Module 2: Anti-Indigenous Racism

In the Workplace

Recently, controversial mascots for sports teams have raised attention to racist corporate branding. Other forms of potentially harmful workplace behaviours can be positioned along a spectrum from least to most visible. Mascots and identity fraud are located at the visible end of the spectrum, while tokenism and microaggressions are situated at the less visible pole.

These behaviours suggest that diversifying spaces by recruiting Indigenous persons alone will not be sufficient and may even intensify inter-group conflict and the marginalization of Indigenous employees. Here again, the close interplay of structures – in this case organizational culture – and individual preferences and behaviours is inescapable. A culture that is hostile to non-dominant forms of knowledge may create a permissive environment for microaggressions, tokenism, and identity fraud.

Identity Fraud

Media reports indicate that persons have been outed as fraudsters who falsely claimed Indigenous identity to gain positional and financial advantage. Their actions are harmful for at least two reasons. They poach opportunities intended for Indigenous peoples and to reduce disparities in education and employment. By claiming Indigenous identity without experiencing the dispossession and traumas shared by First Nations, Inuit, and Métis, fraudsters express White privilege and benefit from hard-fought recognition of treaty rights and the right to self-determination struggles. As Dr. Winona Wheeler, Associate Professor at the Department of Indigenous Studies, University of Saskatchewan writes from the perspective of an Indigenous scholar: “[We] are now doing our best to carve out spaces in the mainstream, as best we can, WITHOUT [emphasis in original] compromising who we are. I hear old people lamenting that so much has been taken and lost over time, that all we really have left is our identity” (2).

Cases that have arisen to date raise questions over how to assess Indigeneity claims to control reputational risks without establishing expectations that non-Indigenous applicants are exempt from. Once an employee is outed as a fraudster, not only is the organization’s reputation damaged, but the work produced by the employee also comes into question. There is no easy solution to the procedures and selection criteria needed to deter, investigate, and sanction suspected fraudulent claimants. Dr. Wheeler proposes that universities create “an official space where Indigenous scholars and staff can work with communities to develop a policy with criteria to evaluate Indigeneity claims” (2).


In the context of anti-Indigenous racism, tokenism is when Indigenous employees are tasked with duties involving Indigenous communities and issues to fulfill an obligation to consult with communities. While non-Indigenous managers and supervisors may be well-intentioned, by offloading responsibility for Indigenous-specific matters to Indigenous colleagues, they fail to engage in processes necessary for intergroup reconciliation. When tokenized, Indigenous persons are perceived as convenient go-to-persons familiar with Indigenous histories, communities, and cultural values, and are excluded from working on other issue areas that would diversify their knowledge and skill sets, and position them for promotion. They may be singled out for photo opportunities or counted in a company’s diversity report to board members and the public. However, when it comes to substantive matters like designing a policy or program with Indigenous communities, their knowledge and experience may not be called upon and taken into consideration (Interdepartmental Circles).


Indigenous persons in the academy and other workplaces face varying forms of microaggressions that reflect misinformation, knowledge gaps, and stereotypes that remain unproblematized and unchecked.

Microaggressions are grounded in biases and stereotypes that include judgements about intelligence, appearance, addiction, and cultural values.



Below are three groups of microaggressions and their corresponding examples (Ward et al. 308):

Some microaggressions indirectly invoke the notion of meritocracy to disqualify an Indigenous person’s accomplishment and assume that Indigenous persons have inferior intelligence or capabilities than their non-Indigenous peers.


  • An Indigenous professor wins an award for teaching excellence. A non-Indigenous colleague commented that they were awarded the medal because the university needed to improve its equity statistics (Hill et al. 111).
  • “You must have got that promotion to fill a quota!”

Other microaggressions appear influenced by stereotypes in popular media.


“Do you live in a teepee?”

Still, other microaggressions reflect inaccurate and incomplete knowledge of settler colonialism.


  • “Dwelling on the past is not helpful. I think that it is time you people just got over it and moved on.”
  • “When are Indigenous people going to start fixing their problems?”

Test Yourself



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