The foundation of meaningful engagement with an Indigenous community is trust. Earning that trust will take time, consistency, and transparency. The key to understanding why trust is not readily given lies in the history of Indigenous relations in Canada. It is next to impossible to respectfully and effectively engage with an Indigenous community without knowledge of this history.
A frequent question in our training is how much time a project proponent should anticipate effective engagement to take. There isn’t a simple answer to that question for a couple of reasons. First, engagement is not “one size fits all” - each community is unique unto itself as is each company and each project. Second, prior to engaging with the community you can’t predict how the relationship will unfold, or how you, your team, and your project will be viewed. With just those two factors in mind, it becomes clear that an engagement strategy can’t be built with a rigid timeline nor can it be fast tracked. It also means that your engagement strategy should be written into the early phases of your project plan.
Engagement should not be something done off the corner of the desk. It’s a critical component of your development plans and should be afforded an appropriate budget. Hiring a qualified Indigenous Engagement Specialist would be an asset for both your company and the community you hope to work with. The advantage lies in that person being the sole point of contact which ensures that the community has someone reliable and knowledgeable to approach with questions, and messaging about the company and project is on point. An Indigenous Engagement Specialist does not have to be an Indigenous person but they should at the very least have had training in Indigenous awareness.
How do you earn the trust that’s the foundation of an effective Indigenous pre-engagement strategy? Through the three Rs of engagement:
Long before you engage with a community, do your due diligence. Developing a holistic understanding of the community before you interact with them is critical.
Here are some areas you need to include in your research:
- History of the community
- Community profiles and statistics
- Fishing, hunting, and gathering activities
- Environmental concerns
- Spiritual practices
- Governance - custom, elected, or majority elected leadership
- Tribal council affiliations
- Decision making structures
- Role of hereditary leaders and Elders
- Community priorities
- Socio-economic situation
- Relationship with any previous project proponents
Here’s an article from our blog that lists research resources:
Don’t overlook the value of social media as a source of current information about the community and what is important to them. If there’s something of issue, community members are more than likely to take to social media to voice their opinion.
- Respect the ongoing impacts of colonialism. The Indian Act still very much controls and constrains the lives and opportunities of Indigenous Peoples.
- Respect the history that community has with the land around them.
- Respect cultural differences. You are working with another culture and as such the values of that culture need to be understood and respected.
- Respect that your timeline is YOUR timeline and not theirs so don’t try to engage when the community may be involved in cultural or traditional activities that may take them onto the land and away from the band office.
- Respect that while your project may bring opportunities, those opportunities may be considered as negative impacts by the community. In other words, what is valued in the business world may not be held in the same high regard in an Indigenous community, no matter what their socio-economic reality might be.
Recognition and regard for the rights of Indigenous Peoples
- Recognize and respect Indigenous Peoples’ rights as defined in s. 35 of the Constitution Act, 1982
“35(1) The existing aboriginal and treaty rights of the aboriginal people in Canada are hereby recognized and affirmed.
(2) In this Act, “Aboriginal Peoples of Canada “includes the Indian, Inuit, and Métis Peoples of Canada.
(3) For greater certainty, in subsection (1), “treaty rights” includes rights that now exist by way of land claims agreements or may be so acquired.
(4) Notwithstanding any other provision of this act, the aboriginal and treaty rights referred to in subsection (1) are guaranteed equally to male and female persons.”
- Recognize and respect that Indigenous Peoples, unlike most mainstream Canadians, have had to fight very hard to have their rights recognized in the Constitution and upheld in the courts.
For a snapshot of the important court cases that have contributed to establishing rights and title, download our free ebook:
Aboriginal Rights, Title, and the Duty to Consult.
- Understand Free, Prior, and Informed Consent and how it potentially impacts your proposed project
States shall consult and cooperate in good faith with the indigenous peoples concerned through their own representative institutions in order to obtain their free and informed consent prior to the approval of any project affecting their lands or territories and other resources, particularly in connection with the development, utilization or exploitation of mineral, water or other resources.
An effective Indigenous pre-engagement strategy focuses on building the relationship. It will take time and energy to earn the trust of an Indigenous community so plan to maintain and enjoy the relationship long term.
 Constitution Act, 1982, being Schedule B to the Canada Act 1982 (U.K.), 1982, c. 11.
 United Nations Declaration for the Rights of Indigenous Peoples 2007
Download our free ebook to learn more about Aboriginal rights, title and the duty to consult
Indigenous Corporate Training Inc., provides information on this blog for free as a resource for those seeking information about Indigenous Peoples in Canada. Readers looking for more detailed information, or who have questions, can sign up for our fee-for-service training. Also, ICT encourages everyone who reads this information to use their best judgment given their own circumstances, vulnerabilities, and needs, and to contact a consulting or legal professional if you have more specific questions. Join the conversation over on our Linkedin page.