MIDWESTERN ONTARIO – The Maitland Conservation (MC) board members recently held an information session, exploring ways to engage with the Indigenous and Métis communities whose traditional territory they acknowledge as part of the MC coverage area.

In the spirit of reconciliation, board members and staff of MC recently expressed interest in learning more about the engagement and consultation process with Indigenous People.

Some MC staff members are already reaching out to Indigenous Knowledge Keepers to build positive relationships and learn from each other, but the legal procedures that would require updating planning regulations, for instance, would require a more formal engagement process.

Collette Isaac and Dave Stinson of Incite Planning, an Orillia-based company that specializes in consultation and engagement, made a presentation to the board titled “Engagement with First Nations and Métis.”

Stinson narrated during the slide presentation, providing basic information about the term consultation and what that means for conservation authorities.

He first told the members that all of Ontario is traditional territory and under treaty, and that not all provinces are completely under treaty.

“Both of those things are underlined by two assumptions,” Stinson said. “One, that we will share the land, and two, we will discuss issues of mutual concern.

“Conservation is an issue of mutual concern.”

Stinson spoke about the sometimes-difficult words used like conservation, stewardship, resource management and environmentalism, and how quite often they describe a “people-less landscape.”

He went on to talk about how Indigenous People see themselves as part of the land and how conservation authorities, for the most part, accept people as part of the land.

“I like to think of the overlap between this Indigenous perspective and something that the conservation authorities do is that the conservation authorities also accept the presence of people on the land through the regulations and the guidelines.

Those regulations accept people on the land and we’re trying to figure out how to accommodate them on the land,” said Stinson.

He outlined several principles to keep in mind when beginning the engagement process, beginning with a cartoon that portrayed an Australian government official speaking with local Aboriginal people saying, “How about we compromise? We keep the land, the mineral rights, natural resources, fishing and timber, and we’ll acknowledge you as the traditional owners of it.”

Stinson said he was inspired to include the cartoon in his presentation because “it encapsulates much of the issues we’re trying to get at today.”

The first principle he spoke about was friendship. 

“It’s very important to remember that Indigenous People see their relationship with the outside world as one of friendship. So, bullying, hard-nosed tactics, these sorts of things are never, never acceptable in terms of relationship building,” said Stinson.

When introducing the second principle, Stinson said, “The notion of sharing the land, I’ll let you take a guess at who is getting the lion’s share here, but the whole notion of treaties is based on the idea that land would be shared. In First Nation’s context that often meant little scraps of land – often rock, swamp, basically waste land that nobody else wanted – and society at large got the rest.”

Stinson left that concept with the members for them to think about, providing no other thoughts.

He talked about the importance of having respect for differences and accepting similarities, the next two principles, and how important it is to understand that way Indigenous People do things can be entirely different from the way the government does things.

Stinson described the next principle as the “dignity of uniqueness,” saying that understanding this one is important, because there are many differences, like language, beliefs, etc. 

“Each community sees itself as entirely unique… you must remember that if you talk to one, that does not mean that you have talked to anybody else, you’ve only talked to one.”

He spoke about how Indigenous People see land as kin – a living, breathing relative – and how this needs to be remembered when engaging with them.

Finally, he cautioned the board to be patient. He said many Indigenous band organizations are slow to get back to requests, not so much because they don’t want to, but often because resources are limited. 

“Just because they don’t get right back to you doesn’t mean they are not interested or that they don’t want to, just be patient,” said Stinson.

The presentation provided some steps moving forward for MC that included reaching out to the First Nations where their conservation coverage would impact/interest the Nation, and begin to establish a healthy relationship with them for mutual benefit.

Background research could be conducted to find overlapping interests, create community profiles and learn about obligations.

Insight Planning hosts several in-depth workshops and their website has a plethora of resources on the various subjects related to the consultation, engagement and planning with Indigenous People in southwestern Ontario. You can access these resources at inciteplanning.com.

Stinson finished with a quote from one of his colleagues:

“My suggestions for working together. It takes someone who cares enough to do something, ask one more question, get one more perspective, and take action and be a catalyst for making something good happen,” Carolyn King said.

By Cory Bilyea, Local Journalism Initiative Reporter

Original Published on Aug 04, 2023 at 07:15

This item reprinted with permission from   Advance Times   Wingham, Ontario
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