Beyond Conservation:
Before you get started

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Before laying the groundwork for a collaborative project, it is important to learn about and familiarize yourself with the historical and current context of Indigenous and non-Indigenous relationships in Canada and specifically in the area where you will be working. The following suggestions will help you build relationships with First Nations, Inuit, and Métis people that are rooted in respect, understanding, and humility.

Beyond Conservation: A Toolkit for Respectful Collaboration with Indigenous Peoples



Practical Steps and Resources


Understanding the rights of Indigenous Peoples

Along with improving your understanding of Indigenous Peoples, their cultures, histories, and lived experiences, it is important to be familiar with and understand the unique rights of Indigenous Peoples that are guaranteed and protected under provincial, territorial, national, and international laws. Recognizing and upholding these rights is essential to building and maintaining a spirit of reconciliation in your interactions. Many (but not all) First Nations, Métis, and Inuit nations have treaties or modern land claim agreements that define their rights, title, and jurisdiction over their territories. In June 2021, the United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples Act was passed by the Canadian parliament with the goal of bringing Canadian law and policy into alignment with the UN resolution.

Tools and resources

Photo by Amanda Sheedy

Indigenous rights in Canada

Indigenous Peoples hold unique individual and collective rights. There are three distinct groups of Indigenous Peoples in Canada: First Nations, Métis, and Inuit. Respecting and upholding their rights is imperative for advancing reconciliation.

Photo by Amanda Sheedy

Treaties, modern treaties and land claim agreements

Between approximately 1701 and 1923, representatives of the British Crown and the Indigenous Peoples of what is now Canada negotiated and entered into treaties. These treaties are now referred to as “historic treaties” and were exchanges of solemn promises, usually aimed at achieving and guaranteeing peace. Modern treaties and land claim agreements are nation-to-nation relationships between Indigenous Peoples, the federal and provincial governments; and, in some cases, a territory. These treaties enable Indigenous Peoples to rebuild their communities and nations on their own terms.

Photo by Ben Duffield

Canadian Calls to Action

Canada has seen multiple commissions on Indigenous issues. These commissions produced many recommendations, most of which are ongoing. Especially (but not only) if you work for governments, you can contribute to advancing these recommendations by situating your work in one or several of the recommendations.

Committing to ongoing (un)learning

Most Canadians did not learn about the history of colonialism and residential schools as part of their education. Due in part to the way non-Indigenous society has interpreted and taught history, many Canadians suffer from some form of negative bias towards Indigenous Peoples, their cultures, and their ways of being. Training can help expose these biases, correct misunderstandings or false assumptions, teach you how to act in a culturally sensitive way, and increase your awareness of the context of your relationships with Indigenous Peoples and communities. Accept that this will likely involve a certain amount of  “un-learning” or “re-learning.” 

One important lesson to retain from your training is about taking a “distinctions-based” and “place-based” approach to working with and understanding the Indigenous Peoples in your collaborations. Simply put, a distinctions-based approach means that not all Indigenous Peoples are the same: it requires understanding and responding to the unique histories, cultures, rights, interests, and ways of working of the community or nation with which you might be partnering, whether it be First Nations, Métis, or Inuit. A place-based approach takes into account the specific circumstances of a place and enables local people and organizations to decide, define, design, and implement a project.

Be open and ready to reflect on your (un)learning and to redefine yourself and your relationship with Canada. Learn about your ancestors, where you come from, and how you relate to the Indigenous Peoples as ancient guardians of this land. This is heavy work. Be compassionate to yourself and seek emotional support when needed. You are unlearning and correcting some significant relationships that may fundamentally affect you. Be open and patient. We are all healing.

Photo by Ben Duffield

Tools and Resources

Photo by Erin Neave

Take training, courses, or other learning opportunities

There are a number of organizations that offer opportunities to increase and improve your awareness and understanding of First Nations, Métis, and Inuit cultures and histories. Your organization might provide opportunities internally. Ideally, this type of training will be Indigenous-led and specific to the region/people with whom you hope to collaborate. Below are some opportunities to support your ongoing learning.

Take unconscious bias training to tune into social stereotypes you might have about certain groups of people. Acknowledging your unconscious bias can reduce its impact.

Photo by Ryan Wilkes

Learn from others who have experience working across cultures

There are many past examples of Indigenous and non-Indigenous groups collaborating, some more positively than others. It is worth investigating the challenges and successes that those with experience can share, so we can learn from their mistakes and triumphs.

Photo by Torngat Secretariat

Attend webinars, read Indigenous media, follow Indigenous groups on social media

Going directly to the source is an excellent way to learn about the experiences and perspectives of various Indigenous Peoples and groups. Numerous opportunities exist for you to gain exposure to Indigenous voices in Canada. Here we provide just a few ideas.

Photo by Kristin Clark

Have empathy, be mindful, and be aware of the ongoing effects of colonization

Colonization continues to affect the daily lives of First Nations, Métis, and Inuit across many generations. Indigenous Peoples are working hard to recover and heal from acts of genocide inflicted by the government and church, but continue to live with (intergenerational) trauma from the residential schools and other colonial policies and programs. Generations of discrimination have caused higher rates of poverty, food insecurity, suicide, and ill health. Recognize that colonialism is not a thing of the past by extending empathy, patience, and understanding towards those with whom you work.