A large-ish crowd arrives in a local urban community centre to hear about a certain land use proposal.  Perhaps the meetings is for a planning proposal, a new development somewhere, or community engagement on an environmental assessment.  You have dozens of everyday folks from the neighbourhood, some local associations, various local municipal officials, and a whole bunch of people from the proponent’s company and their consultant teams.  Among the crowd, substantially outnumbered, are a 2 or 3 First Nations people casually invited from the local Band Council and their consultation office. Perhaps you have a volunteer member from the local Métis Council in attendance.

It is difficult to explain the uncomfortable feeling of being an Indigenous person in that room largely outnumbered by “stakeholders”.  Those First Nation and Métis leaders will certainly assert their rights, vocally.  The non-Indigenous facilitator and the non-Indigenous proponent politely listens then moves on to the next comment or speaker.  But this is definitely not in the textbook under meaningful Indigenous engagement.

Here are five reasons why facilitation matters and that these proponents need Indigenous relations advice.

  1. Indigenous peoples are not “stakeholders” – First Nations, Métis and Inuit are rights-holders. Those Aboriginal and Treaty Rights are protected by the Constitution of Canada.  These participants are often representatives of Indigenous governments.  As a result, their views, input and feedback on such a land-use proposal may be pertaining to their Aboriginal and Treaty rights and interests within their territory.  This circumstance transcends a public process where proponents hear from community stakeholders.  Treaty rights-holders should not be in the same category or audience as Ma and Pa’s Community Association of Bird Watching Enthusiasts.  A dedicated process, led by a knowledgeable facilitator is essential to a meaningful engagement process.
  2. Building Trust – We all need to begin to accept the truth that land use planning and development, has always and continues to be, colonial in nature.  Palpable mistrust has been formed as a result of generations of land swindles, broken promises, and ignorance of Indigenous title and rights.  An Indigenous facilitator can relate and even empathize with Indigenous participants.  Having an Indigenous facilitator, taking their advice and making use of decolonized methodologies, including co-developing community engagement processes, can begin to break down barriers and build trust.
  3. All My Relations – An Indigenous facilitator can help make First Nation, Métis and Inuit participants more comfortable and welcomed at these session.  An Indigenous facilitator will likely know the participants in your session personally, or know their particular community.  A friendly face, known and trusted in Indigenous communities, can go a long way in meeting your engagement objectives.
  4. Indigenous Ways of Being – An Indigenous facilitator, with some Indigenous traditional knowledge will understand and work with necessary cultural protocols including working with invited elders that should be a part of each and every session.  It goes without saying, that it’s not advisable to ask a non-Indigenous facilitator to lead a sharing circle
  5. Lived Experience – A facilitator with lived experience can better understand and interpret the input being provided by the participants.  No matter how much experience a public engagement consultant has with Indigenous projects, they cannot truly relate to the lived experience of Indigenous peoples themselves.