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A Perspective on Municipal and First Nations Engagement

I recently read the Urban Indigenous Housing in BC: Municipal Response through housing policy and plans summary report by AMHA and SCARP and the one survey respondent's statement stood out to me:

"When we look at housing needs we evaluate based on demographics but not race or ethnicity. We look at global needs rather than then needs of subgroups. Given the size of our community subclassifying/categorizing is likely not an effective use of time and resources.”

This struck me as the report also highlighted other difficulties or areas of reluctance that supported this statement. It didn't surprise me however, I still wanted to do a bit more digging to see what information or resources are out there and this is what I found:

It was evident through these resources that more contributions can be made towards actualizing plans, implementing strategies and finding day-to-day workable solutions. Many of these plans strategically approach these relations without any thought or considerations on how they are to be applied. So with my experience and knowledge I am going to make the following recommendations that can be worked into or embedded in inter-government relations. Check them out below.

Build relationships

Invest time into building strong and meaningful relationships that are maintained over extended periods of time, rather than simply when working on a project together. No two First Nations are the same, so each approach will be different and you will learn something new along the way. Spend time in the community, make connections, attend events/ceremony (if possible) and connect with Elders or knowledge keepers. Take time to check in and ask about family, projects, home life etc. Not all relationships should be solely based on business or government activities.

Foster inter-government relations

Create an Indigenous advisory committee, have joint council meetings, update/create agreements, great principles of engagement and relationship building. Share information, resources or stories for the sake of it. Take a minute to learn something new about each other and explore how to define the partnership, to create relationships and to seek new opportunities. Be open to alternative forms of governance methods and techniques for decision-making, relationship-building and dispute resolution.

Embark on unchartered territory

Remember there are not guidelines, expectations or even a rule book. Now is the time to forge new ground, experiment, collaborate and brainstorm creative solutions in order to work effectively in the future. Also, don't wait for other levels of government to define the expectations or set the tone of engagement, waiting for direction will only further delay the process and doesn't benefit anyone.

Let's remember there isn't a comprehensive approach or tool kit available however, here are further recommendations for you to consider along the journey is establishing mutually beneficial relationships based on trust, respect and humility:

  • Consider opening a meeting with a prayer, song or dance

  • Do a land acknowledgement

  • Conduct Indigenous Awareness/Inclusion training/Competency

  • See if ceremonial/traditional practices could be incorporated into the work being done

  • Have an elder or youth representative for any meetings, task forces or advisory groups

  • Re-thinking and Indigenize spaces (i.e., is your space opening and inviting)

  • Learn and use traditional language in any interactions

  • Consider re-naming or re-defining spaces that reflect negative historical events/colonialism (i.e., monuments, street signs, buildings, parks etc.)

  • Ensure organizational proportional representation of staff members and teams (i.e., who is not present, who needs to be a part of this team, what perspective is lacking)

  • Be open to traditional teachings, values and beliefs

  • Remember language shapes our world (i.e., are there opportunities to re-think and re-define our world to have shared understanding and common ground that isn't one or the other?)

  • Consider a summer mentorship, co-op, or internship program with First Nations

  • Meet for the sake of meeting and checking-in in order to build rapport and establish a lasting relationship

  • Have First Nations leading First Nations initiatives

  • Understand the importance of story telling, teachings, and ways of being

  • Show your organizational presence in the community through networking events, job fairs, school presentations, seminars or workshops

  • Lead the onset of projects with values and principles versus deliverables and outcomes and try to work towards finding solutions together

  • Allow the work to be community-led versus one person/representative (if possible)

  • Open your mind and heart to new perspectives and when in doubt ask questions and be honest

Let me know what you think and share your experience in the comments! I see a great opportunity to break new ground and work towards creating more meaningful and mutually beneficial engagement opportunities.

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