• Sebastian Distefano, Author |
5 min read

​I always value the opportunity to connect with colleagues in person, whether through casual run-ins at the office or more formal events. What makes these moments particularly meaningful for me is when they bring us together for a shared purpose. So, if asked to pick one of my most memorable events of 2022, hosting KPMG’s GTA Alumni Reception amidst the Bizindamowin Indigenous art exhibit ranks among the top.

The exhibit borrows its name from an Ojibwe term meaning, “to learn from listening.” It was held in November at Toronto’s Fairmont Royal York hotel upon the traditional territory of the Wendat, Anishinabek, Haudenosaunee, Métis and the Mississaugas of the New Credit First Nation. And while it was an evening for KPMG Alumni across the GTA to reconnect and catch up, it was also a unique opportunity to celebrate the power of Indigenous culture through storytelling. This thoughtfully curated inspirational art exhibition allowed us to explore Indigenous histories, languages, traditions and spiritual beliefs while building on our firm’s commitment to advancing the health and well-being of Indigenous communities in Canada.

Bizindamowin was curated by Sylvia Dreaver, a Nēhiyaw (Plains Cree) member of the Mistawasis First Nation. She is also a respected leader among organizations like the Canada Council for the Arts, Mentoring Artists for Women’s Arts and the Canadian Museum for Human Rights in Winnipeg. Reflecting on the event, Sylvia’s biggest takeaway was the feeling of reciprocity. “True reciprocity,” she said, “comes from listening to each other, which harkens back to the title of the exhibition. This event was an exemplary way of showcasing [Indigenous] arts, culture, and knowledge in a totally different way and exposing it to an audience that might have little to no knowledge of our culture.”

Through Sylvia’s efforts, and those of the talented team at MassivArt, our KPMG Alumni were immersed in an exhibit showcasing 120 pieces of inspiring, engaging and thought-provoking Indigenous art. Attendees also had the opportunity to purchase the artwork, with all proceeds going directly to the artist and all sales matched by the KPMG Foundation to fund scholarships for Indigenous students at the Ontario College of Art & Design University (OCADU).

Indeed, the evening's success is owed to a meaningful collaboration between creative minds and passionate Indigenous allies. I share the sentiments of Jason Baerg, an assistant professor at OCADU and prominent Indigenous new media artist, who found the event to be an “incredibly successful merger of emerging and established Indigenous artists offered in the same venue with a marketplace that made it inspiring and easy to engage” and “one that I hope we can replicate again in the future.”

Indigenous art in focus
I am encouraged to hear that the event was as inspirational for guests as it was for the creators of the art on display. Casey Koyczan, one of the evening's featured artists, who entranced guests with a digital immersive experience that showcased animated works, told us, “It was an honour to be curated into KPMG’s Bizindamowin Exhibition alongside so many talented Indigenous artists. I am very happy with how the [digital art] was presented so that many people can see how Indigenous artists are diverse within their culture and their artwork.”

Paul Petro Gallerist, an attendee representing Michel Dumont, a two-spirit Metis artist featured in the exhibition, also shared his impressions of the event, telling us how impactful it felt to see Indigenous art presented as the “central focus” and “first priority” for the evening. We proudly echo Paul’s sentiment that a “thoughtful presentation” of these art pieces helped to “raise awareness of Indigenous art and the issues that are a reflection of the current moment.”

Arthur Gaillard, Creative Director with MassivArt, whose team was integral to ensuring the event left an impact on all who attended, believed the evening helped forge a stronger connection between the Indigenous arts community, KPMG and the corporate world at large. “Thanks to this event,” Arthur said, “we saw our artist network grow and solidify, and we can now count many new connections from talented artists in the community with whom we will be collaborating again in the future. It is through the Bizindamowin Exhibition, and through other similar projects and events, that we are truly learning how to make reconciliation a priority.”

Beyond the show
At KPMG, we believe that an inclusive and diverse culture is critical for our people, our business and our communities to thrive. Championing inclusion in the workforce is a commitment we have not only within the firm but one that I personally take very seriously, and we are dedicated to creating an environment where our people feel comfortable bringing their whole selves to work each and every day. Our pledge to provide a supportive and innovative workplace for our people has resulted in some top industry awards year after year, including Canada’s Top 100 Employer by Mediacorp Canada Inc, Top-Rated Workplace in Canada by Indeed and Canada’s Best Employer for Diversity by Forbes.

But we know that continuing to create a workplace that enables everyone to truly belong means we need to be more aware of, and educated about, the shared history of our country and the barriers that still unjustly prevent too many people from achieving their highest potential. Which is why we’ve strengthened our commitment to Truth and Reconciliation through our Truth and Reconciliation Action Plan. As a collective journey and a shared responsibility, truth and reconciliation should unite all organizations and requires firms like ours to lead by example. After all, just as there can be no reconciliation without truth, there can be no progress without action.

By continually learning, engaging and listening to our Indigenous communities, we can make a difference and help create positive and sustainable socioeconomic change. Indeed, only through allyship and by working together—with our eyes (and ears) wide open—can we advance an equitable and inclusive culture for all.

For more information or how you can be part of KPMG’s collective impact, check out our careers site for the latest opportunities.

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