HR a ‘Fresh Canvas’ for Aboriginal Community


By Sarah Dobson

Four years ago, Diane Carriere attended a conference of the National Native American Human Resource Association (NNAHRA) in Albuquerque, N.M. She walked into a room full of Native American HR practitioners talking about similar issues and decided it was exactly what was needed in Canada.

Now, Carriere is president and CEO of the Canadian Aboriginal Human Resource Management Association (CAHRMA) in Winnipeg, whose mandate is to support and provide professional training to Aboriginal communities.

The association has a long road ahead, said Carriere, but it has an edge because HR is a well-established profession.

“In our communities, we can take all that information but we can groom it to meet our needs and be creative and be unique in how we develop things. We’re not violating any kind of labour laws or employment standards, keeping those intact, but building around them,” she said. “it’s like a fresh canvas—you paint your vision there.”

While some Aboriginal communities have good HR departments of functions in place, the majority don’t have anything and there can be a lack of consistency, said Carriere.

“So it’s starting at the very fundamentals, the very basics of developing human resources for our communities.”

Carriere has worked as an HR professional for close to 20 years and is a member of the Human resources Management Association of Manitoba (HRMAM). While the provincial association has been valuable, more is needed, she said.

“Not many of (the Aboriginal communities) are participating in the HR association just because they’re dealing with different, unique situations in their communities.”

Many Aboriginal communities are moving towards self-government and expanding programs and services, while businesses are becoming more sophisticated. And HR professionals have their hands full dealing with the public and private side of growing their communities, said Kelly Lendsay, president and CEO of the Aboriginal Human Resource Council in Saskatoon.

“The number of Aboriginal communities that have an HR-designated expert is very low, so it does fall to finance people, the CEO, the executive director, the band manager… But they’re becoming more and more complex to run, so basically when you look at this growth of community and economic development, we need experts, and CAHRMA will also create connections to different HR organizations,” he said.

“If you look at the focus on actual human resource development right at the community level, it’s been relatively shallow or thin and CAHRMA wants to do what the Americans have done so well, which is to really bring some leadership, direction.”

Aboriginal communities also have reporting requirements from the government, but they don’t necessarily know how to go about doing that, said Diane Wiesenthal, Winnipeg-based president of Corporate People Responsibility (CPR), provider of HR business solutions.

“Everybody that hears about (CAHRMA) is very excited about it because it’s really filling a void,” she said. “There’s a significant need there and most of us who don’t have experience in the Aboriginal communities don’t even understand the extent (of) what they’re dealing with.”

A big issue is enforcement of policies as First Nations communities can be small, with everybody knowing everybody, and may people related to each other, said Carriere.

“In some situations, you have no choice but to hire your own family members. So how do you discipline your own family member? Chances are it doesn’t happen but you have legal requirements that you have to follow,” she said. “That whole learning curve that has to happen, not just with the people we’re training but with the community as well.”

Tools and Resources

A CAHRMA database will help Aboriginal HR professionals in remote communities connect with each other and offer support, said Carriere.

CAHRMA is also planning to build a professional certification through a partnership with NNAHRA, which offers a Tribal Human Resources Professional (THRP) designation. It’s important to have a certification that’s different from the Certified Human Resources Professional (CHRP, said Carriere.

“We’re going to develop something ourselves, something that’s going to meet our community’s needs, it’s going to be respectful of the Aboriginal values,” she said. “Too often, people try to fit us into boxes. We don’t want to do that, we want to fit ourselves into whatever it is that works for us.”

There’s certainly strength in leveraging knowledge across the border, said Wiesenthal.

“It would be easier to adopt that certification model versus modifying or putting  a component on the CHRP that deals with Aboriginal issues because it is quite different.”

But the group is meant to be inclusive, so anybody can participate and learn about Aboriginal communities and culture, said Carriere.

“We have a lot to learn from non-Aboriginal HR professionals as well. That’s where HR grew out of, and we’re in our infancy, we have so much to learn.”

The association doesn’t want to completely disassociate itself from mainstream HR association, said Wiesenthal, who has been an advisor to CAHRMA.

“There was a concerted effort to engage the provincial associations and several came to the conference to show support and find out what was going on and how they can leverage each other.”

CAHRMA’s first conference was held in November in Winnipeg and about 115 people attended, said Wiesenthal.

“(The association’s) got a real groundswell of support…and the conference was a huge indication that there is a significant need for that.”

The association has a long journey ahead but the conference was a good starting point, said attendee Simon Evans, CEO of the British Columbia Human Resources Management Association (BC HRMA). It was interesting to learn about the differences between the historical arrangements that exist on a reserve and how the various bands work, along with the importance of having the elders onside, he said.

The conference saw a couple of chiefs and counsellors in attendance, said Carriere.

“(it) was wonderful because they get to see how vast HR is—it’s not just the hiring and firing, there’s so much more to it—so they have a clear understanding that ‘My financial person can’t do this,’” she said, adding the next conference will be held with NNAHRA Oct. 7-9, 2013 in Buffalo, N.Y.

Reprinted by permission of Canadian HR Reporter © Copyright Thomson Reuters Canada Ltd. – January 2013 – Toronto, Ontario 800-387-5164 web:

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