Open access peer-reviewed chapter - ONLINE FIRST

Spoken and Unspoken between Indigenous and Non-Indigenous: Trust at the Heart of Intercultural Professional Collaborations

Written By

Emilie Deschênes and Sebastien Arcand

Submitted: September 20th, 2021 Reviewed: November 22nd, 2021 Published: February 4th, 2022

DOI: 10.5772/intechopen.101721

The Psychology of Trust Edited by Martha Peaslee Levine

From the Edited Volume

The Psychology of Trust [Working Title]

Dr. Martha Peaslee Levine

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Several contemporary societies are facing important issues regarding the relations between Indigenous and non-Indigenous populations. The difficulties of establishing dialogs based on lasting positive intercultural relations have repercussions within the institutions and organizations of a given society. Between the affective and relational sphere and the professional sphere, links are forged, which reproduce complex social relationships, even conflicting ones. This is the context in which our chapter’s proposal fits. By focusing on the determinants of social relations at work in these daily encounters between non-Indigenous and Indigenous in the workplace and the bonds of trust, or mistrust, which ensue, we will question the premises of social relations between non-Indigenous and Indigenous. These questions emanate from various research studies that we have carried out in recent years in organizations in the mining and energy sectors.


  • trust
  • Indigenous peoples
  • institutions
  • organizations
  • emotions

1. Introduction

It will take many years to mend broken relationships and trust in Indigenous communities and between Indigenous and non-Indigenous people[1].

Trust is at the heart of many organizational strategies from different sectors. Yet while the outcome of trusting relationships is indisputable, its determinants are less well known. In various organizational contexts, organizations implement strategies to build trust, which will be adjusted according to contexts, such as in the case of a multicultural organization. In this chapter, we go further by analyzing the determinants of social relations that lead to the trust of Indigenous workers and the extent to which trust influences social and professional integration as well as retention of these workers. To do this, first, we present the issue of current Indigenous employment conditions and its link with trust. The next three sections deal respectively with the conceptual and theoretical framework on which trust is based, examining the determinants that influence the confidence of Indigenous workers in the mining and power generation sectors, and then analyzing and defining interpretation of the elements selected.


2. Problem

According to the National Native Economic Development Council (CNDEA), which has developed economic development indices to assess the general results of the various communities, Indigenous remain markedly excluded from economic systems [1]. Despite the fact that an improvement in economic development was observed between 2006 and 2016 [1], it remains lower than that of the Quebec or Canadian population. Likewise, the level of poverty and food insecurity are problematic in several indigenous communities [2, 3] and their well-being index, assessed according to income, level of education, infrastructure. Housing, as well as the employment rate, show poor results on most indicators [2, 3, 4]. In this context, employment is of major importance for Indigenous people and for the cultural, social, and economic development of their communities.

The various statistics available related to work or the labor market for Indigenous present data that are not very comparable to the rest of the Quebec and Canadian population. In particular, few jobs are available in the communities, the unemployment rate is higher among Indigenous than among Quebeckers and Canadians, and employment rates are lower [5]. According to Posca [6], the gap between the participation rate and the employment rate of Indigenous people indicates that Indigenous people are less likely to be employed than non-Indigenous people in the labor force. Then, data from the Labor Force Survey show that Quebec has a lower employment rate (64.3%) among Indigenous than the other Canadian provinces and territories [7].

However, Indigenous people represent a significant labor pool. Their birth rate is higher than in the Quebec and Canadian populations and the demographics, in both community and urban settings, are growing strongly. For example, according to Howard et al. [8], approximately 600,000 young Indigenous will arrive on the job market before 2026. However, even if we note an increasing presence of Indigenous workers on the Quebec and Canadian labor market [9], the number of jobs available in the community is insufficient to allow everyone to be professionally active. One solution lies in the possibility of working outside their community, in an urban setting or in organizations located close to their community, for example, with natural resource operators.

For those who choose to work in non-Indigenous organizations, there are many challenges. Among other things, intercultural professional meeting is inevitable between indigenous and non-Indigenous workers and requires the establishment of a relationship based on trust, as a necessary condition to allow the socio-professional integration of indigenous workers [10]. However, it appears, in general, and for all the historical and current reasons known [11], that trust is not very present in the relations between Indigenous and non-Indigenous and that some are tinged with mistrust. For example, trust in public services in general is low [12, 13, 14]. At the same time, mistrust in criminal justice is great [15, 16], and Indigenous people have developed a constant and deep mistrust of Canada’s political and judicial systems ([11], p. 215). In short,

“The destructive effects of residential schools, the Indian Act and the Crown's inability to honor treaty promises have undermined relations between Indigenous and non-Indigenous people. The most significant damage is the breakdown of trust between the Crown and Indigenous peoples. This rupture must be repaired” ([11], p. 204).

This lack of confidence is also reflected in non-Indigenous organizations where Indigenous people want to take jobs. However, the non-Indigenous organization may be seen by the Indigenous worker as a representative of society and relationships are affected. While the socioeconomic development of Indigenous people requires successful integration into employment, it also requires a multidimensional approach [1]. Based on the results of previous research, we believe that trust between Indigenous and non-Indigenous workers is one of those dimensions that needs to be addressed. Confidence makes possible the social cohesion necessary in a professional framework and allows the regulation of intercultural relations between workers, even the reduction of the uncertainty or insecurity that indigenous workers may feel when faced with non-Indigenous people [17]. In addition, it is reputed to facilitate the socio-professional integration of Indigenous workers [10]. It is therefore relevant to analyze the determinants of social relations that influence the trust between Indigenous workers in their colleagues. This reflection also aims to provide possible solutions to facilitate confidence in this intercultural context as a means of facilitating the social and professional integration of indigenous workers.


