September 26, 2022

The Canadian federal government’s announcement of a national day to recognize truth and reconciliation in 2021 follows years fraught with challenge and sorrow for Indigenous people across Canada. In the summer of 2021, the discovery of unmarked graves at former residential schools compelled Indigenous people to relive past trauma. We at the CWB Group mourned with Indigenous communities, and we asked ourselves, what can we do to show our support and make a difference? 

Each year, on September 30th, the National Day for Truth and Reconciliation, all Canadians have an opportunity to educate themselves about the history of Indigenous Peoples in Canada and to reflect on the harmful legacy of residential schools. We also have a chance to find ways to help Indigenous people and communities heal and thrive.

Impacts of the residential school system 

Residential schools were part of the systemic undermining and disruption of Indigenous communities. The traumatic impacts of children pulled from their families and forced into these institutions contributed to a devastating loss of culture and connection. Today, Indigenous people continue to face the heartbreaking impacts of colonization and oppression. 

According to the 2016 Census, the median employment income for the Indigenous population is roughly 23% less than that of the non-Indigenous population. The unemployment rate is substantially higher for the Indigenous population at 15.2% versus 7.4% for non-Indigenous. With the number of people identifying as Indigenous in Canada growing twice as fast as the non-Indigenous population, the discrepancy in employment rates is of great concern.

For First Nations people who live on reserves, crowded housing and homes in need of repair contribute to a lower standard of living, along with a higher prevalence of infectious diseases. Crumbling or inadequate infrastructure means that thousands of people live without indoor plumbing or safe drinking water.

The path to reconciliation

The Truth and Reconciliation Commission (TRC) was established to publicly acknowledge this suffering and injustice and allow survivors of residential schools to tell their truths. The work of the TRC was intended to build a path towards healing, strengthen communities and build trust. As part of this process, survivors told their stories of trauma and loss.

Many Canadians remain unaware of this tragic part of our history. One of the 94 Calls to Action in the final report of the TRC was to establish the National Day for Truth and Reconciliation to honour survivors and their families and communities and to ensure public commemoration of the history and legacy of residential schools. This tells us that all Canadians have a role to play in reconciliation.

 Opportunities for Indigenous people in the trades and welding 

Organizations like the CWB Group that support Canada’s skilled workforce and sustain excellence in the industry are well-positioned to champion change. 

The skilled trades are common amongst the Indigenous population, with 19% of people of Indigenous identity involved in trades, transport and equipment operators and related occupations. According to the 2016 Census, there are about 4,730 welders within the Indigenous population in Canada, making up 5% of all welders nationally. The demand for welders is expected to increase between 2021 and 2025, but declining certificate completions mean a skilled labour shortage. People with the right skills will be in high demand.

Government investment in infrastructure in the north will mean opportunities for Indigenous people. Through the federal government’s $180 billion-plus Investing in Canada plan, dozens of First Nations communities will benefit from the enhanced infrastructure. In addition, significant mining developments are being led in the north by private industry. These projects mean local skilled trades employment and opportunities for Indigenous people.

Valuing and encouraging diversity

One of the CWB Group’s core values is respect, and we passionately support diversity in all its forms. Internally, we demonstrate that support through Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion (DEI Employee Resource Group). The Employee Resource Group works to identify ways to make a difference—including where we can better support Indigenous people in our communities.

The CWB Group is a Canadian company with a global reach and presence. As part of our commitment to diversity, we welcome employment applications from people who share our values and our dedication to building confidence in the Canadian welding and joining industry. We recently announced a remote-first model, which allows us to hire the best employees from anywhere—including remote parts of Canada where Indigenous communities exist.

Supporting Indigenous education and advancement

Occupational opportunities are tied to advancements in education, and the gap in educational attainment between Indigenous and non-Indigenous people has decreased over time. The Canadian Indigenous population is younger than non-Indigenous (the average age is 32.1 for Indigenous people versus 40.9 for non-Indigenous), so there is immense potential for future success.

The CWB Group boosts Indigenous education along a number of fronts:

  • Through CWB Education, we support Indigenous-led post-secondary institutions, including Six Nations Polytechnic, Saskatchewan Institute of Technology, and Ogwehoweh Skills and Trades Training Centre. Further to this, many of the Canadian secondary schools using our learning resources to introduce students to fundamental concepts in welding and metalwork have high numbers of Indigenous youth.
  • The CWB Welding Foundation supports the future sustainability of the welding industry by sparking an interest in welding amongst youth, and amongst Indigenous youth in particular. Arx and Sparx welding camps—made possible by corporate partners including LNG Canada and Coastal GasLink—help youth see the opportunities in welding and can put them on a path to success. Since 2019, 15 Arx and Sparx camps for youth aged 12-17 have been completed across British Columbia and Alberta. The return of face-to-face events this year allows for two new camps to be completed over the summer, with three more locations in the planning stages.
  • The Foundation works in collaboration with our donors, educators and school administrators from selected secondary and post-secondary institutions, Indigenous Relations leaders and liaisons between the sponsors, the local community, and its First Nations members to develop and share content that is relevant to their local culture and supported by Elders from the community. 
    • Over 180 participants (Indigenous and non-Indigenous) have completed the program thus far.
  • The Foundation also funds student bursaries through Indspire, a national charity that aims to enrich Indigenous education and inspire achievement. Bursaries of $5,000 to $8,000, with Foundation funding of $50,000 per year, are matched 100% by the federal government.
  • Welding projects are developed and aligned with symbols and stories that are culturally inspired and relevant to the First Nations community of the local area.  These stories are shared and celebrated as the week progresses, culminating in a culturally inspired celebration with campers, their families, and the community.

Honouring truth and reconciliation

The CWB Group is encouraging its employees to take time on September 30 to educate themselves about the Indigenous peoples of Canada and understand the harms of the residential school system. Some employees are participating in free courses as part of their learning, including the University of Alberta’s “Indigenous Canada” course, available online through Coursera.

The CWB Group welcomes the National Day for Truth and Reconciliation as an opportunity to focus on learning and reflection, to show support for Indigenous people in the welding and joining industry and beyond; and to be a leader in pursuing positive change. We will continue with what the Canadian Council for Aboriginal Business considers three fundamental steps in business reconciliation: educate, reflect, and act.

Indigenous contributions to Canada—including vibrant artistic traditions, rich and diverse cultural traditions, fearless political leadership, and civil action—are significant and should be celebrated. Yet the harms of residential schools are profound, and only meaningful and ongoing effort will repair and strengthen Canada’s Indigenous communities. The CWB Group is committed to engaging in this effort—both internally and with our clients and stakeholders—to help Indigenous communities prosper.

University of Alberta: