Project Disclosures to Indigenous People: Lessons-learned

May 26, 2021

We are, at best, simply students of traditional knowledge and Indigenous values. We have been fortunate to work with proponents, government and Indigenous Communities towards a common goal of a healthy economy and sustainable environment.

History has taught us that miscommunication between Indigenous people and newcomers often underpins major disagreements. The surrender of 440 acres of land on the Blood Reserve to David Akers in 1889 is one of the many examples where the lack of a common language and failure to understand the Tribe’s due process was not corrected until Canada’s Indian Claims Commission rendered its conclusion in 1999 that the surrender was legally invalid. A landmark conclusion that took nearly 100 years to arrive at.

We’ve been fortunate that our clients at the Blood Tribe, Ermineskin Cree and Okanagan Indian Band have taken the time to help us understand the importance of concise and unambiguous communications, both written and oral, within project disclosures. Good communication is the key to developing a common understanding of how proponents’ activities can impact on Indigenous rights, lands, territories and resources.

Here are some of the things we have learned from our preparation and review of project disclosures, on behalf of both proponents and Indigenous communities:

  • Listen without a filter. Don’t amplify or modify what you hear based on pre-conceived notions or your own needs.
  • Offer a seat at the table as early in the planning process as possible. Pay attention to detail.
  • Be both precise and concise. When fewer words are spoken, each word brings special meaning. Avoid using subjective wording in attempt to minimize the importance of an opinion. Quantify your conclusions and offer comparative results where possible.
  • Provide specific citations that back up expert opinions wherever possible. Make sure citations of regulations, guidelines and best management practices are both current and relevant. Recognize that search engines can yield biased or incomplete results.
  • Acknowledge shared values and higher ideals – Pay attention to the advocacy of Indigenous Elders, administrators, elected leaders and women who are often the strongest advocates for stewardship and sustainability.
  • Build foundations of understanding based on all facts – paint a complete picture.

For centuries, Indigenous communities relied on accurate oral communications for sustenance and survival. The locations of food, water and safe harbour were passed down through generations with surprisingly few, yet powerful, words. It’s important that we continue that tradition as we seek to develop projects responsibly within traditional territories.