Aboriginal Participation in Land Reclamation: Enhancing the Dialogue

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Chris Powter
John Doornbos
Anne Naeth
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The Land Reclamation International Graduate School (LRIGS) at the University of Alberta and the Canadian Forest Service (CFS) of Natural Resources Canada hosted a one day workshop titled Aboriginal Participation in Land Reclamation: Enhancing the Dialogue, in Edmonton, Alberta on March 23, 2015. The objective of the workshop was to encourage an open and thoughtful discussion on Aboriginal participation in land reclamation and to continue identifying mechanisms to incorporate Aboriginal perspectives (knowledge, research, employment, developing business opportunities) into land reclamation. A total of 63 people from the Aboriginal community, government, industry and academia participated in the Workshop. Participants discussed what successful land reclamation looked like from an Aboriginal perspective, how Aboriginal communities were currently being engaged in land reclamation and how that engagement could be enhanced. Participants then identified specific action steps that should be undertaken.

Trust was frequently mentioned as the foundation for success. It was clearly accepted that trust must be earned and continuously nurtured; that it takes a long time to build but a very short time to destroy. Four key factors were identified that could increase trust.

 Respect: Culture and traditions of Aboriginal communities are very important. Recognize and follow processes for engaging communities and especially elders. Recognize that each Aboriginal community has different interests, expectations and capacity.

 Communicate: Communication is an ongoing process, and should be regarded as a two way process. Recognize that terms and definitions may be a barrier and consider supporting and using translators to help. Develop improved visual tools and aids to clearly explain plans and expected outcomes.

 Engage: Actively seek opportunities to interact with communities. Create experiences for knowledge sharing, between communities and others and between generations within the communities. Seek the input of Aboriginal communities to enhance plans and procedures.

 Support: Communities need assistance in building capacity to deal with the increasing load of industrial applications. Communities are very interested in training and business opportunities. Barriers to engaging Aboriginals and Aboriginal companies need to be removed or overcome.

Many parties have a role to play in enhancing Aboriginal participation in land reclamation. Government, industry, consultants and academia were all mentioned as key players. A willing and engaged Aboriginal community was considered equally important to success. An important point was that we are all considered partners in success! There was considerable energy in the room during the workshop and a sense that continued dialogue would be useful. It was apparent from the discussions that many successes will be achieved on a one-on-one basis between communities and their external stakeholders. However, there seemed to be some larger initiatives that could be undertaken to improve the knowledge base for all. A working group comprised of people who are committed to action was suggested as a means of identifying the next steps that could be taken.

Some ideas arising from the workshop include the following.

 Document best practices examples or case studies of Aboriginal community engagement in Alberta. It was clear that many participants were hearing some of the successful practices for the first time.

 Document examples of communication tools used in Alberta and elsewhere to help explain technical information to Aboriginal communities. It was clear that many participants were hearing some of the successful practices for the first time.

 Document educational needs and opportunities for Aboriginal communities.  Document perceived barriers to Aboriginal company employment and identify solutions.

 Develop a glossary of western and Aboriginal names for plants, animals and landscape features to enhance communication.