3. Objectives and research questions

Our objective is, on the one hand, to update and enrich the results of previous1 research using secondary data from different industrial sectors (mining and energy). On the other hand, it aims to take stock of the determinants of trust in these sectors and to determine the potential impact of trust on social and professional integration and on the retention of indigenous workers in nongovernmental organizations.

Two questions guide our thinking:

  1. What are the determinants likely to influence the confidence of indigenous workers in their non-Indigenous colleagues in the organization of the mining or energy sector?

  2. What is the potential impact of trust on social and professional integration and on the retention of indigenous workers?


4. Conceptual and theoretical framework

4.1 A definition of trust

“Trust is honoring the bonds that unite us” (Indigenous worker).

The concept of trust is complex, multidimensional and is characterized differently depending on the context and the people involved. It is characterized by notions of expectations, anticipation, and positive belief [18, 19, 20, 21, 22, 23, 24, 25]. In the organization, the worker who trusts another worker knows that he can anticipate some of his behaviors or attitudes: he will therefore not be largely surprised or caught off guard. He trusts, because he has no apprehension or uncertainty vis-à-vis the behaviors and attitudes of the other and following the considering and the calculation of the risks related to his decision and according to the gains or losses he might encounter. For example, he will trust if he can expect, for example, the benevolence, competence, or reliability of the other. From his thoughts, he knows if it is in his best interests to trust. If so, he determines that the other is trustworthy, because his interests or motives lead to the almost certainty that the other will be loyal. At least he is better able to assess reliability and the likelihood of loyalty.

On the other hand, trust is a risk that makes the worker a little more vulnerable, a little more subordinate, and a little more dependent [24, 26, 27, 28, 29]. To gain confidence, a step must be taken, a leap in commitment [24, 28], which goes beyond reason alone and which can be emotional, spontaneous, or based on feelings. In a sense, for a worker, trust is the sign of a reciprocal belief in interdependence, as if the other became just as vulnerable as him [26, 30] and that he could lose, or win, in a more or less equal relationship at the start. It nevertheless implies a non-definitive character, depending on the evolution of the relationship [29, 30].

Calculation and rationality are the basis of the reluctance to agree to trust: if the worker always had more to gain than to lose, it would no longer be a matter of either a risk or a risk uncertainty. In addition, trust is built up gradually [15, 23], with varying degrees of involvement.

Then, the characteristics of intercultural environments, those that involve the encounter between Indigenous and non-Indigenous workers, complicate this decision whether to trust the other. Among other things, uncertainties arise, which are linked to the ignorance of the other and the difficulty of anticipating their behavior and attitudes toward them [17, 26, 31, 32]. As in other settings that involve other complexities, trust becomes dynamic [15, 18, 19, 30], as it develops, maintains, decreases, or breaks. The bonds of the members of a team in which the expertise and roles are complementary “must” to some extent be based on a feeling of trust: the work of some depends on the work of others. In such a context of reciprocity, the interest in trusting is great since the mutuality of benefits facilitates the calculation on which the decision will be made.

4.2 Affective and cognitive foundations of trust

“Building trust, encouraging inclusion and fostering reconciliation” ([11], p. 340).

In this chapter, the notion of trust is based on a dichotomous vision, which, however, offers a series of nuances between its ends: it is affective (based on benevolence, the desire to get closer, a positive feeling toward the other, even the identification with the other or the internalization of his values, without a priori, etc.) or cognitive (based on the knowledge held about the other, intelligence, reasoning, learning over time, etc.) [15, 23, 24].

Thus, conscious affective and cognitive foundations are involved in the decision to grant confidence (see following table Table 1). For example, a worker might find it easier to place his trust in another worker who has the same values as him, whom he has known for some time, who has ethnic or cultural characteristics closer to his own, who has a similar representation of work or family, or which he has heard very positively from several of his colleagues. Then, this same worker could, in theory, have more difficulty trusting a new worker whom he does not know and whom he has never seen, who was trained in a school other than his own, or who speaks another language. Whether voluntary or not, these foundations influence workers.

Affective trust foundation+ or – (shades)Cognitive trust foudation
  • Previous links between workers

  • Shared common values (cultural, family, etc.)

  • Emotions, intuitions and irrationality

  • Decision based on feelings or on the relationship

  • Personal identification with the other

  • Sense of belonging to the same group (social, ethnic, professional, etc.)

Confidence can fluctuate depending on emotional or cognitive foundations, for example: time, situations experienced with others, positive or negative experiences, new knowledge, etc.
  • Information available on the competence, responsibility or reliability of the other

  • Personal justifications and rationality

  • Accumulation of knowledge about others and their environment

  • Reciprocal representations of work, competence, etc.

  • Similar way of working

  • Decision based on judgment or discernment

  • Political issues related to the relationship

Table 1.

The foundations of affective trust and cognitive trust.

Source: adapted from [17].

