As an emerging professional in the field of First Nations governance and land management, I am often asked many questions as it relates to working and engaging with First Nations. I am going to share with you the most common questions I encounter and provide insight on how to approach your future interactions with First Nations. I encourage you to use this as a starting point and not as a sole source of information.
1. Emphasize the importance of relationship building
Foster relationships based on mutual trust and respect that focuses on long-term relationship building. It is important to take the time to get to know the person, community or group on a personal level. This may mean taking time to sit with elders, engaging in small talk before the meeting, opting for in-person interactions, attending various events and functions and being involved with the community.
2. Be flexible, open and adaptable
Have an open mind and be flexible with timing, decisions, outcomes, work plans and deliverables. Each community is unique in how they approach and address problems. Your best course of action is to start conversations early before you begin any project or set of proposed works and ask the First Nation how they want to communicate, engage and be involved. Also, family ties and well-being are very important to First Nations, so find ways to adapt meetings, events or functions to accommodate this and be mindful of harvesting, cultural or ceremonial dates.
3. Participate in community
Take time to attend events, gatherings, ceremonies and other functions in the community. Not only will you learn their "ways of doing" things you will also strengthen your relationship with the community. Try connecting with friendship centres, the band, councils and other community organization or groups to see what is happening in the community.
4. Listen and ask questions
Try to listen and observe first. Due to the Indian Act and other imposed systems, First Nations voices and experiences have often been minimized and reduced. When working with First Nations, consultants and contractors are quick to offer suggestions and solutions, which may very well be great recommendations however, First Nations issues are often complex and highly-integrated in other systems or problems. When uncertain about how to approach a situation, simply ask questions or clarify, and learn the best course of action or protocol to follow.
5. Learn the language, values, history and traditions
Seek knowledge keepers and elders to help you learn the culture and the land. It is important to understand the community as whole for its unique characteristics which are often not written down or formally taught. These characteristics are often embedded and learned through various interactions whether formal or informal. If you want to fully immerse yourself in learning about a community dedicate time to learn the language, land and the history of the community. This will allow you to begin to seeing the community through a different lens and create more meaningful, appropriate and custom solutions for whatever project you are undertaking with the community. Also, try greeting people in their language and learn the traditional names of places
Other recommendations include:
Learn about the history of residential school
Read up the on the "Calls to Action" and Truth and Reconciliation Commission
Participate in Orange Shirt Day or National Indigenous Peoples Day
Advocate for "Missing Murdered Indigenous Woman and Girls"
Check out "First Voices" a language resource
Figure out the traditional territory that you live, work and play on
Read and support Indigenous artists, authors and entrepreneurs
Like and follow Indigenous creators on social media