CN Locomotive Indigenous ERG Logo
JUN 21, 2021

CN Celebrates Indigenous History Month and National Indigenous Peoples Day with our Indigenous Employee Resource Group

In June, Canada commemorates National Indigenous History Month and on June 21st, it is National Indigenous Peoples Day, celebrating Indigenous heritage, voices, achievements, and cultures.

This year our CN Indigenous Employee Resource Group (ERG) is marking the month through a number of activities featuring Indigenous art, dance, and culture. There will also be virtual educational seminars, sponsorships, and fundraising activities.

We had the opportunity to talk with two members of the Indigenous ERG, Vanessa James (Human Resources Business Partner, Mechanical) and Samuel Newton (VAT Team Developer), about this month’s celebrations as well as the ERG itself.

Please tell us about yourself and your role at CN

“Aneen, Vanessa James nidishnika, Anishinaabekwe,” begins Vanessa, “I am an Ojibway woman from Sagkeeng First Nation in Manitoba. Many years of my professional career have been with First Nation organizations and non-profit or governmental departments, working collaboratively on First Nation projects and initiatives.” Vanessa’s career at CN started three years ago in Human Resources as a business partner for the Mechanical department.

“I am of Wiyot Indian native decent,” begins Samuel, “and the area of Wiyot that remains is in Humboldt Bay, California.” At CN Samuel is a VAT Team Developer and his team inspects trains for mechanical defects as well as assists with CN’s Automated Inspection Portals.

CN Aboriginal Affaires

What is the Indigenous ERG and what role does it hope to play at CN?

“The Indigenous ERG is a safe space for Indigenous and non-Indigenous employees to share, learn, and grow together around the unique recognitions, relationships, and histories that Indigenous Peoples hold,” says Vanessa.

Samuel adds, “It started off as a company initiative to create an open dialogue for people of Native decent and also those supporting Native peoples,” with the goal, Samuel continues, “of acceptance and empowerment.”

Vanessa explains that the Indigenous ERG is committed to embracing indigenous cultures and continuous learning, provide space “to discuss Indigenous topics and share stories and experiences while building connections with our employees, supporters, and representatives.”

The ERG’s mandate also includes a commitment to support “recruitment, onboarding, mentorship programming, education, learning sessions, supporting Indigenous organizations, and communities, [as well as] creating sponsorship and fundraising opportunities,” says Vanessa.

How does CN currently support our Indigenous employees and what can CN do to better support Indigenous employees?

“CN is currently putting a lot of effort into creating an accepting community for Indigenous employees,” says Samuel. Vanessa explains that, “CN supports the Indigenous Employee Resource Group and their mission and vision of creating a community for Indigenous and non-Indigenous employees to share, learn, and recognize Indigenous contributions.”

Vanessa is motivated to explore further opportunities for CN to “reach out to our employees and to promote hiring opportunities with Indigenous employees… as well as to maximize [CN’s] Indigenous employee base potential [through] access to learning, development, and succession planning.” She looks forward to the role that the ERG might have in furthering these efforts.

Samuel describes his pride in some of CN’s recent strides with respect to Indigenous relations, a sentiment that Vanessa also shares, describing how CN’s efforts to “foster meaningful and long-lasting relationships between the railway and Indigenous Peoples,” continue to positively impact its employees as well. “The Company is moving towards a new level of collaboration with Indigenous communities. This in turn will affect our internal relationships with our Indigenous employees today and in the future.”

What do Indigenous History Month and National Indigenous Peoples Day (June 21) mean to you?

“Indigenous History Month and National Indigenous Peoples Day represent an important sense of pride as well as the opportunity to provide education for all in regard to the current challenges [facing Indigenous Peoples] while also embracing their positive accomplishments,” explains Samuel.

Vanessa explains that June 21, the summer solstice, is also a traditional time for many Indigenous communities to celebrate both their culture and heritage. She says, “For me and my family it is a time to honor our ancestors and their experiences on the land, restore their identities and have their stories told.”

For the broader community, it is a time to listen and learn. Vanessa says, “We want to be heard, we want people to listen… It is about reconciling the past, sharing our culture, restoring the language, reclaiming lands and rights, and renewing our future for generations to come.”

What are the next steps for the Indigenous ERG?

With 93 members, the Indigenous ERG has big things on the horizon, including continuing to provide learning opportunities, supporting the needs of Indigenous employees, and growing their membership. Samuel is eager to increase awareness of the ERG amongst employees, including those in smaller or more remote locations, as well as employees in the field with less access to the company intranet.

As they grow their membership, the ERG maintains a core commitment to positive change. As Vanessa says, “Our group is determined to be creative, consistent, and impactful. We want to make a difference; we want to engage more community members internally and externally and be a part of the culture shift that we are experiencing in our lives today.”

How can CN employees get involved?

CN remains committed to welcoming and celebrating diversity, and importantly, fostering a culture of belonging where everyone feels included and valued. We all have a role to play in embracing a workplace where CN employees can be their authentic selves without discrimination. As such, employees are invited to become members of any number of CN’s growing list of employee resource groups by visiting the Employee Resource Group page on CN’s Intranet. Employees are also empowered to recommend new resource groups from which CN employees could benefit.

On behalf of CN, as well as the Indigenous ERG, we would like to wish everyone a Happy National Indigenous Peoples Day, as well as encourage everyone to use the opportunity provided by National Indigenous History Month to learn more about Indigenous Peoples, cultures, art, heritage, and more.