RBC's Indigenous employee resource group designs a bold solution for visibility and community.

When Michael Polak was in university, he watched from his window as the Engineering students put on their signature purple leather jackets, a symbol of the community to which they belonged. He didn’t know what it meant until someone explained that this was their tradition. With those purple leather jackets, Engineering students could recognize each other as they moved around campus and know what they had in common.

That memory came to mind many years later as members of the Royal Eagles, RBC’s Indigenous employee resource group, were ideating ways they might create a greater sense of community within the organization.

“I started to think we need something that is a unique identifier that tells our story, that aligns with the things our communities do to identify, and that is unmistakably, unapologetically Indigenous,” Polak, the RBC Royal Eagle’s co-chair, remembers. He thought about the different regalia Indigenous communities wear and the great seals, crest-like images unique to a community, they use to visually tell their stories as a people. He wondered what it would be like for RBC’s Indigenous employees to have their own great seal.

A new symbol of community

Polak reached out to Greg and Chris Mitchell, founders of Born In The North creative studio, in hopes of collaborating on creating a symbol Indigenous RBC employees could wear to identify themselves and each other. The Mitchell brothers are of Mi’kmaq ancestry, originally from Newfoundland, and they took on the project with their own unique design perspective.

Born In The North wanted to have fun with the project and deliver something unexpected. The Mitchells included representations of the mountains of Canada, thunderbird imagery common to Indigenous communities, a rainbow, feathers, clouds, pine trees and text in a retro font.

Unmistakably, unapologetically Indigenous

Greg Mitchell laughs as he shares the approach they took, “Let’s just load it up … from a design standpoint you would never put so much stuff in one image.” But each element had a purpose: to show the diversity of Indigenous people from coast to coast. The duo wanted to celebrate Indigenous aesthetics and combine multiple components into an image a design professor might reject as “too busy.”

The Mitchells loved that they could “break all the rules” from a design perspective and enjoy the creative freedom to develop something truly unique. The Royal Eagles were also creating something unique in commissioning the new design.

From Polak’s perspective, the great seal was a winning combination, particularly in including the rainbow. He saw it as a nod to the Two-Spirited and LGBTQ+ community and, “trying to be inclusive of the diversity that exists within our Indigenous communities across Turtle Island, trying to build in some of the intersectionality that exists, and helping symbolize the unity we see in the communities across all the other employee resource groups.”

Diversity and inclusion by special delivery

The first run (165 sweatshirts) was hand-packed and shipped out by Polak and ally Estee Landry-Flinn, delighting the Indigenous RBC employees who received them. He knew the group needed a more efficient way to distribute the sweaters, so he worked with management to collaborate on a solution.

RBC made the sweatshirts available in an internal e-store and they have been in high demand with nearly a thousand orders. The shirts also provide an opportunity to welcome new Indigenous employees in a unique way as they start their new job.

Creating a sense of community, even while working from home

That first batch of special deliveries of this new community design was an innovative solution to bring Indigenous employees together — something needed since the beginning of the pandemic.

This new symbol of belonging brings members of the Royal Eagles employee resource group together, much like the Engineering students Polak saw from his university window. Thanks to a special collaboration with Indigenous artists, Royal Eagles’ members may be more visible — and kept warm — within the community as they bring their whole selves to work.


Learn more about Indigenous Peoples and RBC.


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