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Not just a check-box exercise: What is meaningful Indigenous engagement?

Blog, Public Engagement | April 4, 2017

By: Nuala McKee, Consultant, Public Engagement Team

GCI’s Public Engagement team is celebrating its one year anniversary! As the PE team continues to engage with communities across the province and the country, it’s important for us carefully consider how to effectively consult with Indigenous peoples. Moreover, the political energy behind the Indigenous community is palpable and exciting. In a trip last year to the Northwest Territories to work on a project with the Yellowknife Health and

Photo taken during my trip to Yellowknife, NWT to conduct meetings for the Yellowknife Health and Social Services Authority

Photo taken during my trip to Yellowknife, NWT to conduct meetings for the Yellowknife Health and Social Services Authority

Social Services Authority, I had the honour of experiencing firsthand the strength, humour and resiliency of Indigenous peoples. Recognizing that we as a nation still have long journey towards reconciliation, GCI’s Public Engagement team is committed to increasing our awareness on an individual level. To that end, all our team members have completed an Aboriginal Awareness Course, offered by Aboriginal Awareness Canada. While myself and the team continues to learn about our history, meaningful engagement and individual paths towards reconciliation, I hope to use this blog post to share some of the learnings I have acquired thus far.

Understanding our history

Canada’s history of Indigenous relations and engagement has been fraught with shortcomings and examples of ineffectiveness. We do not have to look back far in our history (the last residential school in Canada closed in 1998, for instance) to find examples of discriminatory policies and practices that have threatened the very cultural survival of Indigenous people and which have created a cycle of intergenerational suffering.

As a nation, we have not yet understood or come to terms with the damaging legacy of this history on these resilient people. Honouring the Truth, Reconciling for the Past is the final report of the work of the Truth and Reconciliation Commission of Canada and a good step towards addressing historic wrongs and creating more respectful and healthy relations with First Nations, Inuit and Métis communities. Consultation on all issues is at the heart of reconciliation.

As the country works to mend relationships between the Crown and Indigenous peoples and move towards reconciliation, it is important that our mindset of Indigenous engagement begins to shift as well. Beyond the legal obligations facing government and, in turn, industry, we need to truly believe that it is the right thing to do. We need to understand the value, insights and expertise that the Indigenous community can provide and engage in a way that is meaningful, rather than simply looking to check off a box on the way to project/policy approval.

What does meaningful engagement mean?

Consultation with the Indigenous community is not just the right thing to do— in many cases it’s a legal requirement as part of the duty to consult, including for regulatory project approvals, licensing, policy developments and more. Proper Indigenous consultation means engaging the community when a project idea arises, getting their ideas and input, and incorporating them into the plan as it evolves. Simple notification about what the plan will be is not consultative and counterproductive to obtaining the cooperation, respect and informed consent of First Nations communities. A meaningful consultation process is one that is founded in the principles of good faith, respect and a reciprocal relationship.

What does meaningful engagement look like?

Indigenous engagement starts long before formal in-person consultation sessions begin. It is important to seek opportunities to involve Indigenous people in the consultation process as much as possible. Each project or policy review will be different. Therefore, the process of engagement will change depending on the nature of the project and the unique needs of each community.

The Government of Ontario draft guidelines for ministries on consultation with Aboriginal peoples, as well as consultation steps identified by Indigenous Awareness Canada, inform the following guidelines for meaningful Indigenous engagement. It is important to note that this is not an exhaustive list. Rather, the intention is to provide some best practices for Indigenous engagement.

  • Informing the Indigenous community early and before a plan has been established or an idea solidified
  • Identify potential impacts— both beneficial and adversarial— by speaking directly with relevant members of the Indigenous community
  • Listen to the concerns raised and consider steps needed to address these concerns, including accommodation
  • Attempt to minimize negative impacts by developing plans with the affected Indigenous community and, if applicable, third parties
  • Commit to following up regularly and a continue dialogue, particularly with any changes that occur along the way. Issues may arise that go beyond the original scope of the project—be prepared for a new set of discussions or consultations

To read more about the guidelines listed above and to learn more about how to meaningfully consult with the Indigenous community, read the Government of Ontario’s draft guidelines on consultation with Aboriginal peoples.