Then, trust is not one-sided. It concerns a relationship between two parties that have expectations, anticipations, reasons to trust and others, not to risk the bet. The two are responsible for building this relationship, which does not depend solely on the worker who fits into an organization. Also, while emphasizing the importance of the trust that individuals place in representatives of an organization (organizational trust) or in institutions (institutional trust) [17, 32, 33], the reflection in this text bears on only on the trust of Indigenous workers in their colleagues (interindividual trust). All share the same space framed by standards specific to a given organization in each territory. In the context of this chapter, the reflection focuses on the trust that Indigenous workers have in their non-Indigenous colleagues in Quebec and non-Indigenous organizations.

In general, trust is approached and analyzed from the angle of a social relationship between indigenous and non-Indigenous workers, which has its source in a colonialist dynamic marked by power issues and underpinned by relationships with the other, to its history, its characteristics, its relation to the territory, etc., which influence the decision to trust. We believe—and our premise is—that the relationship between the two groups is unequal, that one group is more vulnerable than the other [11], and that relationships of mistrust can be created and reinforced because of these elements, even before the meeting between the workers.

Finally, our approach to trust is multidimensional and contextual. Our experience and our previous research on the question of trust lead to a broad understanding of it in an approach that touches on several dimensions (social, cultural, political, historical, etc.) and more specifically according to the contexts [34]. Thus, this chapter does not address trust as it occurs in almost homogeneous cultural environments (for example, a predominantly Quebec organization that welcomes very few Indigenous workers) or in multicultural environments. Rather, it does so in this very particular so-called bicultural (and bi-homogeneous) context, that is, a context in which two almost homogeneous and more or less numerous groups meet.

More specifically, this chapter discusses the determinants of social relations that influence the confidence of Indigenous workers in their colleagues in the specific context of the socio-professional integration of Indigenous workers in non-Indigenous organizations.

4.3 Determinants of trust

“The hope of a new relationship (…) in order to trust each other and to walk side by side” ([11], p. 420).

In addition to the emotional and cognitive foundations, which serve as the basis for trust, in this text we mobilize relational and personal determinants of trust that come from previous research on the construction of trust between Indigenous and non-Indigenous people in the education sector [17]. They seemed to us to be an interesting grid for the analysis of secondary data resulting from two studies2 on the employment integration of Indigenous workers in non-Indigenous communities in the mining and energy sectors in Quebec. The common point of this research is the encounter between workers from two different cultures (Indigenous and Quebecois) who belong to the same geopolitical territory (Quebec).

The determinants of trust are those elements that indicate and delimit with precision what is to be implemented to encourage the construction of relationships of trust between workers and the human and social aspects, which govern their interactions in the context of work. They are presented in the following box (Box 1). It is from these determinants that we examine data emerging from another context: organizations in the mining and energy sectors.

Relational and personal determinants of trust.

Relational determinants
  • Initial relationships or interactions between two people, including the first opinion on the qualities, abilities or skills of the other from the first interactions with the other;

  • Reciprocal expectations of people promote or inhibit the emergence of behaviors likely to determine trust;

  • The cost associated with the exchange, that is, the risk of inequality between people or non-reciprocity, then the benefit that one person derives from the other;

  • The nature and duration of the relationship, the degree of familiarity that determines part of the predictability of the behavior of the other;

  • The function and roles of the people involved in the organization;

  • The reciprocity of the feeling of trust.

Déterminants personnels
Worker who gives his trust
(i.e. the one who gives his trust)
Worker who is trustworthy
(i.e. the one you trust)
  • The autonomy and room for maneuver granted;

  • The natural propensity to grant it;

  • Previous experiences in a multicultural environment;

  • Knowledge of the other’s culture;

  • The person’s propensity to trust or not, which is at the heart of his thinking and which conditions, in a sense, the degree of involvement in the relationship;

  • The general propensity of the person, depending on the circumstances, to take risks;

  • The feeling of personal efficiency and professional competence;

  • The natural or intuitive predisposition to trust others;

  • Personal values, which guide the choice of behavior.

  • Feedback given on the work;

  • Competence or skill;

  • The consistency of behaviors such as discretion, fairness, predictability or the quality of judgment;

  • Discretion;

  • The availability;

  • Integrity or moral values, such as honesty, sincerity or keeping promises;

  • Loyalty and commitment, benevolent intentions, shared values, concern for others or the desire for their protection;

  • Openness, for example accessibility, information sharing or willingness to share ideas;

  • Respect for promises;

  • The accuracy or frequency of the information shared and the modes of communication;

  • Cultural and ethnic origin different from his own.


5. Results: a review of the determinants of trust in the mining and energy sector context

Considering data on the context of Indigenous and non-Indigenous workers in the mining and energy sectors, the determinants are organized a little differently. Rather than considering determinants depending on whether they are relational or personal in nature, they appear grouped into two “new” categories. We present them in this section.

5.1 Determinants prior to the social relationship that influence trust

First, the repercussions of history and of colonialist heritage on work influence the level of trust Indigenous workers develop in their non-Indigenous colleagues. The colonialist heritage on which Quebec was built continues to shape, among other things, ways of thinking and structure relations between workers [12]. These relationships are tainted by the oppression experienced historically through various actions aimed at colonization, then cultural assimilation, which are still perpetuated today in different forms. Historical background also includes evangelization and forced schooling in boarding schools (as well as all the cultural, spiritual, social, or moral losses that they imply), which have disturbed several generations of Indigenous and still mark, notably in an intergenerational way, certain people. The consequences of these breaches of trust had “serious consequences well beyond the residential schools” ([11], p. 236). In the organization, feelings among Indigenous workers, which vary from a feeling of unease to a feeling of oppression, reverberate in different ways in their social relationships with non-Indigenous workers and influence their propensity to give their trust. Relationships are also marked by the mistrust that arose from the colonization process during which the Indigenous were imposed on institutions and systems of thought that were distant from their own systems (social, cultural, political, etc.). Organizational life, by requiring compliance with rules and norms, can recall this process and the imposition of a whole foreign social system on the Indigenous, which caused unforgettable prejudices, which still affect intercultural relations today [11, 12].

