Across Canada, many people are eager to learn how to be good allies to Indigenous peoples and many local governments are exploring ways to collaborate with neighbouring First Nations.
In our recent webinar, Collaboration Between Indigenous and Non-Indigenous Communities, we talked with a panel of experts about what it takes to be successful in these kinds of collaborations.
The key to collaborating effectively, we learned, is in building relationships—and practicing those relationships so they become effective partnerships.
As Marissa Lawrence, Senior Program Officer for the First Nations Municipal Community Economic Development Initiative (CEDI) shared:
“It’s about at once building the relationship and building capacity to practice it because without practicing it, a long-term and sustainable relationship is not going to happen. We must respect the vast differences and unique strengths of each community, and from there we can begin to identify our similarities, our shared goals for the wellbeing of our communities and begin to create a shared vision, together.”
While building and working on these relationships is vital to successful collaborations, it can be hard to know how to get started or how to proceed after you’ve taken the first step.
We’ve collected some of the best advice our experts shared to give you this five-step guide to creating successful relationships between Indigenous and non-Indigenous communities. Read on to learn more.
Do your homework firstBefore you reach out to engage with your local First Nation or Tribal Council, take some time to learn about what they are working on. Go to their website, and read through things like recent reports, their most recent community plan, and any other documents you can find that outline what their strategic goals and objectives are. Remember that they are governments too that are working towards the best interests of their communities. So chances are you’ll find items in there that you’re also working on that can be fertile grounds for collaboration.
As Ginger Gosnell-Myers, SFU Fellow in Decolonization and Urban Indigenous Planning, says: “Relationships are key and in the work I do right now I always stress that we need to bring a co-learning approach into it. That means that First Nations have a lot to learn about your systems and processes. But you on the other end of the table also have a lot to learn. And the relationship is only going to work if you give yourself time to learn and understand. You also give yourself the opportunity to make changes to accommodate each other along the way.”
Keep showing upAll too often, people try to start building relationships with Indigenous communities when they need something from them. But the best times to work on those relationships are moments when you’re not asking for anything but just showing up to be part of the community and learn more about the culture. Accepting those invitations to craft fairs, powwows and other less community-initiated events lets you get to know and build relationships with people away from a decision-making table. It also shows respect, a willingness to be uncomfortable and a desire to learn. This can go a long way when it comes time to talk about harder topics and enter higher-stakes situations.
As eDemocracy Director, Ben West shares: “Simply showing up and being of service is critical. Even just buying your Christmas presents from the craft fair or attending a pow wow can make a big difference in terms of relationship-building in ways that are hard to quantify.”
Practice your patience and get creative
Marissa Lawrence says one of the most common things she hears from municipalities is that they send letters to First Nations but don’t hear back from them. She says First Nations are frequently inundated with referrals from governments so your letter might not be a top priority. If you don’t get a reply right away, that doesn’t mean you’re absolved of your responsibility to consult. If you haven’t shown up and built relationships, don’t be surprised if you don’t get a response to a random letter or email.
So patience in your outreach is key, and it helps to think outside the box in terms of how you reach out. Be prepared with a clear idea of what your community can bring and where you add benefit to the partnership and then look for opportunities for informal meetings or regional events where you can connect about shared interests.“There are so many ways that can look and it doesn’t have to be a letter or phone calls that go unanswered,” Lawrence explains. “You just have to be patient and recognize there’s a lot to these relationships and a lot of history to be acknowledged in that initial outreach.”
Minimize what you’re asking and maximize what you’re offeringAll of the panel participants agreed that relative to their local government counterparts, many Indigenous communities are often overburdened and under-resourced. As Ben West shares it’s especially important to be mindful of how much you are asking of them and when you’re asking for it. “You really need to do everything you can to minimize what you’re asking and maximize what you’re offering,” he says. A key to that is to once again do your homework ahead of time by keeping an eye on their community calendar and other sources so you can know if they have important events happening or other things that might be reducing their capacity to engage with you.
As West explains, "be sensitive to all the various things that could be happening in the community and minimize what you’re asking by doing all that homework…”
Prepare to get uncomfortableNo matter how well-prepared you feel, you’ll inevitably experience some level of discomfort as non-Indigenous people learning to engage with Indigenous people.
As Marissa Lawrence explains: “Identify gaps in your knowledge and work to fill them. And as non-Indigenous people, we need to get comfortable with being uncomfortable. There will be discomfort as you reflect on the systems that be and who they serve and who they harm. From that place of reflection, work to address those systems—both internally within your own processes and the way you exist in the world and externally, the ones you work within. So I would encourage you as individuals and us as a collective to do a lot of that initial work before the other steps we’ve already talked about today.”
You can find even more tips and valuable info in the recording of our Collaboration Between Indigenous and Non-Indigenous Communities webinar, along with further resources. So head on over and check it out to learn even more about how to make your next collaboration even more successful.