Indigenous human rights

The Commission collaborates on major initiatives to strategically address hate, racism, and discrimination against historically marginalized communities, including Indigenous people.
Abstract collection of circles, half, and quarter circles relating to the dot in the Commission logo. Elements are one of two blue colours or a cheery yellow.

Indigenous people include First Nations, Métis and Inuit. In Alberta, Indigenous people face disproportionate rates of hate, racism, and discrimination in their daily lives. Indigenous people continue to experience disadvantages and injustices as a result of the lasting effects of Canada’s colonial legacy.

Answers about making a complaint are at the bottom of this page.

The Commission has a long history of working with Indigenous communities in Alberta. The Commission’s recent work with Indigenous people includes launching our Indigenous Human Rights Strategy and Advisory Circle. We also have educational resources specifically for Indigenous people.

Indigenous Human Rights Strategy

In June 2021, the Commission launched the Indigenous Human Rights Strategy. The Strategy guides the Commission’s practices and initiatives with the goal of reducing barriers that Indigenous individuals and communities face. We aim to strengthen relationships and be a better community partner with Indigenous organizations so that we can improve access to our services and address systemic racism and discrimination. This includes making sure the Commission’s programs, policies, services, and operations are accessible, meaningful, responsive, and culturally relevant to Indigenous people.

For more information on the Commission’s Indigenous Human Rights Strategy, refer to the following documents:

Indigenous Advisory Circle

The Alberta Human Rights Commission established an Indigenous Advisory Circle in August 2021 to assist the Commission with the implementation of its Indigenous Human Rights Strategy. The Circle provides advice and guidance on best practices, community engagement, and priority actions.

The Circle is comprised of 12 Indigenous individuals from across the province. Members are chosen through an open competition process. In selecting Circle members, the Commission strives to include people with diverse experience and expertise (including women, 2SLGBTQ+ individuals, and persons with disabilities) from multiple cultural backgrounds. The Commission also strives to ensure the Circle includes both urban and rural perspectives.

For more information, refer to the Advisory Circle’s Terms of Reference.

Circle member biographies

Cristi Adams joined the Commission’s Indigenous Advisory Circle in May 2023. Hailing from Lake Babine Nation, Cristi is the Acting Executive Director and CEO of Indian Oil and Gas, a special operating agency of Indigenous Services Canada. She is currently the Chair of the Calgary Aboriginal Urban Affairs Committee, as well as a member of the Trellis Society’s Board of Directors. Cristi has an interest in Indigenous rights and the implementation of the United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples (UNDRIP) and the Truth and Reconciliation Commission’s (TRC) Calls to Action at all levels.

Kelly Benning is a Métis woman from northern Alberta with family roots going back to Manitoba and throughout Saskatchewan. Kelly has over 30 years' experience working within human services, social programming, and social advocacy, with a special focus on Indigenous rights and services. She has served the Grande Prairie Friendship Centre in various capacities as a Board member, President, and Executive Director. She was also Treasurer and Secretary of the Alberta Native Friendship Centres Association in Edmonton, each for one-year terms. Kelly worked at the Grande Prairie Regional College as the Aboriginal Liaison Coordinator for seven years and again from 2016 to 2019, when she worked to create an Indigenization plan within the college. She is currently the President of the National Association of Friendship Centres.

Shelly Bischoff joined the Commission’s Indigenous Advisory Circle in May 2023. Of Métis descent, she is a member of the Métis Nation of Alberta – Region 3 in the Treaty 7 area. Shelly is a health and human resources professional who owns and operates a consulting firm in Calgary. She has over 26 years of experience and expertise in psychological safety, psychological health, diversity, equity, inclusion, and managing disability in the workplace. Shelly is a registered and occupational health nurse, a chartered professional in human resources, and a certified health and safety consultant. She is also a certified psychological health and safety practitioner with the Canadian Mental Health Association and a part-time instructor with the University of Alberta. Shelly served as a member on the City of Calgary’s Advisory Committee on Accessibility (2018-2020). She is passionate about using her personal and professional experiences to support vulnerable populations (women, persons with disabilities, and Indigenous Peoples) live their highest quality of life, free from barriers and systemic discrimination. Shelly is honoured to represent those without a voice and help them move forward with dignity, in a path meaningful to them.