Workers may fear to experience this type of relationship again or in a different, more subtle, even unconscious form in the non-Indigenous worker who reproduces colonizing behaviors, often without knowing it. Then, it can be difficult for a Indigenous worker who has experienced the direct or indirect consequences of the colonialist heritage to fit into an environment where non-Indigenous are mostly the decision-makers of all decisions affecting his/her professional development in the organization. This is reflected even among Indigenous workers according to their personal trajectory: “People who come from reserves, they really have a longer way to go than those who come from Abitibi, that’s day and night” (non-Indigenous worker). Another adds that these latter went to school with the whites. “That’s it, they’ve been assimilated since they were very young” (non-Indigenous worker). In a work setting, a Indigenous worker might fear the imposition of a one-sided relationship. On the other hand, this situation leads Indigenous workers to confuse cultural assimilation with assimilation into an organizational culture and to a specific team and job dynamics. A change in behavior or attitudes may indeed be desired by a workplace (or its representative, the employer), and Indigenous workers who have less professional experiences in this type of organization or sector may have thought that the milieu wanted to “culturally” assimilate them. To this is added the fact that the company specializes in the production and processing of a single resource distributed to all consumers. This favored the construction of a traditional organizational culture based on the performance and productivity of its workforce and without considering the contribution of other cultures in the organization of work and talent management.

The cultural stake of intergroup or interethnic meetings is another important determinant of social relations on which the trust of indigenous workers is based. Among other things, ignorance of the other (as much as the ignorance of the characteristics of Indigenous workers for non-Indigenous workers and vice versa) carries potential conflict that undermines trust. It brings its share of prejudices and stereotypes that undermine the building of trust. Then, it is also the source of a lack of adaptation of the environment to accommodate the Indigenous workers. Blind to the real characteristics, issues, and realities experienced by these workers, organizations find it difficult to intervene knowingly or in such a way as to recognize practices, representations of work, or important values in the eyes of Indigenous workers [10]. In general, non-Indigenous workers know little and are less interested in the culture and traditions of Indigenous communities [35]. Then, the lack of knowledge and respect for elements of indigenous cultures, in addition to their negative impact on confidence, is at the origin of the dissatisfaction of indigenous workers and can undermine the integration and retention efforts of the Indigenous workforce in non-Indigenous organizations [36, 37, 38, 39].

The recent commissions of inquiry on the realities lived by Indigenous people report that the truncated public image of Indigenous people is also responsible for maintaining ignorance of them, including under-representation and the folkloric way of portraying them, in particular by conveying stereotypes [11, 12, 13]. In short, ignorance and lack of understanding of certain social and psychological repercussions of elements linked to the history of communities, particularly those concerning colonization, evangelization, and residential schools, affect trust [32, 40]. On the other hand, for both Indigenous and non-Indigenous workers, training helps to overcome these shortcomings and the lack of knowledge of others, which two workers express as follows:

“I think it was good [the training]. He explained to us the whole reality of arriving in an environment where it's just white people and the difficulty of not being able to trust everyone” (non-Indigenous worker).

“I find that what is lacking in terms of training is to make a profile of whites to [Indigenous] (…). They make us the profile of the [Indigenous] before joining us, not personalized, but rather integral. But the reverse is not done, they do not explain to [Indigenous] what a White” (non-Indigenous worker).

In the context of the data used for the drafting of this chapter, the circles surveyed are bicultural, which generates a particular dynamic where two groups tend to form and to mix less [17, 32]. Specific identities (linked to ethnocultural, linguistic, or spiritual affiliations) characterize them and the individual identification or belonging of workers to one or the other of the groups seems to be “taken for granted” to them. The self-registration of indigenous workers in a particular affiliation leads some of them to isolate themselves socially and without too much interaction with workers belonging to other spheres of affiliation. Moreover, a particular phenomenon of voluntary social isolation, a form of self-marginalization of indigenous workers (for example, indigenous workers who take their meals and do leisure activities only among themselves) becomes a way for them to protect their own cultural belonging and their sense of security in the face of difference [10]. A non-Indigenous worker also evokes the relevance of workers mixing and suggests that this rapprochement could encourage an Indigenous worker to confide in:

“By being together more often, [Indigenous and non-Indigenous workers] create a real dynamic, a real relationship [of trust]. (…) The goal is for integration to be facilitated. If the relationship is great between the men, maybe I as [Indigenous] could possibly confide in [a member of my team]” (non-Indigenous worker).

Then, as the following worker puts it, the development of a relationship of trust in which the person can confide also depends on complicity, the demonstration of concern for the other, and discretion.

“I consider [the confidence] to be fine today. [This Indigenous worker] confides in me very fat, that things are wrong with them and the small problems. I have a good bond with him. He trust me. He must know that I won't tell anyone. In individual meetings it remains between us. I do everything to help these people” (non-Indigenous manager).

Thus, this mixture would promote exchanges and communication in general in the team, even within the organization. Then, it possibly allows for greater confidence and eventually makes it possible to achieve common organizational goals.

