Jarret Leaman: Channeling the tech industry to empower Indigenous Communities


This month’s Dial Mover, Jarret Leaman, has showcased boundless energy and passion for advancing the Indigenous and LGBTQ2S+ communities, working on initiatives and founding his own organizations to tackle some of the barriers facing underrepresented groups in tech.

#movethedial sat down with him to find out more about the challenges Indigenous communities face getting involved in tech and how the industry can mitigate these hurdles.

The Indigenous community, which is growing six times faster than the national average, could be the solution to the skills shortage that the tech industry is facing. In a 2019 Hays Report, 76% of tech employers surveyed in Canada reported that they’ve experienced a moderate to extreme skills shortage.

“We have a young workforce of people who are born in Indigenous communities within the jurisdiction of Canada, but that’s the talent that’s not being drawn upon in the tech industry,” says Jarret.

In order to solve for how we can change this, we first need to recognize the systemic barriers that are facing Indigenous peoples making their way into the technology industry.

“The pathways are not the same”

Education for First Nation people falls under the Federal education system whereas non-Indigenous peoples fall under the Provincial education system, which are funded at different rates.

“If the education in your Indigenous community only provides a maximum of Grade 10, then you have to fly to Thunder Bay and live there by yourself at a young age (typically 14-17 years old youth),” says Jarret, speaking to the difficulties that can face Indigenous youth looking to further their education.

“Education in the Indigenous Community from a western, settler or Colonial institution has never worked out for us. How do we move away from that perspective and say what is an Indigenous enriched curriculum and how does that work for us?”

Breaking down barriers

An example of somewhere where this Indigenous enriched curriculum is thriving is Kenjgewin Teg, which is an accredited Indigenous learning institute located within M’Chigeeng First Nation located on Manitoulin Island in Ontario, Canada where you can get a degree that is Indigenous-focused.

With their successful 90% retention rate, Jarret believes we can look at their holistic approach to everything from programming to teachers and ask how do we apply this to the technology sector.

“ Technology still relies on people so we need to focus on getting interested people into that stream, at any stage of their life.”

Jarret founded the Centre for Indigenous Innovation and Technology (CIIT), to help create the next generation of leaders in technology through a fellowship program that aims to provide an experiential learning opportunity to people within the fellowship.

How CIIT and Troon Technologies work together

“We encourage Indigenous peoples to do a fellowship, work with employers and us on these projects, build a portfolio and continue to work in the technology sector.”

The strong women who inspire Jarret

The common thread of who inspires me, starting with my mother, are powerful women.

I took my Native Language, Anishinaabemowin, until my first year of university. I had my Elder Shirley Williams, who is a linguist that wrote the first Anishinaabemowin dictionary, taught me my language. As a residential school survivor, a teacher, and someone who knows the language and the culture, she was very inspirational to me.

“I identify as Two-Spirited and the role of Two-Spirited people in our community traditionally is bridging the roles of male and female. Pre-colonization, holding the knowledge of both roles was incredibly valuable.When I studied my graduate degree, Shirley and I had conversations about it and it was very helpful.”

Jarret then went on to learn from and work with numerous strong women, including Robyn Tourangeau who was a Senior Director at the Council of Ontario Universities and Dr. Sarah Diamond, in his role on the Board of Governors at OCAD University.

Jarret poses the question: How great would it be to have more women in the technology and innovation sectors that are helping mentor others?

“Not every man in the technology sector has had another man as a mentor, I’m a great example of that – mine have mostly been strong women.”

Engaging and Supporting Indigenous Communities

Recognizing that there is an alarming shortage of Indigenous peoples currently working in the technology sector, what can companies – from startups to tech giants – do to engage with the Indigenous community in an authentic way.

1. Strategize First

Jarret recommends starting by putting together a strategy that outlines your goals, objectives, and business targets. This strategy should be led by an Indigenous person or at least have their involvement in building it.

If you want to see how your strategy measures up, the Candian Council for Aboriginal Business runs the Progressive Aboriginal Relation program (PAR), which evaluates Corporate Canada on their strategies for Indigenous relations across areas like the inclusion of Indigenous business within an organizations procurement strategy, community investment and community engagement and employment.

2. Invest

Making changes, especially if you’ve never engaged with Indigenous communities before, is going to require an investment of time, money and resources.

When you’re engaging with an Indigenous community, Jarret recommends dedicating one person whose job it is to run this strategy.

“It can’t be across five different people’s jobs, the risk is too high.”

3. Measure your results

Once you’ve strategized and invested in these goals, you need to measure what the outcomes developed.

In the case of hiring Indigenous peoples, measuring retention is extremely important from an inclusion point of view but also from a business perspective.

“If you hired four Indigenous people last year in your tech company and you ended up losing three of them, now you’ve spent all this money recruiting them and now it’s lost profit,” says Jarret.

Given the incredible amount of work that Jarret does on a daily basis, we’re curious to know what is it that inspires him to continue his efforts. He tells us there’s a future moment that’s drives him.

I would love the opportunity to hire Indigenous people who have graduated from one of the nine Indigenous learning institutes. Having Indigenous employees who have studied at a culturally enriched learning environment is a huge asset for me.

By: Róisín Nestor