that slows down or stops a project completely. 
  • Operational risk: Companies involved in projects that do not sufficiently address the cultural values or concerns raised by Indigenous peoples may face operational issues in the form of blockades or moratoriums on proposed projects.   
  • Reputational and brand risk: Companies may face reputational damage if they are found to be linked to instances of Indigenous rights violations. 
  • Financial risk: Divestment or avoidance by investors and finance providers that are applying environmental, social and governance (ESG) criteria may result in reduced or more expensive access to capital. 

In other words, the benefits of achieving FPIC and equitable partnerships with Indigenous peoples will result in the social license to operate and create more value from Indigenous knowledge in project design that leads to better outcomes.  

CPAC: An increasing number of Canadian companies include commitments to Indigenous communities as part of their ESG reporting, but as our State of Play study suggests, many do not have fully formed strategies, risking what you have called “redwashing.” Tell us more about that phenomenon.  

JR: “Redwashing” is a term used to describe an attempt by a company to portray itself as a caring, good neighbour to Indigenous peoples and communities, for example, through sponsorships for Indigenous education or donations to arts and culture through support of community festivals, ceremonies or powwows.  

It is a corporate social responsibility tactic to wash over the damaging effects of corporate marginalization of Indigenous peoples by self-proclamation of leadership economic reconciliation.  There are also other symptoms of “redwashing” found in tokenizing Indigenous peoples in processes, or on committees, by minimizing their role to a box-checking exercise.   

CPAC: How can the average person assess whether a company is simply “redwashing” or whether they are actually committed?  

JR: There are three key questions to ask:  

  • How is the company measuring its progress in decolonizing its corporate culture? 
  • How is the company measuring the non-financial benefits or social impact of its operations to Indigenous peoples and including them in some form of decision making? 
  • How is the company acting on the TRC’s Call to Action #92 and creating internal policies to operationalize UNDRIP – FPIC into its corporate DNA? 

CPAC: CTA 92 also calls on corporate Canada to ensure Indigenous peoples have equitable access to jobs, training and education opportunities in the corporate sector. What are some of the actions that companies can take to make progress?   

JR: As the Chair of the TRC, Justice Murray Sinclair stated “education is what got us into this mess, education is what will get us out.”   

As part of the reconciliation journey, companies must commit to education and cultural awareness training for all staff.  It is important because much of the truth of Indigenous peoples was hidden from mainstream society’s education system until the residential school survivors’ report.   

It is crucial for companies to look within and better understand the power imbalances that exist in a colonial corporate structure and identify strategies to break down barriers for Indigenous peoples in the company’s management or senior levels.   

There is no “one size fits all” approach, and operationalizing FPIC may require different processes or new creative ways of working together with Indigenous peoples, but here are some other things companies can do to move forward. 

  • Following the Indigenous philosophy of “nothing about us without us” is critical. Wahkohtowin is a central point in Cree natural law that speaks to the interconnectedness of all things, and our responsibilities to communities all over the world, present and future.  
  • Develop an understanding of what TRC Call to Action 92, UNDRIP and FPIC mean to the corporate board and how it impacts the Indigenous peoples in the organization.  This will lead to an Indigenous relations strategy and reconciliation action plan. 
  • Operationalize FPIC. This will be the new standard to ensure companies remain authentic in a company’s reconciliation efforts.  
  • Acknowledge that Western ways of knowing are not the only source of knowledge and understand the value that Indigenous knowledge brings to the corporate world. 
  • Commit to meaningful and principled dialogue with Indigenous employees and other rights-holders that the organization is impacting. Dialogue with Indigenous employees may be addressed in part from a diversity, equity and inclusion context, but it should also be addressed from a reconciliation perspective.  
  • Be aware of the reporting on Indigenous matters by partners, suppliers, and clients. There is a need for collaborative relationships and reporting along the value chain.  
  • Include Indigenous views in the risk management assessment and establish an ethical process or ombuds office to resolve concerns related to systemic bias.

Foundational Education

Learn more about Indigenous cultures and histories with this CPA Canada resource


 

CPAC: Can you share with us some specific calls to action for CPAs? What is your message to the CPA profession and people across Canada when it comes to reconciliation?

JR: The Haudenosaunee Seventh Generation Principle states that decisions we make today must consider the next seven generations of our children, grandchildren and great grandchildren. CPAs can help ensure their organizational strategies and practices incorporate the Seventh Generation Principle by working with Indigenous leaders – but it is important to guard against cultural appropriation when doing so. 

A critical first step for CPAs is to obtain relevant foundational education on Indigenous histories, cultures, and perspectives, along with the impact of an organization’s activities on Indigenous peoples and the systemic barriers Indigenous peoples face. CPAs in finance departments will need to work closely with other departments to develop ways to ensure the data used for disclosures accurately represents the impact on Indigenous peoples. CPAs working in professional services firms must acknowledge the path to reconciliation will require unconventional approaches.

There is no economic justice without social justice on the pathway to reconciliation, however it must be acknowledged that Indigenous capitalism is only a part reconciliation, and achieving restorative justice also requires educating our families and colleagues to advancing on all the 94 calls to action of the TRC. 

Highlighting Indigenous Voices 

Meet the CPAs who are charting innovative paths to the future. Indigenous knowledge and practices essential to ESG. A conversation on capacity building within First Nations communities. 

Photo Caption: Jason Rasevych (Christian Carter)