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CA-EN Advisors

Learning from the past to inform our future

September 26, 2022

At a glance:

  • Given lack of education on the history of Canada’s relationship with Indigenous peoples, everyone, including investors, has a responsibility to close that gap as a key action towards reconciliation.
  • We summarize key concepts and events from Canada’s history with Indigenous people that are relevant to investors and corporates to inform practices in support of reconciliation action.
  • We explain how Indigenous reconciliation is central to our responsible investment actions and provide suggestions for further learning.

September 30, 2022 marks Canada’s second National Day for Truth and Reconciliation. It answers the Truth and Reconciliation Commission’s (TRC’s) Call to Action #80 to recognize the devastating impacts of residential schools and honour its Survivors. It reminds us of the harm committed against First Peoples in Canada and the action still required to advance healing. At BMO GAM, we recognize our own responsibility to respond to the calls to action through education and examination of our own internal practices for improvement. We strive to support self-determination, healing and prosperity for Indigenous Peoples in Canada.

In June 2021, public affairs and market research firm Abacus Data conducted a survey1 to better understand Canadians’ response to the finding of unmarked graves at the former Kamloops Indian Residential School on Tk’emlúps te Secwépemc First Nation. Results were striking. One question asked “when you were taught about residential schools, was it framed positively or negatively.” 41% of respondents indicated they could not remember being taught about residential schools at all, while 27% indicated residential schools were framed in either a positive or neutral way. These numbers reveal a lack of education and understanding of Canada’s colonial relationship with Indigenous peoples that truth and reconciliation action can help close.

As responsible investors, we can help address gaps within the investment and corporate communities and contribute to reconciliation through market education and engaging companies in our portfolios on the Truth and Reconciliation Commission’s call to action for the corporate sector.

As we move into a day of reflection and learning on September 30, we summarize key concepts and events from Canada’s history with Indigenous people. While this list is by no means exhaustive, awareness and understanding can help build a foundation for investors and corporate actors to more intuitively understand the action required to achieve reconciliation in their spheres of influence.

History embedded in today’s laws and a look into the future

In 2021 Blueberry River First Nation won a precedent-setting court case against the B.C. government based on cumulative impacts of industrial development negatively impacting their inherent rights and title. The Supreme Court ruled that the province had violated treaty rights through the authorization of numerous industrial development activities that in aggregate have impacted Treaty 8 rightsholders’ ability to hunt, fish and trap on their traditional territory. The courts awarded Blueberry River First Nation compensation to remediate the land and the province has since had to defer 20 of some 215 already approved industrial permits for the region. Another similar case based on cumulative impacts from oil sands development has just been launched against the province of Alberta. In combination with Canada’s 2021 passing of Bill C-15 to implement the United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples, these examples provide insight into how future resource development decisions will be considered. With less than 28 years to achieve Canada’s Net Zero commitment and a race to mine the critical minerals necessary for the energy transition, understanding the historical foundations of the current shifting regulatory landscape can help investors and the corporate sector avoid past mistakes to enable greater collaboration and equitable partnerships with Indigenous peoples related to resource development. Through education, we are better equipped to achieve reconciliation and generate economic and environmental benefits from which all Canadians can benefit.

The Doctrine of Discovery

What it is: A legal concept created in the 15th century based on official declarations by the papal office. The Doctrine of Discovery gave European explorers licence to assume ownership and exploit lands in the New World and Africa that were already inhabited by non-Christians. Such lands were considered ‘terra nullius’ – Latin for ‘uninhabited’ or ‘deserted’ because they were not occupied by Christians. Indigenous leaders today are calling for Pope Francis to denounce the Doctrine of Discovery which they say laid the path for European settlers to steal land and disregard treaty promises.

1613: The Two Row Wampum

What it is: The first known Treaty agreement between Indigenous peoples and early settlers. According to the Onandaga Nation, part of the Haudenosaunee Confederacy, when the Haudenosaunee people became aware of Dutch settlers on their land, they sent a delegation to meet with them. Bridging language and cultural divides, the two nations agreed to co-exist peacefully. While the Dutch recorded the exchange on paper the Haudensaunee formalized it through making a beaded wampum belt with two parallel lines, each representing a boat containing the respective nations’ people, culture, and laws navigating the rivers of life, separate but equal.

1763: The Royal Proclamation

What it is: Britain’s King George III made a Royal Proclamation to appease growing unrest by First Peoples in North America due to the encroachment by settlers on their lands. The Royal Proclamation prohibited settlers from moving west of the Appalachians and stated the lands west of the mountain range were under title to First Nations and could not be sold to settlers unless first purchased by the Crown through treaty agreement with the respective nation (see graphic 1 below). The Royal Proclamation provided the first constitutional framework for treaty negotiations and it continues to provide the legal foundation upon which Indigenous inherent rights and title are increasingly being recognized and upheld through the Canadian legal system today.

Map thirteen american colonies

This image shows the Proclamation of 1763 boundary line, dividing the First Nations land from the settlers’ colonies.

1876: The Indian Act

What it is: Defines how the Government of Canada interacts with over 600 First Nation bands and their members, and who has “Indian Status”. Whereas the treaties were negotiated, the Indian Act was imposed on Indigenous peoples once passed by the Canadian government. Subsequent amendments included bans on religious and cultural ceremonies, restrictions to court access and participation in the economy, and forced Indigenous people to be removed from reserves near towns with a certain population size.

1830s – 1997: Residential Schools

What it is: Residential boarding schools for Indigenous children, formalized and imposed on Indigenous peoples and entrenched through the Indian Act, intended to destroy rich cultures, identities and to suppress histories by removal of First Nations children from their families and communities of origin. The thinking was that through assimilation, Indigenous rights and title to land and resources could be eroded. They were largely run by churches and subjected many children to extreme emotional, physical, and sexual abuse, sickness and forced conversion. The Truth and Reconciliation Committee (TRC) described the residential school system as an act of cultural genocide. The last residential school closed in 1997.