Justin Gaudet is a member of the Paddle Prairie Métis Settlement, where he was born and raised. After high school, Justin spent ten years working in the hospitality industry across the province. In 2016, he earned a Bachelor of Management degree from the University of Lethbridge with a specialization in Human Resources. In 2018, Justin returned to his home community where he worked as a Consultation Coordinator and then Acting Administrator. From 2019-2022, he served as the Chief Administrative Officer for the Métis Settlements General Council. Early in 2022, Justin again returned home as Chief Administrative Officer for the Paddle Prairie Métis Settlement. Having survived numerous cancer diagnoses throughout his life, Justin has had to adjust to the lingering physical effects of cancer treatment. Having first-hand knowledge of what it is to live as an Indigenous person with a disability, Justin is a strong advocate for accessibility and inclusion.

Janet Gobert is of Anishinaabe descent and is a member of the Peepeekisis Cree Nation from Saskatchewan. Janet currently lives in Bonnyville, where she serves as the Community Initiatives Coordinator for the Bonnyville Native Friendship Centre. Janet studied Nursing with a Psychology major, and she also studied Business Administration with a specialty in Health. She has 25 years of experience working with First Nations communities in the areas of health, mental health, community wellness, family supports, and parenting education. In her current role, she also works in the areas of rural homelessness, women empowerment, and human trafficking.

Heidi HeavyShield (Aksistowaki), MSW, RSW is a member of the Kainai Nation, Blood Tribe, which is part of the Blackfoot Confederacy in the Treaty 7 area. She is a clinical social worker in the Alberta criminal justice system, working in a provincial correctional institution for over 15 years as the Indigenous Programs Coordinator. Working from a social justice and human rights framework, she integrates Indigenous cultural and healing methodologies and ceremony with clinical interventions specializing in the areas of trauma, loss and grief, family of origin, and advocacy. She is particularly active in the areas of incarceration of Indigenous people, restorative justice principles and practices, missing and murdered Indigenous women and girls, as well as areas regarding the legacy of residential schools and colonial policies. She is a sessional instructor with the University of Calgary, Faculty of Social Work, and has taught courses based in diversity and oppression, social policy and social action, practice with families, social determinants of health and colonization, as well as created a social work and the criminal justice system course. She is a proud mother and partner in her own family, and seeks to honour her ancestors and traditional clan of Kainaiwa in her work by recognizing those who have come before her.

Bernadette Iahtail was born in Attawapiskat First Nation and is a Muskeg Cree from Treaty 9. She is a registered social worker, advocate, researcher, writer, film producer, entrepreneur, wife, mother, and grandmother. She is also the Executive Director and Co-founder of the Creating Hope Society, an organization dedicated to providing people with a safe and supportive community from where they can make changes, new life choices, and be successful in mainstream society. Bernadette has been part of the leadership team for the Edmonton COVID-19 Rapid Response Collaborative, the Government of Alberta's Anti-Racism Advisory Council, and is now serving on the Board of the Alberta Hate Crimes Committee. Bernadette is committed to bringing awareness about the importance of addressing and preventing systemic discrimination and advancing a fair and inclusive society where everyone is valued and treated with equal dignity and respect. She wants to increase awareness of the high percentage of Indigenous children and youth in care of child welfare, Indigenous education, missing and murdered Indigenous women and girls+, and incarcerated Indigenous women and men in the prison system. She also wants to work with others to create an environment in which the political, economic, social, and cultural issues in Indigenous communities can be brought to the forefront in order to advance a vision of human rights that reflects Indigenous perspectives, worldviews, and issues.

Teddy Manywounds joined the Commission’s Indigenous Advisory Circle in May 2023. Of Dene descent, they are a member of the Tsuut’ina Nation in the Treaty 7 area. Teddy is the Director of Justice with the G4 Stoney Nakoda Tsuut’ina Nation Tribal Council. They are also a member of the Government of Alberta’s Public Security Indigenous Advisory Committee. Teddy is a recipient of the first-ever Okimaw Award for Human Rights and Advocacy. They hold a Bachelor of Fine Arts (BFA) from Parsons School of Design. Utilizing a principal of inclusivity, Teddy works to include all individuals who believe they have a voice at the table of justice. They work from an understanding that all voices matter and have the right to be heard and respected. Teddy believes that the more we work to determine people’s needs and identify their own societal solutions, the more we can amplify the voices of those being directly affected by injustice and determine solutions that work for the people most impacted. They believe that their ability to work with community and bridge a high-level understanding of justice will help build better communities.

Nadine McRee is a proud member of the Saddle Lake Cree First Nation and a member of the Steinhauer clan that hails from Treaty 6 Territory. Nadine started her career in community work by spending six years working in and for Tallcree First Nation. She was initially hired as a summer student youth worker and Elder's coordinator, but stayed on and eventually developed a full-time youth department for the community and surrounding area. Since then, Nadine has worked for Treaty 8 First Nations of Alberta, Native Counselling Services, and the Confederacy of Treaty 6 First Nations in the areas of health, food security, and youth. Nadine earned her Masters of Public Health with a focus on Indigenous Health Promotion and, for the past five years, has been working for Alberta Health Services (AHS) in their Indigenous Wellness Core. She is currently focusing on addressing racism at all levels within health systems and is acting co-chair for the AHS Anti-Racism Advisory Group within the Diversity and Inclusion department.

Jo-Anne Packham is a Métis woman and a member of Métis Nation of Alberta and Fort McMurray Métis Local 1935. For 25 years, Jo-Anne has worked in child and youth care, child development, and most recently, in addictions treatment and homelessness programming. The majority of her career has been focused on Indigenous service delivery, addressing systems of oppression for Indigenous people through front-line programming and advocacy. Currently, Jo-Anne is the Executive Director of the Wood Buffalo Wellness Society and sits on the Reconciliation Advisory Circle for the Regional Municipality of Wood Buffalo. She also sits on the Equity and Inclusion Committee of Wood Buffalo, and is a Director with Waypoints Society, a social profit organization working to end domestic family violence, sexual assault, abuse, and homelessness in the Wood Buffalo region.

Sarah Sinclair is a member of the Peguis First Nation, an Oji-Cree nation in Treaty 1, Manitoba. Her passions are Indigenous justice and natural law. Sarah was born and raised in Mohkinstis and attended school at the University of Calgary and the University of British Columbia. Throughout her legal career, she has worked exclusively for Indigenous individuals and organizations in private practice as a pro bono volunteer and now as the lawyer for Sahwoo mohkaak tsi ma taas, Calgary Legal Guidance's Indigenous justice program.

Rachelle Venne is the CEO of the Institute for the Advancement of Aboriginal Women with experience in the non-profit, corporate, and government sectors. Rachelle was one of six Canadian NGO delegates selected to attend the United Nations Commission on the Status of Women in 2017. She is Secretary of Métis Local 1904 for St. Albert - Sturgeon County, Director of the Alberta Recycling Management Authority, a member of the Alberta Métis Women's Council on Economic Security, and co-chair of the Alberta Joint Working Group on Missing and Murdered Indigenous Women and Girls. In 2012, Rachelle received the Queen's Diamond Jubilee Medal for her community service with REACH Edmonton.

Sacred eagle feathers

Decorative background features an eagle face surrounded by two feathers in the colours of the medicine wheel. Text box reads:Blessed Eagle Feather: The Alberta Human Rights Commission is committed to ensuring that Indigenous Peoples have access to culturally appropriate services that take into account the uniqueness of Indigenous culture and heritage. A gifted eagle feather resides here and is available upon request.

In 2022, the Commission had two sacred eagle feathers blessed at a ceremony in Edmonton. They are now available for use during meetings and events, in conciliations and mediations, and at Tribunal hearings. Parties can use them to swear an oath or hold them while giving statements or evidence during a human rights tribunal hearing.

Resources for Indigenous people

The Commission has developed resources for or connected to Indigenous communities:

Aboriginal People and the Alberta Human Rights Act

Information about the Alberta Human Rights Act and the Commission’s programs and services. Developed in consultation with the Calgary Urban Aboriginal Initiative, Aboriginal Council of Lethbridge, Native Counselling Services of Alberta, and Aboriginal Commission on Human Rights and Justice.

Information about the Alberta Human Rights Act and how to make a human rights complaint. Produced by Native Counselling Services of Alberta in cooperation with the Commission. Available in English, Cree, and Blackfoot.

Protection of Aboriginal Peoples Under the Alberta Human Rights Act

Information about protection from discrimination on and off reserve under the Alberta Human Rights Act and the Canadian Human Rights Act.

Charlie's story (video)

Example of potential discrimination under the ground of religious beliefs (Indigenous spirituality) and race.

