CN Railway releases Indigenous relations policy

Canadian National Railway Co. has released a new Indigenous relations policy for the railway months after its advisory council of prominent Indigenous leaders resigned en masse.

The policy includes principles on cultural awareness and employee engagement, people and employment, community engagement and relationships, economic reconciliation and environmental stewardship and safety.

“CN is deeply committed to reconciliation and continuing to work collaboratively alongside Indigenous communities across our network,” CN chief legal officer Olivier Chouc said in a news release.

“By acknowledging our past and embracing our responsibilities, we are laying a stronger foundation to continue to develop respectful, sustainable, and mutually beneficial relationships with Indigenous peoples.”

The council resigned at the end of last year after its co-chairs said the company failed to acknowledge past wrongs and follow its recommendations for reconciliation.

The new policy follows CN’s acknowledgment of the historical role railways have played as part of colonial policies. That acknowledgment was published in December on the heels of the council’s mass resignation.

The railway is one of a number of major Canadian corporations that have appointed Indigenous advisory councils in the last few years in response to a call to action by the federal Truth and Reconciliation Commission.

The commission called on the corporate sector to commit to meaningful consultation and respectful relationships with Indigenous people, and to ensure they have equitable access to jobs, training, and education opportunities as well as long-term sustainable benefits from economic development projects.

But Indigenous business experts have said these goals remain far off, as evidenced by the resignation of CN’s Indigenous advisory council.

Some have urged corporate Canada to move beyond window dressing to real action, including by setting targets for Indigenous representation at the board level and hiring targets across the organization.

Such measures could also include procurement agreements to ensure Indigenous-owned businesses are being granted fair access to corporate contracts.

Mélanie Allaire, CN’s head of Indigenous relations, said the company is developing its first Reconciliation Action Plan, which is meant to outline specific and measurable initiatives for CN to track its progress. The plan will be announced later this year.

“This new policy is just one piece of the comprehensive work being undertaken at CN to build strong and meaningful relationships with Indigenous peoples,” Allaire said in a statement.

CN says its network operates within or adjacent to nearly 230 reserve lands of more than 120 First Nations and Métis communities in Canada and seven Tribal reservations in the United States.