Anishinaabe drum-making (above) and Midewiwin drum-tying teach collaboration.

I had a great conversation with a potential client about taking the relationship with Indigenous peoples “back to basics”.  We spoke about the need for basic introductions, establishing a safe place for dialogue, to involve First Nations, Métis and Inuit in relationship development and to set mutually-beneficial goals.

It was refreshing to hear their openness to these concepts.  But it may be a whole other matter to build this from a place of decolonization.

An important step towards reconciliation involves recognizing that we are still very much colonized.  The moment we begin drafting an internal “project plan”, unilaterally determine goals and outcomes, and develop a relationship process solely based on our needs and values, we have effectively colonized the process.  We are neglecting a very important value: collaboration.

Establishing a new relationship with Indigenous peoples requires moving beyond basic community engagement or meeting a minimum “duty to consult”.  Collaboration requires co-development of the relationship process itself, and all stops along the way.  From initial outreach and planning, through to the milestone celebrations – all these steps need to involve Indigenous peoples.

Of course, you’ll need to determine who to work with.  First Nations, Métis and Inuit rights-holders; local Indigenous organizations and agencies; grass-roots community members; elders and knowledge keepers; youth, women and 2-Spirit peoples and more.  They should all factor into collaborative processes.  This could involve an Indigenous advisory group or dedicated focus groups.  You could consider formal MOUs or collaboration agreements.

The natural extension of collaboration is partnership – to involve Indigenous peoples in decision-making.  This is the embodiment of free, prior, and informed consent.

When it comes to the movement from collaboration to partnership, one has to be open to listening, understanding and incorporating Indigenous goals.  For example: when it comes to land use planning, such goals can be considering land back, collaborative land use planning and co-development, enabling Indigenous land uses and incorporating meaningful expressions of Indigenous placekeeping.

Nobody said reconciliation would be easy.  If we are not ready for these conversations, we may not be ready for reconciliation.

In truth, reconciliation may be a long way off for some.  But it begins with these kinds of initial discussions, an openness to learning more and changing the way we look at relationships with First Nations, Métis and Inuit.

Based on conversations such as the one I had today, there is hope, openness and optimism.  This is one thing that motivates me and the work I do.