What support can you provide organizations that are looking to engage more meaningfully with Indigenous communities?
First of all, we offer Indigenous Awareness Training to ensure organizations and individuals have the necessary competence to engage effectively with communities. Our training is tailored to the organizations’ specific needs, and often includes addressing emerging risks and opportunities.
We also assist organizations in developing Indigenous Inclusion Plans, which help to define the relationship between organizations and the Indigenous communities in whose territories they work or operate. Important features of plans also include aspects of Economic Development and Workforce Development.
For organizations who are seeking to enhance their internal capacity to engage with communities, we have also developed a large network of Indigenous community, leadership, consultation and business contacts – depending on the area of interest, we can either help facilitate introductions or assist with on-the-ground engagement.
Indigenous Engagement and Consultation
What is the difference between Aboriginal (Indigenous) Consultation and Engagement?
Consultation is a regulated process. Engagement is a more fluid approach that usually seeks to build stronger relationships with Indigenous communities. Engagement can take many forms – in addition to communications and relationship building, it may also include aspects of community investment, economic development, capacity building initiatives or other activities that help support a longer-term, mutually beneficial relationship.
If engagement is not a regulatory requirement, why would a company undertake it?
When engagement is done well, it most often paves the way for smoother consultation by establishing relationships, and gaining an understanding of a community’s values, interests and concerns in advance of consultation, and begin to address concerns.
Other benefits to engagement include strengthening a company’s ESG performance and avoiding legal hurdles and regulatory delays. By working with, and supporting mutual interests and benefits, companies can realize long term benefits built on shared success with communities.
How can organizations bridge the gap between technical content and the plain language protocol for a consultation?
Often it is difficult to ensure technical info is presented in a way that communities understand, and yet still manages to convey all the necessary project information. A few best practices include:
- Use as many illustrations or visual content as possible to help get your information across.
- Wherever possible, use examples that are relatable to the communities you’re consulting with.
- Speak in plain language and avoid the use of any acronyms.
- Work with a good plain language editor or writer to assist you.
- Seek guidance from Indigenous communities or organizations on what would be helpful to them. Different communities might have different needs, so it helps to reach out to several to get their input.
How do you engage communities around economic development opportunities while undergoing consultation with a nation?
Unless you have a formal agreement in place with a community, such as an Impact Benefits Agreement (IBA) or similar, we recommend separating economic benefits from the consultation process. It is critical to understand that while Indigenous communities are definitely interested in economic development opportunities, they need to take place independently of consultation. In other words, they need to be two parallel, but distinct processes.
Sometimes – but not always – economic development opportunities are viewed as part of “accommodation” for any infringement of Indigenous (Treaty and Aboriginal) rights. Unless this is spelled out as part of a formal agreement, we caution organizations against assuming this is the case. Any issues, concerns or mitigation of potential rights infringement must still be addressed as part of a consultation process.
I am required to engage Indigenous communities, and it’s something I’ve never done before. What do I need to know?
Very cool! This can be both an exciting – and daunting – process at first.
First, it’s critical to understand that Indigenous communities and groups are not simply “stakeholders”, but have specific rights, and are therefore more accurately referred to as “rights holders”. These rights include:
- Fiduciary rights;
- Constitutional rights;
- Treaty rights;
- Aboriginal rights;
- Aboriginal title; and,
We recommend taking an Indigenous Awareness course, if possible. We offer training, and there are some great online resources to provide you with some basic knowledge – some universities even offer them for free.
Seek to understand the unique culture and history of the people you will be engaging, as it will help you to understand any issues that might interfere with your success (e.g. ongoing conflict with governments or project proponents; governance issues; socio-economic challenges a community might be facing.) It may also uncover some opportunities, such as a community who is working hard to develop businesses to support their long term success and independence. You can search a Nation’s web pages to learn some basic information – and we also like to participate in community events to also learn more about each Indigenous community.
As far as approaching communities, if you haven’t worked with them before, here are a few tips:
- Understand that every Nation is distinct – get to know each community and its unique culture, history, language and interests
- Inquire if there are any specific protocols you should observe
- Speak plain language (avoid any technical jargon or acronyms)
- Be patient – learn that timing can be more fluid for many communities (so allot plenty of time)
- Have empathy for circumstances a community faces – for example if there is a death in the community, it is common for offices to close down for mourning and support, especially in the event of an elder passing
- Dress appropriately (many communities dress fairly informally)
- If you’re unsure of anything, just ask!
- If you need help pronouncing any names, you can obtain guidance from Friendship Centres – or as Bob Joseph has even advised, phone the band office after hours
- Ask questions – be curious, and get to know what is important to the community
- Ask “Who Else” (do I need to talk to about this…)
- Document everything, and follow up rigorously
- Remember you don’t have to be an expert in Indigenous Relations to understand and practice Human Relations
What is in your experience the most effective approach to long-term stakeholder and Indigenous engagement?
There are many things to keep in mind when building out your engagement plan. Following are some tips to keep in mind:
- Engage early – ideally, as soon as you know you’ll have a project in specific area. It’s easier to consult with a community with whom you have begun to build a relationship.
- In-person engagement is often most effective for building relationships, where possible. Relationships may be maintained through other methods, such as phone calls, emails, newsletters, etc.