Indigenous Initiatives. Summary of Financial Assistance - Fiscal years 2010-11 to 2018-19

Summary of community projects addressing Indigenous human rights issues that received financial assistance through the Human Rights Education and Multiculturalism Fund (HREMF) in the fiscal years 2010-11 to 2018-19.

Talking about racism and discrimination

Information about an educational project by the Creating Hope Society.

FAQs

You may be able to make a human rights complaint if your issue falls under the Alberta Human Rights Act and the incident happened within the last year. While the Act does not have a ground for indigeneity, your complaint may relate to the protected grounds of ancestry, race, color, or religion (including Indigenous spirituality). For more information, read the Protection of Aboriginal Peoples under the Alberta Human Rights Act.

The Alberta Human Rights Commission is committed to ensuring Indigenous Peoples have access to culturally appropriate services that consider the uniqueness of Indigenous culture and heritage. Indigenous people may use a variety of cultural or spiritual practices, including:

  • smudging
  • having an Elder or other culturally relevant person attend a conciliation, tribunal dispute resolution (TDR), or tribunal hearing
  • affirming, swearing in, or giving evidence using an eagle feather or other sacred object

At the earliest opportunity, interested parties should inform the Commission of their request. If you are involved in the Tribunal process, read the Indigenous cultural/spiritual practices at Tribunal proceedings practice direction for more information.

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The Commission can deal with some, but not all, human rights complaints against Indigenous organizations or governments. The Commission can deal with human rights complaints against:

  • organizations on reserves or settlements (for example, a gas station or corner store on reserve)
  • Indigenous-run or owned organizations operating on or off reserves or settlements (for example, a catering company owned by a First Nations band)
  • Métis settlement councils in Alberta

However, the Commission cannot deal with human rights complaints against First Nations governments or bands in Alberta. The Canadian Human Rights Commission deals with these complaints.

For more information, read the Protection of Aboriginal Peoples under the Alberta Human Rights Act.

Not sure which jurisdiction your issue falls under? Contact the Commission for help.

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The Commission has a self-assessment tool to help you understand if the Commission can help. Answer questions about your issue in our tool to learn more. The tool will also direct you to other agencies or resources if the Commission cannot help.

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The Commission is committed to ensuring that complainants, respondents, and all those who take part in our processes are able to fully participate. This outlines some of the services available to the public upon request. Refer to the information below to contact the Commission about requesting an accommodation.

Accommodations available

A variety of accommodations may be available to help parties fully participate in our complaint and tribunal processes, including:

  • different communication methods, such as email, video, or in-person
  • language translation
  • American Sign Language (ASL) interpretation
  • Video-Relay Service (VRS)
  • accessible document formats, such as large format
  • a support person
  • reasonable adjustments to scheduling, such as additional breaks, different start times, and shorter days
  • access to a computer or phone from a Commission office to attend a virtual meeting, such as conciliation, Tribunal Dispute Resolution (TDR), pre-hearing conference, or tribunal hearing)
  • recording a tribunal hearing (see the Tribunal’s practice direction on recordings and transcripts of proceedings)

This is not a complete list of all the accommodations available. Parties can work with the Commission to identify and request appropriate accommodations.

The Commission is also committed to ensuring our accommodation process is respectful of the diverse populations we serve. A formal request for accommodation is not always necessary. For instance, a party may inform the Commission of their correct pronoun prior to or at any point during the complaint or tribunal process (see the Tribunal’s practice direction on pronouns and form of address).

Factors impacting an accommodation request

The Commission is only required to provide accommodations for needs (not preferences) to the point of “undue hardship.” This means that if a requested accommodation impacts the timeliness of the complaint process or the right to a fair hearing, it may not be possible to provide. Instead, the Commission will work with the party to determine an appropriate accommodation that is less disruptive to the fairness of our processes, while still accommodating individual needs to the best of our ability.

The Commission may ask for information regarding an accommodation request, such as medical records, to:

  • determine if the requested accommodation is linked to a protected ground in the Alberta Human Rights Act, and
  • better understand an individual’s needs so we can determine how to make our processes more accessible.

How to request an accommodation

The party requesting an accommodation should contact the Commission and provide details of what they need. In some cases, the Commission may ask for more information, including relevant medical records. The party requesting the accommodation does not need to send their accommodation request to the other parties, unless the Commission thinks the accommodation could impact the rights of the other parties.

If you are involved in the Tribunal process, read the Accommodations practice direction for more information, including how to request accommodation.