New Indigenous Training for Industry Professionals
Written by Counsel Public Affairs
Indigenous people in Canada – First Nations, Métis, and Inuit – have unique, constitutionally protected rights and governance structures, including the right to be consulted on projects that affect their people, land, and ways of living. Unfortunately, government and industry leaders have not always understood or respected these rights.
This has changed drastically in recent decades, as settler Canadians have reckoned with Canada’s past and ongoing mistreatment of Indigenous people. While reconciliation is a long road, significant progress has been made on the subject of consultation – with some strong prodding from the courts. It is now common practice to consult with Indigenous First Nations and communities who may be impacted by a corporate or government project – from mining to transportation infrastructure, to residential development.
Private companies and governments alike are expected to understand how to engage and negotiate with Indigenous peoples in an open and transparent way that respects their rights and traditions. All parties benefit when industry takes the time to understand how to engage respectfully with Indigenous peoples, including consulting with communities in the early stages of new projects.
This change has come rapidly, meaning that many organizations are unsure how to move forward; people are concerned about doing or saying the wrong thing and are uncertain how to ensure their consultations are effective.
This is why Counsel Public Affairs, a national public affairs consultancy, has launched Nibwaakaawin (meaning ‘wisdom’ in Ojibwe). Nibwaakaawin is a training approach that helps clients build capacity and fulfill their responsibilities to engage with Indigenous peoples and First Nations in Canada.
Indigenous leaders representing communities from coast-to-coast-to-coast have joined Counsel’s team of Nibwaakaawin Associates, providing local guidance specific to diverse First Nations and Indigenous communities across the country. Through this program, Counsel offers training sessions tailored to each client’s industry, local dynamics, and specific project needs. Offerings range from one-time, in-person sessions to a series of virtual offerings.
Nibwaakaawin aims to help organizations build their understanding of First Nations and Indigenous rights, as well as the evolving responsibilities of non-governmental entities to address these rights. The program provides groups with practical approaches to mitigate risk and build positive relationships with Indigenous peoples and communities.
“Canadians, as well as their employers, are still on a learning curve,” shared John Beaucage, Counsel Principal and former Grand Chief of the Union of Ontario Indians, “Many businesses and organizations are unsure of their responsibilities and how to undertake the process of engaging with Indigenous peoples. We want them to learn that Indigenous people are eager to engage, but they expect to be treated respectfully and to be meaningfully consulted early on in any project that affects their people, land, and rights. That’s really our goal with Nibwaakaawin – we want to build understanding.”
There is no single blueprint for success. Successful engagement with Indigenous communities must be dynamic, responsive, and highly adaptable to account for unique needs, considerations, and priorities. Consultation frequently involves overlapping traditional territories and Treaty lands, involving multiple communities with diverse claims and perspectives. Knowledge and strategic guidance for culturally sensitive and respectful engagement is essential to preventing inadvertent, time-consuming, and costly missteps.
These systems won’t change overnight, but industry is working to understand diverse Indigenous history and cultures across the country. Through this new approach, Counsel seeks to help companies be confident in their ability to consult and move projects forward in a mutually beneficial way.
Companies across the Canada can get targeted support from Counsel’s growing team of Nibwaakaawin Associates. Members bring not only cultural and legal knowledge but a depth of experience working with projects in sectors as diverse as mining, forestry, oil and gas, electricity, healthcare, transportation, education, housing, and land development. Associates include:
- John Beaucage – Former Grand Chief, Union of Ontario Indians (Anishnabek Nation)
- Charles Harnick – Former Attorney General of Ontario and former Minister Responsible for Native Affairs (now Indigenous Affairs)
- Jim Doxtdator – Restorative Mediator, Indigenous Dispute Resolution Facilitator, and Technical and Political Advisor to First Nations leadership and communities
- Cliff Grant – Director, Strategic Relations, Aboriginal Housing Management Association, British Columbia
- Luc Lainé – Delegated Chief, Council of Huron Wendat First Nation
- Walter Manitowabi – Former Chief, Wiikwenkoong Unceded Territory and Former CEO, Union of Ontario Indians (Anishnabek Nation)
- Ken Thomas – CEO of Agency Chiefs Tribal Council (ACTC) in Saskatchewan and Former Chairman, Aboriginal Business Canada
- Leslee White-Eye – Former Chief, Chippewas of the Thames First Nation
Find out more at counselpa.com/wisdom
About Counsel Public Affairs
Counsel Public Affairs is one of Canada’s most respected and successful government relations and public relations firms. Counsel offers government relations services at all levels of government, as well as strategic, crisis, and stakeholder communications, and Indigenous facilitation services. Their team includes consultants representing Victoria, Vancouver, Calgary, Edmonton, Regina, Winnipeg, Ottawa, and Toronto, and with experience in every major jurisdiction in Canada.