Reflecting on Inclusivity on Indigenous Lands

Diversity. Equity. Inclusion. 

Big buzz words for this time we’re in, but what do they actually mean in the context of living on Indigenous lands? 

Our Métis colleagues, Leah and Olivia Horzempa, co-facilitated Openly’s recent Connection Café, Making Connections for Inclusivity on Indigenous Lands. Leah and Olivia guided an intensive educational workshop aimed at reorienting understandings of Indigenous lands, sovereignty and laws governing settler responsibilities and relations with Indigenous lands and Peoples. They guided us to explore  their perspectives on radical humility, considering ourselves as part of a universal kinship network and examining our positionality and privilege in oppressive systems. Situating ourselves humbly as equals to others and as part of the problem is a key starting point for learning how to participate in Indigenous-led movements.

Since the workshop, I’ve been reflecting on the knowledge that Leah and Olivia shared, and on the fundamental shifts unfolding within me. I’ll share a few takeaways here, with full credit to our teachers.

Learn about the land.

Indigenous Peoples belong to the land. The land and its peoples are sovereign. As such, they have inherent rights to existence. Treaties are legal agreements created to outline the duties of non-Indigenous Peoples. As a settler, I have an obligation to learn the history and purpose of the treaties as well as my responsibilities as a guest on the land.

As we prepared for this workshop, I sought out Indigenous perspectives on the land where I live. On the Missisaugas of the Credit First Nation’s website, I found historical accounts of The Toronto Purchase, Treaty 13 and the largest land claim settlement in Canadian history in 2010. I was surprised to learn that Treaty 13 was borne of great deceit and trickery on the part of the Crown, who stole the land which is now “Toronto” for 10 shillings. The occupied land has expanded to include a vast area including Toronto Islands. The Crown has never acknowledged its responsibilities nor returned the stolen land.

If you want to know whether you are on Indigenous land, the answer is yes. Check out to learn more about the land in your community.

Critically examine diversity, equity and inclusion.

As sovereign peoples, Indigenous Peoples have greater legal rights to exist and participate on land called Canada than any other groups. They are not equity-seeking groups. 

Indigenous Peoples are not a homogenous group, rather they are highly diverse with distinct differences between communities and Nations. 

“Before we can talk about equity, we MUST reconcile with Indigenous people. Only then can equity be properly addressed and redistributed. If not, there will be continual oppression of Indigenous people.” 
– Olivia Horzempa

It is not up to settlers to design initiatives that aim to include Indigenous Peoples in systems that oppress them.

We must critically examine language, ideology and practices and ask ourselves who they ultimately serve. Ultimately, diversity, equity, and inclusion efforts can be harmful, fortifying western systems on Indigenous lands and reinforcing the status quo rather than dismantling oppression.  

How are Indigenous, Black, Brown and People of Colour really doing? What’s happening for them in settler-run organizations purporting to stand for diversity, equity and inclusion?

Learning needs action to become allyship.

Realities are ever-changing and knowledge is never static. While research and education are important, they are not enough. To become an ally, we have to turn our learning into action, which requires sacrificing comfort, power and resources.

Leah and Olivia offered a number of protocols for settlers participating as allies and co-resistors in Indigenous-led movement spaces, including:

  • Position yourself as a learner.
  • Don’t speak first.
  • Only do what you’re explicitly asked to do, not more.
  • Accept what is shared by Indigenous Peoples as true.
  • Apologize when  corrected.
  • Receive knowledge with gratitude.
  • Become accountable to knowledge shared.
  • Translate knowledge into a small change every day.

I’m eager to learn about examples that are working well, so please share: How are you sacrificing comfort and power to reconcile with Indigeous Peoples, lands and waters? What are you learning? How are you translating your learning into action? 

I’m grateful to Leah and Olivia Horzempa for guiding this workshop with tremendous thought and care. To learn more about their work, and to engage them in your reconciliation journey, check out Sister Circle Consulting.

Lisa Villeneuve

Openly’s monthly Connection Café is a space for meaningful dialogue grounded in learning, relationships and good practice. Our purpose is to sustain the work and wellbeing of change workers through an extraordinary time. Each session profiles an intriguing topic and an amazing guest expert to help guide our discussion and offer helpful tips and tools.

“Before we can talk about equity, we MUST reconcile with Indigenous people. Only then can equity be properly addressed and redistributed. If not, there will be continual oppression of Indigenous people.”

– Olivia Horzempa

Donna Forde

Leah and Olivia Horzempa hosted Openly’s fourth Connection Café

Three Reflections

1. Learn about the land.

2. Critically examine diversity, equity and inclusion.

3. Learning needs action to become allyship.


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