While the concept of individual identity plays a role in building trust, much like other emotional foundations, that of professional identity also plays a role. A Indigenous worker who identifies with his trade as an electrician and has a strong sense of professional competence, for example, would tend to trust another electrician more easily than he finds competent. The information he has about him (cognitive basis) could then be sufficient to take the risk of trusting him, bypassing the feeling of identity threat (personal and cultural).

Cultural differences have a particular impact on the emotional, then cognitive, foundations of workers. These include representations of work that differ, but also representations of the organization of work and teams. They go to the heart of workers’ tasks. For example, an Indigenous worker reports a situation in which his Indigenous colleague lacked confidence in his boss. Since he does not share his (ethnic) culture, he fears that he will be less understood.

“His boss mugs him in a corner or makes him empty trash cans, (…) he [my Indigenous colleague] was tired, (…). He didn't have the instinct to talk about it, he didn't trust the boss because he was white. He didn't want to talk to her about it because he didn't feel the boss was going to be there for him” (Indigenous worker).

In the following example, a non-Indigenous worker talks about the emergence of cultural tensions related to everyone’s adaptation to the other’s culture. He clearly relates the difference between emotional foundations (I would trust you, because I appreciate you) and cognitive foundations (I would trust you, because I understand the way you work, and it corresponds to what I know). However, it is clear in his remarks that cultural adaptation to one another is important.

“There are cultural tensions, meaning that everyone has different ways of working. It's not personal; I may like you well, but not like the way you operate according to your culture and without adapting to the other on the other side” (non-Indigenous worker).

Other representations, such as those of family, divide workers when it comes to setting priorities that directly or indirectly affect work. For example, close family for the majority of Indigenous people is similar to what non-Indigenous people commonly refer to as extended family. Also, a Indigenous worker could arrive late, which would have an impact on the work to be done within his team, because he wanted to help a member of his family whom he considers “close.” However, in the conception of most of non-Indigenous workers, work might come before this extended family. A manager in the human resources department of a mining organization in Quebec told us about an exchange she had with an Indigenous worker who arrived late at the workplace:

“I asked him why he was late. He explained to me that he had to help his aunt. After telling him that was not a valid reason, he replied, as if it was obvious: ‘But she’s my aunt! Would you have left her alone?’”

In this example, the comparison of values in connection with representations of work and family is interesting to recognize. This manager was subsequently able to support this worker in his management of time and priorities. She taught him that he did not have to choose between his aunt and his job and that he could do both. However, taking the example from the perspective of the Indigenous worker, the manager’s lack of understanding of her situation is a sufficient reason, at the outset, to hesitate to place her trust in her, since she does not have the same values or at least not the same order of priority of those values as it does.

The major direct consequence of cultural differences between workers is systemic discrimination and racism [11, 12, 13, 41, 42, 43]. For example, reports Caron [35], indifference and detachment from colleagues or superiors to Indigenous cultural identity can create stereotypes and systemic racism. The presence of racism in a work environment is one of the greatest obstacles to the integration of Indigenous workers and will have a relatively pronounced impact on their employment outcomes [10, 35, 37]. One concrete consequence relates to the difficulty for Indigenous workers to express themselves, which makes building social relationships more difficult: “One characteristic that we Indigenous people have is that we don’t talk a lot. We are afraid of being judged” (Indigenous worker). Thus, for reasons of systemic discrimination and racism, Indigenous workers are reluctant to take this “social risk” of approaching each other and, possibly in their relationship, of trusting them.

Whether they are incidents or cultural prejudices that indigenous workers have themselves experienced [11, 12, 13] or that they have experienced by proxy (members of their family who would have suffered, for example), fear or sometimes anger or indifference makes professional experience in a non-Indigenous environment a considerable challenge, especially in relation to the establishment of relationships of trust. Then, to some extent, members of their nations may question the need to work outside of their community and for non-Indigenous employers. In this sense, these workers must be solid in a community context that may appear closed, impermeable, and complex about relations with the outside world [32] and in a national political context of very delicate relations between Indigenous and non-Indigenous [12].

Then, cultural differences, racism, or discrimination brings cultural biases into relationships. For the next two non-Indigenous workers, one way to resolve or break free from these situations is to take this risk of trusting.

“We all have cultural biases, but if both stick to their position and there is never one who takes the risk of trusting the other, it will stay that way for years to come, and in labor relations too” (non-Indigenous worker).

“Trust is a circle, who is the first to trust the other? There has to be one who does it” (non-Indigenous worker).

“Current” determinants of the social relationship that influence trust

Different determinants of the social relationship between workers influence the confidence of Indigenous workers in their colleagues. First, the individual and collective adherence to a system of norms and rules demanded by the organization would have an impact. In the organizational context of meeting between Indigenous and non-Indigenous workers, it is not always easy to comply with certain standards and rules since many are implicit. Indigenous workers face the complexity of a social organization that they are less familiar with and that do not always correspond to this knowledge, practices, values, or beliefs. This situation has consequences for the establishment of a relationship of trust.

For example, for fear of being rejected for reasons of behavior or words, Indigenous workers are reluctant to act or speak out. The cultural insecurity they experience leads them to reduce social relations [44]. However, silence is not always a sign of mistrust. A Indigenous worker reports that individual characteristics such as the ability to express oneself also play a role and are not a sign of a lack of willingness to trust or fit into the community.

“It's not because we don't have confidence that we don't speak, but sometimes also, it's not everyone who has the ability to express themselves, it's not everyone who is able to put words to what they think is not always easy, you know” (Indigenous worker).

In addition, the difficulty, in some cases, in anticipating the behavior of their non-Indigenous colleagues marks the relationship: it remains difficult to place one’s trust in a person whose behavior or reaction cannot be predicted. If cognitive confidence is based on this possibility of anticipating the behavior of the other, this difficulty has repercussions on the decision of a worker to take this social risk, since his knowledge of the other and of the system is irrelevant. On the contrary, the ability of the Indigenous worker to anticipate the behavior of the other favorably influences confidence.

Despite the existence of some training sessions on Indigenous cultures, a certain level of ignorance still exists among non-Indigenous workers. Added to the organizational culture and its exigencies in terms of standardized processes, it is difficult for Indigenous workers to be engaged and to fully contribute. This difficulty is partly explained by cultural and social differences in the functioning or exercise of management practices, but also in terms of individual interests and the organization of professional relations. It can also be the effect of divergent representations of work. Before getting to know these peculiarities better, Indigenous workers remain on “their guard.” It takes time for them to understand the parameters of the system into which they are operating. In short, this phenomenon exacerbates the ability to bet on trust: from experience, unfamiliar territory may seem undermined.

Confidence in this case is given once the system is better known and the standards are accepted as specific to the organization and its culture and not related to the feeling of a demand for conformance to a culture in the sense of ethnicity and society (assimilation to organizational culture versus cultural assimilation). Indigenous workers, like all workers elsewhere, must be willing to conform to, and even assimilate into, an organizational culture. Thus, behaviors become easier to anticipate, predictable, even more consistent, and cognitive confidence easier to grant. Common cultural (organizational) benchmarks are thus built, and it becomes easier for the Indigenous worker to see the match between his interests and those of the other, then to create a zone of trust. However, indigenous workers sometimes interpret compliance with the system of standards and rules as exposure to some vulnerability, or even possible “subordination.” This potential for vulnerability seems more difficult to accept, since it involves a risk for these workers.

Other determinants emerge from the analysis of social relations between indigenous and non-Indigenous workers. For example, repeated positive interactions improve communication, information sharing or the clarification of mutual expectations. Attitudinal and behavioral characteristics of workers (demonstration of intercultural skills, discretion, keeping promises, openness, ability to admit mistakes, etc.) also lead to trust more easily. For example, a Indigenous worker explains that the concern that members of her team had for her gave her confidence.

“The moral side for example, the motivation, it was good. I was moving away from my family, I came here, but they took me under their wings, I felt confident with them and supported” (Indigenous worker).

In short, level of trust among Indigenous workers relies on the nature of their social relations. The latter intervene by minimizing the risk inherent in trust. Also, the foundations of affective (common and shared values, identification with others, feeling of belonging, etc.) or cognitive (information about the other, representations of work, judgment, etc.) trust seem few and not frequent. For example, values seem uncommon and shared between Indigenous and non-Indigenous workers. Indigenous workers identify little with other workers, and a sense of belonging seems diffuse. In a more rational calculation, workers may consider that trust is too high a bet because the sources of mistrust are numerous and varied. That is because knowledge about the other is insufficient to be certain of their behavior toward them or because experiential events related to the story are negative or negatively interpreted.

5.2 Being trustworthy

While Indigenous workers are trusted, non-Indigenous workers must also be trustworthy and play a role in building social relationships between Indigenous workers and themselves. This section reports what non-Indigenous workers suggest as ways to foster the confidence of Indigenous workers.

Being trustworthy presents characteristics very close to the need for cultural security of indigenous workers [44]. The culturally safe approach is to build trust with Indigenous workers. To do this, organizations will recognize the role of socioeconomic conditions, history, and politics in interpersonal relationships. Cultural safety also relies on understanding the power imbalance inherent in these relationships, the underlying discrimination, and the need to rectify inequities by making changes in the system [45]. “A safe work environment increases self-confidence as well as individual performance, well-being, and job satisfaction. It helps ensure better integration and retention of Indigenous workers in an organization, in addition to supporting their professional development” ([37], p. 63). For example, for a non-Indigenous manager, the need for cultural safety may be met when a competent mentor accompanies the Indigenous worker:

“When you have a good coach with [the Indigenous worker], it becomes like your father and that person has a lot of confidence” (non-Indigenous manager).

In addition, several organizations have begun to recognize the need to adapt their work environment, through the implementation of a practice of supporting Indigenous workers in changes in their relationship with work over and generations [10, 38].

The Truth and reconciliation of Canada (TRC) suggests certain practices or strategies to induce trust or minimize mistrust between Indigenous and non-Indigenous that are consistent with cultural safety and the type of environment being studied. Some of them apply very well to organization and intercultural relations between workers: opening the door to positive and productive communications, affirming pride in indigenous cultures, teaching, and creating cultural knowledge and appreciation or work with partners from Indigenous communities to help achieve their own goals.

All these practices are based on the recognition of indigenous specificity in all areas of life and on the reduction of cultural distance. This is made possible thanks, among other things, to the integration of strategic orientations within organizations. This integration shows a real openness and generates changes in operating methods, including ways of planning, and carrying out recruitment and training for indigenous workers.

Current adaptations in the organizations visited relate to cultural accommodations (for example, allowing time to participate in seasonal or traditional activities [8]), including models, elements, and Indigenous values in the workplace (for example, meals inspired by Indigenous cultures) or rapid intervention when discriminatory behaviors are identified.

The importance of supporting the heterogeneity of cultural identities within the work environment and collectivism [10, 35] is materialized by showing more flexibility, by revising policies for work–life balance so that they are coherent and that they adjust to the cultural and personal realities of Indigenous workers [38, 46]. Through training, non-Indigenous workers, including managers, improve their intercultural skills. For example, they become more aware that the behaviors they adopt may be reminiscent of discriminatory or colonizing behaviors. Thus, they increase the potential for sensitivity to the cultural reality of Indigenous people [43] and are better able to rectify inequities caused by systemic discrimination.

Workers report that to gain the confidence of Indigenous workers, it is necessary to trust them first and to give them the autonomy and the leeway that allow them to find their ways of working and to achieve their objectives:

“You have to give them confidence. (…) It seems that we do not delegate enough the chance to make their own trail” (non-Indigenous manager).

“I'm trying to change my approach to give them a little more rope so that they can take the tools themselves and develop their technique. For example, this week, I took out all the inspection papers, I gave them: ‘Here you guys are great, read this, you are starting to have experience, you are capable’, I let them go with the leaves, and if there is anything, they come to see me” (non-Indigenous manager).

In this sense, these workers will be able to develop their confidence because representatives of the organization believe in them. As such, a senior executive of a large organization that hosts a few hundred Indigenous workers noted that trust is based on listening to and showing concern for Indigenous workers and then recognizing their needs and facilitating their progression in the organization.

“For the establishment of a relationship of trust, it is giving the feeling that you are heard, listened to by the hierarchical line, (…). At the [Indigenous] level, it takes listening and maybe it takes an adjustment of our expectations. Like anyone who progresses in our business, we give mandates that they are able to carry out with a level of difficulty increasing over time according to the experience and the capacities and interests they have” (executive non-Indigenous superior).

Finally, being trustworthy has several important dimensions that representatives of organizations must consider. They allow indigenous workers to place their trust in them, and it facilitates their integration into employment and their retention in these mining and energy sectors.

To conclude this section, examining the determinants that have been updated in the light of new research data leads to some interesting clarifications (see next box (Box 2)). They allow the organization to identify sources of confidence that will lead them toward the achievement of their objectives regarding the social and professional integration and the retention of indigenous workers, the subject of the next section.

Past and current determinants of confidence of indigenous workers in mining and energy sectors.

Prior determinants to social relationship that lead to trust
  • Repercussions of history and of colonialist heritage or work

  • Intercultural issues

  • Bicultural environments

  • Lack of knowledge of the other

  • The truncated public image

  • Personal and professional identification

  • A confrontation of values

  • Systemic discrimination and racism

  • Culturalincidents or prejudices

  • Organization of work and teams

Current determinant of social relationships that lead to trust
  • Worker who gives his trust (i.e., the one who gives his trust)

  • Individual and collective adherence to a system of standards and rules.

  • The fear of being rejected

  • Some insecurity

  • Difficulty anticipating the behavior of the other

  • Lack of knowledge of the other’s culture and the organizational culture

  • Cultural and social differences in the operation or exercise of management practices

  • Common cultural (organizational) references

  • Repeated positive interactions

  • Good communication

  • Information sharing

  • Worker who is trustworthy (i.e., the one you trust)

  • Fulfill the need for cultural security

  • Recognize the role of socioeconomic conditions, history and politics in interpersonal relationships

  • Understand the power imbalance inherent in these relationships, the underlying discrimination and the need to rectify inequities

  • Open the door to positive and productive communications

  • Affirm the pride of indigenous cultures

  • Teach and create cultural knowledge and appreciation

  • Work with partners from Indigenous communities to help achieve their own goals

  • Implement support practices

  • Recognition of indigenous specificity

  • Reduce cultural distance

  • Integrate strategic orientations

  • Stay open

  • Change operating modes

  • Adapt or make cultural accommodations

  • Support the heterogeneity of cultural identities

  • Be flexible

  • Revise personal and professional life balance policies

  • Train and be trained

  • Be sensitive to cultural reality

  • The clarification of reciprocal expectations

  • Certain attitudinal and behavioral characteristics


6. Analysis and interpretation: trust, social and professional integration and employment retention of indigenous workers

The analysis of the determinants of confidence in the mining and energy sectors provides some observations about the social and professional integration and job retention of Indigenous workers. In this final section, we first present some thoughts that have emerged on the trust relationship between workers, and then we discuss the link between trust, inclusion, and retention.

First, let us come back to the concept of trust. In the light of the elements presented, it seems that “trusting” in this intercultural context means accepting a certain vulnerability in a power relationship that is often asymmetrical or perceived as such. Origgi [47] writes that trusting also involves giving others some power over yourself and accepting the inherent vulnerability. However, Indigenous workers already feel in a position of inferiority; trust, for them, may then consist of becoming even more vulnerable. Thus, the unequal relationship between indigenous and non-Indigenous workers partly supposes that the agreement of trust is perhaps a bet that they find more difficult to make.

The heavy weight of history and current postcolonialism still operates within organizations and undermines trust, then social and professional integration by marking relationships, sometimes even before their creation. It intervenes in the decision to grant or not trust and prevents the risk-taking associated with it. We wrote a few years ago [33] that time alone would allow generations to live better with the repercussions of colonialism, including racism and discrimination. However, recent discoveries in connection with the education of several generations of Indigenous children in residential schools have exacerbated what we thought was improving. Today, the lack of confidence of Indigenous people is directly linked to these repercussions. Also, the bet of trust for Indigenous is certainly riskier. Nonetheless, we can think that a positive story repeated over a long period and that cultural proximity will produce the opposite feeling in the long run.

