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First Nation Community Engagement

First Nation Community Engagement

Things have definitely changed when it comes to First Nation Community Engagement. The Tsilhqot’in decision has moved the bar much higher in terms of legal requirements and will definitely require governments to beef up and strengthen their duty to consult requirements and policies.

So what's a company to do? Early, effective, respectful, and consistent engagement with First Nation communities is the foundation of any good engagement strategy and positive relationship, and time well spent. A relationship that is respectful of the interests, priorities and values of the First Nation(s) you wish to engage with is key to how your project will be viewed. Keep in mind that it may be necessary, due to overlapping land claims and traditional territories, to engage with more than one community. If this is the case, treat each community individually in your engagement, don’t play one against the other, and don’t attempt to gain leverage by name-dropping that someone from another community provides support for what you are doing.

If your organization does its research on community values, history and traditions and devotes the resources necessary to develop an effective First Nation community engagement strategy, it could open the door to many opportunities, such as:

  • access to the local workforce

  • access to service and supplier providers

  • smoother assessment and regulatory processes

  • assistance with the development of Impact Benefit Agreements and Socio-economic Participation Agreements

Some tips on engagement:

  • Do not think of or refer to First Nations as stakeholders.

  • Realize the difference between the responsibilities and mandates of Chief and Council and the community’s economic development corporations, if the community has one.

  • Determine who the appropriate First Nation and community contacts are and ensure they are kept informed throughout the duration of your project - not just at the beginning when you need to have them on-side.

  • Arrange personal meetings between your executives and First Nation and community leaders - in other words, “chief to chief”.

  • Provide transparent information about the project, its progress, challenges etc.

  • Work with First Nation and community individuals and/or organizations to identify and develop local benefits and help build sustainable local capacity.

  • Do your due diligence to learn about and follow community protocols and/or best practices.

  • Work with the community to develop modifications to your project, if required, to address community concerns.

  • Recognize, respect and accommodate First Nation personal and cultural activities such as funerals. potlatches, General Assemblies and the time required for traditional harvesting.

  • Recognize the intergenerational impact of the residential schools and the link to substance abuse.

These are just some suggestions for your consideration. Each First Nation has an individual view of engagement and the most effective way to learn what their view is, is to begin your relationship with open and regular communication. The least effective thing you can do is to only engage when you need approval or support from the community.

Featured photo: David Stanley, Flickr

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