Recent developments and key concepts

1987: Free, Prior and Informed Consent (FPIC)

What it is: A principle that appears throughout the United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples that stipulates no project (mining, oil, forestry, etc.) or legislation that affects Indigenous peoples’ lands or territories and other resources, shall be approved or proceed without consultation and collaboration and the provision of free, prior and informed consent by the affected Indigenous rights holders. This consent can later be withdrawn. Companies and governments are required to demonstrate that free information, prior to potential operations, was provided. FPIC is now integrated in international standards but still goes beyond many local regulations. Indigenous peoples have released many frameworks and guidance documents on best practices regarding implementing FPIC, including on how investors can conduct FPIC due diligence on their investments.

Relevance to investors: Investors require information about whether, and the process by which, consent has been given or is continuously provided to land-based projects, to be able to determine levels of investment risk and whether no violations to human and Indigenous rights occurred.

2007: UN Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples (UNDRIP)

What it is: UN resolution that defines the right to self-determination of Indigenous peoples, such as cultural ownership rights, identity, language, employment, health, education. This includes the right to FPIC. Canada, the United States, New Zealand and Australia, as settler colonies with significant Indigenous populations, were the only 4 countries to vote against the proposal in 2007, with 144 countries in favour. Canada eventually indicated support for UNDRIP in 2015.

Relevance to investors: Increasingly, investors are asking to see a formal commitment to upholding UNDRIP from companies with land-based operations. When doing investment due diligence, this can be an indication that companies take Indigenous rights seriously.

2021: Bill C-15

What it is: Through adoption of the Bill, Canada commits to make all laws consistent with UNDRIP over the next several years through consultation and collaboration with Indigenous peoples. This enshrines the right to self-determination and FPIC into law that may lead to more outcomes like the ruling on cumulative impacts won by the Blueberry River First Nation.

Relevance to investors: Particularly relevant for investors in resource and land-based industries, given that corporate activities will have to be in line with UNDRIP by law, and projects may only operate on traditional territories with robust FPIC.

2015: Truth & Reconciliation Committee (TRC) report

What it is: The findings of a formal, Indigenous-led inquiry into Canada’s residential school system. One of its conclusions was that residential schools were used to commit cultural genocide against Indigenous peoples to erode inherent land and resource rights.

Relevance to investors: The TRC put forward 94 Calls to Action for Canada to remedy the significant harm wrought by residential schools and other major Indigenous rights violations.

2015: TRC Call to Action #92

What it is: Call to Canada’s corporate sector asking for proactive reconciliation efforts including: adoption and implementation of UNDRIP in core operations and business activities; enhancing knowledge and understanding amongst management and employees on the unique history of Aboriginal peoples including treaties and inherent Indigenous rights and title, Indigenous law, Aboriginal-Crown relations, and residential schools; skill building in intercultural competency, conflict resolution, human rights, and anti-racism.

Relevance to investors: TRC Call to Action #92 provides a direct roadmap to what Canadian portfolio companies should be doing to advance reconciliation. In their engagement with companies, investors can ask whether and how companies are implementing the Call to Action, how they are demonstrating progress and what management’s understanding is of inherent Indigenous rights.

Reconciliation action at BMO GAM

BMO GAM’s Responsible Investment team considers Indigenous Reconciliation Action in business and investment activities to be a fundamental component to securing the future economic and social well-being of Canada. As such, it is being prioritized as one of five key Social Equality-related themes for responsible investment in our stewardship, engagement, proxy voting and research initiatives. We are also actively reaching out to Indigenous economic development leaders and Indigenous rights advocates to better understand how we can enhance our work in support of economic reconciliation.

Our Stewardship work with companies so far has focused on how FPIC is implemented on the ground, encouraging formal adoption of UNDRIP partnership structures through equity ownership, and advancing Indigenous representation in the workforce and at leadership levels. We also commit to engage Canadian companies more structurally on the entirety of the TRC Call to Action #92. Lastly, we continue to reflect and educate ourselves in service of achieving truth and reconciliation.

Further learning

Guidance: We are grateful for the work of the Reconciliation & Responsible Investment Initiaitve (RRII) in educating the Canadian investment community on our responsibility as investors and recommend their All Hands On Deck: Opportunities for Investment Management Firms to Advance Reconciliation guide to all investment managers.

Podcast: This month, our Sustainability Leaders podcast features interviews with the First Nations Financial Management Board about their RoadMap Project, a vision and strategy for moving out from under the Indian Act.

E-learning: To support further learning, BMO has also made its learning program Nisitohtamowin ᓂᓯᑐᐦᑕᒧᐃᐧᐣ | Understanding Indigenous Perspectives in Canada publicly accessible during the month of September.


This article is for information purposes. The information contained herein is not, and should not be construed as, investment, tax or legal advice to any party. Particular investments and/or trading strategies should be evaluated relative to the individual’s investment objectives and professional advice should be obtained with respect to any circumstance.

Any statement that necessarily depends on future events may be a forward-looking statement. Forward-looking statements are not guarantees of performance. They involve risks, uncertainties and assumptions. Although such statements are based on assumptions that are believed to be reasonable, there can be no assurance that actual results will not differ materially from expectations. Investors are cautioned not to rely unduly on any forward-looking statements. In connection with any forward-looking statements, investors should carefully consider the areas of risk described in the most recent simplified prospectus.

BMO Global Asset Management is a brand name that comprises BMO Asset Management Inc. and BMO Investments Inc.

 ®/™Registered trademarks/trademark of Bank of Montreal, used under licence.


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