We believe that if all relinquish power or if it is shared equally among all workers, trust will allow the creation of a stronger group whose cohesion will bring significant social capital that will facilitate not only trust, but social and professional integration and retention of indigenous workers.

In this sense, it may be necessary to “frame” the relationship of trust by determining and planning strategies and measures to this end to foster the confidence of the Indigenous worker. While taking into consideration that time is a guarantee for success and that results will only be possible after efforts have been made, strategies should focus on the importance of Indigenous culture in and for the organization. These actions involve collaboration with indigenous partners who can facilitate the presence of indigenous cultural landmarks and symbols within the organization.

As part of the identification of reciprocal expectations, a reflection must be initiated on intercultural social relations between Indigenous and non-Indigenous workers. This reflection must question the place of Indigenous culture in intercultural relations and in relation to Quebec’s organizations whose activities take place on ancestral indigenous territories.

Some findings show that the lack of common reflection, even though groups have started inserting Indigenous workers into employment, but that the main stakeholders, even if they are sometimes consulted, are no longer sufficiently involved in these processes. However, it seems important that Indigenous be part of the thinking of organizations that set up integration strategies, with more concrete and not just symbolic actions. Reconciliations are possible, and we feel that those in charge or representatives, on both sides, are ready, supportive, and open to such discussions. In this, the organizations will gain social legitimacy among Indigenous.

An organization alone should focus on the strategies it can implement. However, these must take into consideration and distinguish between what is possible to do at its level and what is not within its purview. Also, there are different levels of trust (societal, organizational, within the team, inter-individual…) that influence each other. Distinguishing them would allow organizations to better approach their efforts. For an organization, beyond strategies and their implementation, it is their real and genuine intention to include indigenous workers that makes a difference in their decision to give their trust or not.

Confidence seems to be a key of major importance that has the potential to minimize the issues related to the social and professional integration and retention of Indigenous workers in Quebec organizations. The reflections that begin this chapter allow to conclude that the thinning of the borders between groups and individuals rests on this risk to be taken in order to generate confidence and possibly leads to a facilitated social and professional integration and to a more great retention.

More concretely, organization that manages to get indigenous workers gives its trust and is willing to take some actions and implements certain strategies that can lead to the success of the workers’ professional projects:

  • Smoothing out intercultural and intergroup differences: avoiding natural segregation, intervening quickly on the marks of discrimination, leaving less possibility of self-marginalization, insisting on the common characteristics of groups, etc.

  • Recognition of the “sovereignty” of the territory (symbolic and current belonging to the territory).

  • Repeated positive professional interactions (collaboration, teamwork, activities, shared meals, etc.).

  • Establishment of supra-professional links (hockey team, leisure activities on work sites, etc.).

  • Flexible interventions within the organization and work-family-community balance practices.

  • Establishment of “external” partnerships involving indigenous communities and nations (for recruitment, monitoring, etc.).

  • Inclusive representation of all groups within the organization (give an important place to Indigenous).

  • Explicit desire to adapt to others and to adapt their organizational methods and processes to the needs of indigenous workers.

  • Strengthening of knowledge related to indigenous cultures and intercultural skills of workers, so as to minimize uncertainties related to socio-professional contexts.

  • Focus on relationships within the organization, avoiding giving too much importance to social and political contexts.

  • Support for indigenous workers, which includes a marked attention to the potential identity threat that the worker might feel and work with him on perceptions of cultural acculturation or assimilation on the part of the organization.

Finally, Indigenous confidence must be “systemic” and be embedded in several layers of society. It is an endemic and structural issue, and our thinking emerges in a context of relative instability where relations between Indigenous and non-Indigenous in Quebec and more broadly in Canada are strained. Both organization and individuals do not have all the power to change things, but they have the responsibility to attempt actions and strategies at their level, to promote the establishment of a strong bond of trust between indigenous workers and the organization and its members.


7. Conclusion

The purpose of this chapter was to update the determinants of social relations that influence trust between indigenous and non-Indigenous workers in the context of the mining and energy sectors. Also, the determinants of trust have been described as a strategy to act on issues of social and professional integration of indigenous workers in non-Indigenous organizations. In short, trust seems to be an avenue to be developed for the integration and retention of indigenous workers and, thus, for indigenous communities to improve current living conditions. The contribution of this chapter is therefore based on the place to be given to trust, which is presented as a key for the development of strategies for organizations that are willing to support their indigenous workers in their social and professional integration efforts. More generally, the reflection initiated in this chapter suggests that we must find ways to better reflect the identities and multiple needs of workers in a space shared by two groups.


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  • This research focused on the determinants of trust in social and professional relationships between indigenous and non-Indigenous workers in the education sector. These are two groundbreaking research studies that focus on the training and employment integration of Indigenous workers. The first was carried out as part of a postdoctoral fellowship at HEC Montreal. (Deschênes, 2017, unpublished), and the second was commissioned by the Niskamoon Society ([17], unpublished).
  • The results of the two studies are unpublished. They are presented in two research reports. The first postdoctoral fellowship (HEC) and private research (Niskamoon)

Written By

Emilie Deschênes and Sebastien Arcand

Submitted: September 20th, 2021 Reviewed: November 22nd, 2021 Published: February 4th, 2022