- Engage with a community according to its specific needs and style. This means getting to know them well, including formal and informal community leaders, elders and any other influencers.
- When you’re getting to know communities ensure you seek to understand their values and interests. Organizations who find ways to address and support these often build longer-term and mutually beneficial relationships with communities.
- Tailor and scale your engagement according to the project size/complexity, as well as to the resources you have to undertake engagement.
- Don’t set unrealistic expectations and over-engage communities that you cannot adequately maintain engagement with.
- Build trust through transparency, honesty and follow through on commitments.
- Be frank about project potential – don’t overpromise anything.
What tools or methods do you use to identify stakeholders for a project?
Depending on the nature and scale of the project, we may use a spreadsheet or more highly developed software (such as Jambo, Borealis, StakeTracker) to identify stakeholders and track engagement. You can begin with a category of stakeholders (e.g. Municipal governments, landowners, Indigenous communities, businesses, media etc.), then begin to list each of the individuals or groups in each category.
Once you’ve built out your list, it is also helpful to rank stakeholders to understand who you need to engage early on, and potentially at a deeper level. We like to work with project teams to rank them according to their level of power/influence in a project, as well as their level of interest in the project. Once you understand all of these things you can map out a strategy and plan for engaging each stakeholder group – the higher their ranking, the higher degree of engagement you’ll likely want to have with them.
We recommend IAP2’s spectrum of engagement and other resources to support engagement planning.
United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples (UNDRIP)
What is UNDRIP?
The Declaration is a comprehensive statement addressing the human rights of indigenous peoples. It was drafted and formally debated for over twenty years prior to being adopted by the General Assembly on 13 September 2007. The document emphasizes the rights of Indigenous peoples to live in dignity, to maintain and strengthen their own institutions, cultures and traditions and to pursue their self-determined development, in keeping with their own needs and aspirations. A key provision of UNDRIP is the doctrine of “free, prior and informed consent” (FPIC).
UNDRIP is a non-binding international instrument that articulates “the minimum standards for the survival, dignity and well-being of the indigenous peoples of the world.”
Why is UNDRIP important?
While Canada has historically supported UNDRIP in principle, until recently it has stopped short of adopting it in full. On June 16, 2021, the Senate voted to pass Bill C-15, the United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples Act (the UNDRIP Act), into law. The UNDRIP Act received Royal Assent on June 21, marking a historic milestone in Canada’s implementation of the United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples (UNDRIP or the Declaration).
What are the key provisions of the UNDRIP Act?
Several prominent legal firms in Canada have posted bulletins to help explain the provisions of the UNDRIP Act, and its likely implications in Canada, including this excerpt from Osler:
“The UNDRIP Act’s 22 paragraph preamble presents an introduction to the Act. Among other things, it recognizes the inherent right to self-determination and affirms UNDRIP as a source for the interpretation of Canadian law. While the preamble is only an introduction to the Act, it will likely be relied upon as a tool for interpreting the intent and purpose of the legislation.
The Act itself presents two key goals:
- affirm UNDRIP as a universal international human rights instrument with application in Canadian law; and
- provide a framework for the government of Canada (the GoC) to implement the Declaration.
The Act’s substantive provisions establish how these two goals are to be pursued by making Canada’s laws consistent with UNDRIP and by preparing and implementing an action plan to achieve UNDRIP’s objectives.”
What are the implications of UNDRIP for the natural resource sector?
As the UNDRIP Act is implemented in Canada, federal lawmakers will be required to consider consistency with UNDRIP when adopting new statutes and amendments, and “courts will look to UNDRIP as a tool to interpret law in Canada”. It is likely that new legislative and policy developments will occur through this process.
Another significant undertaking will be to determine what is meant by “free, prior and informed consent” (FPIC) of Indigenous communities. Although it has been stated that the intention for FPIC is not to be considered a “veto”, it is certain that some communities may view it differently. At minimum, FPIC is likely to result in a much more intensive consultation and engagement processes when a proposed project triggers the application of federal laws.
Finally, although many project proponents have for some time provided economic benefits to Indigenous communities in their projects, the UNDRIP Act will “strengthen incentives for project proponents to partner with Indigenous groups in project development and may increase incentives for Indigenous equity ownership.”
What can my organization do to prepare for the full implementation of UNDRIP in Canada?
Until UNDRIP has been fully implemented, and policy and legislation developed, we believe that the best course of action is to engage as meaningfully as possible. Depending on the scale and nature of a project, this could mean:
- Developing relationships (at minimum) with consultation offices, leadership and Indigenous businesses
- Share information as transparently as possible, in a timely manner, and in plain language that is easy to understand
- Seeking to understand, address and mitigate any issues or rights infringement
- Seeking to understand and incorporate Traditional Ecological Knowledge into project planning – considering Indigenous worldviews
- Providing economic opportunities and employment opportunities for Indigenous communities and businesses (prioritizing those with greatest impacts from your development)
- Entering into formalized agreements, such as Impact Benefits Agreements (IBAs)
- Offering equity ownership to Indigenous communities/groups
Osler Bulletin: Federal UNDRIP Bill becomes lawby Sander Duncanson, Coleman Brinker, Kelly Twa and Maeve O’Neill Sanger, Jun 22, 2021.