Advancing reconciliation through Indigenous-led and co-created content

By: Lina Sakkal, Junior Communications Officer, Communications Community Office

National Indigenous History Month (NIHM) and National Indigenous Peoples Day (NIPD) are celebrated each June to honour the history, cultures and diversity of First Nations, Inuit and Métis Peoples in Canada. These commemorative dates also recognize the contributions and strength of present-day Indigenous peoples and communities, as well as the trauma, injustice and pain of Canada’s colonial history and the impacts that are still being felt today.

The communications team at Indigenous Services Canada (ISC) recognized that many Canadians need an entry point to learning about the diversity of Indigenous experiences and cultures. Supporting the whole-of-government priority of reconciliation and following the first step to self-educate, ISC’s marketing team developed an integrated and fully organic digital GC public education campaign aimed at increasing Canadians’ and public servants’ understanding, appreciation and celebration of Indigenous peoples.

The success of the campaign was achieved by offering continuous learning opportunities and resources that were co-created and lead by Indigenous voices, and by following ISC’s three key pillars to celebrating NIHM and NIPD in 2021:

The two-month, multi-faceted approach to this campaign included an accessible learning website, a themed social media campaign and an internal communications guidebook. The guidebook included ready-to-use promotional digital products to encourage the participation of GC organizations in NIHM and to ensure the consistency of government messaging.

As ISC digital platforms are tailored primarily to the needs of First Nations, Inuit and Métis audiences, the team successfully leveraged GC networks and social media channels to reach diverse audiences.

Headshot of Laura Teed
Laura Teed

“We have really great social channels, but they’re very targeted. We knew that having broader involvement from the other departments and crown corporations was essential for us to get this up and off the ground”, explained Laura Teed, Project Lead and Acting Manager of Marketing and Outreach at ISC.

Daily social media posts featuring learning opportunities and Indigenous content creators were developed to promote awareness of NIHM activities and resources. In addition to social media content and the internal guidebook, shareables provided consistent and cohesive visuals and messages to build the NIHM brand across the GC and beyond.

“When developing our campaign, we consulted with National Indigenous Organizations and with our partner departments about creating visuals that not only encompassed the historical aspect but were appropriate in representation of First Nations, Inuit and Métis culture”, explained Laura. For example, ISC “developed something that was respectful of pride season in June, while simultaneously being a respectful representation of the uniqueness within each Indigenous group.”

As the launch of NIHM coincided with the uncovering of unmarked graves at Kamloops’ Indian Residential School, the team was required to shift away from the theme of celebration to one of respectful commemoration.

“After contemplating our course of action over the weekend following this news, we worked really hard the next few days to shift the entire wording and phraseology of the educational website to make it more about commemoration – about respectfully marking this occasion and what it meant”, said Laura. “We were fortunate with the learning-focused aspect of our campaign, as Canadians now had a concentrated interest in learning more about residential schools, the experience of those who attended, the trauma that resulted from the experience, and the intergenerational trauma that continues to this day,” she added. NIHM was also dedicated to the missing children, the families left behind and the survivors of residential schools.

Thanks to ISC’s foresight and education-focused strategy, the GC, including Prime Minister Justin Trudeau, was in a position to highlight their new communications-learning program as a pathway toward reconciliation.

To evaluate the success of the strategy behind their approach, ISC and the Treasury Board of Canada Secretariat developed an evaluation framework with each department sharing their analytics and best practices to inform and map a way forward for awareness campaigns. The results revealed a growing public and social media appetite for transparency in storytelling when it comes to Indigenous issues.

Indigenous organizations, provincial/territorial and municipal governments, as well as private entities like Canadian Geographic magazine worked to promote the website and the NIHM brand. As the platform was the only in-depth, reconciliation-focused GC resource offering Indigenous-led storytelling and experiences of First Nations, Inuit and Métis Peoples, it was widely shared and praised amongst educators across Canada.

Collaboration, co-creation and the centering of Indigenous voices were the keys to the successful campaign. By working with departments across the federal government, National Indigenous Organizations, and other partners, ISC was able to leverage other communications channels to advance reconciliation by helping Canadians learn more about the experiences of First Nations, Inuit and Métis Peoples in their own words.

Indigenous Services Canada was recognized with the Government of Canada’s 2022 Lighthouse Award of Communications Excellence for their exemplary work on the campaign. To learn more about National Indigenous History Month and National Indigenous Peoples Day, check out the resources below:

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