There are certain realities that must be considered when working with First Nation communities in remote parts of the country. If these considerations are not factored into an engagement plan, or your plan to work in partnership with First Nation communities, you may find your plans stifled by a lack of enthusiasm.
High Cost – Make no mistake, there is a high cost of living, travelling and working in the north. It costs money to hold meeting in the community. It costs even more to bring band officials to meetings held outside the community. Food costs are substantially higher than down south. Budgets should consider these realities when allocating meal allowances, in-community expenses or planning engagement meetings in the community.
Fewer Options – When planning an engagement meeting in the far north, you will be limited to the number of rooms available in the local motel. You may have to arrange for an alternative place to stay. If you are lucky, the hotel may also have a kitchen. You’re even luckier if the community has one restaurant. You may not have vegetarian or gluten-free choices unless you bring your own food with you. Also, there is likely only one airline, one flight, and very few seats coming in and out of the First Nation or most proximate airport. Your eUpgrades likely won’t help you get a seat if you haven’t planned well.
Taxi – Make no mistake, you will need a ride. To and from the hotel or airport. To the store or restaurant. To your scheduled meeting. Perhaps you need a water taxi from the community boat launch. You may need a ride on the back of a pick-up, on an ATV or in a freighter canoe. Dress appropriately. Most band officials will offer a ride, or provide you with a suggestion. Don’t overlook this step.
Cultural Differences – Men and Women in the far north are quite friendly, but may be reluctant to speak up at first. This has less to do with culture, and more to do with trust. After a while, you will find that everyone is a kind, hospitable and very approachable. Most communities in the far north still use their indigenous language as their first language. Materials may need to be translated into Ojibway, Cree or Oji-Cree.
Sense of Community – Everyone knows each other. As a result, there is a high level of respect given to inclusiveness and projects that will maintain that sense of community. Meetings can be postponed with only a few moments notice if Chief and Council deem it appropriate. Often time this happens if there is a death of a community member, or other compassionate reason.
Fall freeze-up/Spring Break-up – timing of your visit will need to consider these seasonal factors. Often times, this means several weeks of adjustment with little travel to and from the community.
Ice Roads – When attempting to use ice roads, ensure you know the insurance liabilities and limitations covered under your policy or rental car agreement. Ice roads also require full attention of the driver, plenty of time for travel and driving for maximum safety. Have an well-stocked emergency kit available. Before travelling, I would recommend calling the band office to get advice and information on ice road conditions.
Hunting – In some places across the north, community members take up to two weeks off for subsistence hunting. Facilities may be closed. Band officials may be off. It’s a good idea to schedule your community activities around these important times.
Weather – Weather is a factor for everyone living, travelling or working in the north. Check the forecast and confirm your travel arrangements. Dress appropriate for the conditions with layers as needed. Winter boots, gloves and hat in the winter. Rubber boots and sweater in the fall, summer and spring.
Mosquitos and Black Flies – Develop a tolerance or bring some repellent. Long sleeve shirts, a jacket, hats and long slacks are recommended.
Enjoy yourself – Where else in the work can you find pristine wilderness, the cleanest water, the freshest air, the greatest fishing and hunting on the planet? Coupled with getting to know such wonderful people and gracious hosts, there is nothing more rewarding than working with a First Nation in the far north.