Beyond Conservation: A Toolkit for Respectful Collaboration with Indigenous Peoples



Practical Steps and Resources


Planning, Meetings, and Community Engagement

As you prepare to meet and engage with potential First Nations, Inuit, or Métis partners and their communities, remain flexible and adopt methods and practices that are culturally sensitive, appropriate, and participatory.

Tools and resources

Photo by Ryan Dickie

Project planning with partners

A project plan is crucial to the success of any project and partnership, and even more so when you are working across cultures. The project plan can be included in your partnership or relationship agreement (see Develop a partnership or relationship agreement) or it can be developed after. It should include many of the items discussed in this section (capacity building, check-in and evaluation meetings, etc.). Many project planning tools exist, but it’s best to keep it simple, clear, and easy to communicate.

Photo by Ryan Wilkes

Stewardship or conservation planning approaches

Planning for good stewardship and conservation outcomes can be a project in and of itself. Whether you are planning for a protected area or to restore a species or habitat, there are several frameworks available to help guide this work:

  • Healthy Country Planning is an adaptation of the Conservation Standards intended for use in participatory and cross-cultural settings. Conservation Standards is a globally recognized adaptive management approach for conservation planning, management, and monitoring.
  • The Mālama I Ke Kai: Community Action Guide (200 pages) is another adaptation of the Conservation Standards that emerged from Indigenous/non-Indigenous collaboration in Hawaii and contains a vast array of participatory planning steps, workshops, and exercises.
  • Take a look at the Thaidene Nëné Strategic Plan for an example of an Indigenous-led 5-year plan, including a 25-year vision for the future.
  • Comprehensive Community Planning (CCP), a planning approach developed and driven by First Nations, has many tools on their website to support multiple aspects of community planning (although not specific to conservation or stewardship planning). You may wish to consult this excellent Comprehensive Community Planning Toolkit written by and for Anishinabe First Nation community members that is rooted in their cultural frameworks, worldviews, and beautifully illustrated with their artwork.

Photo by Melanie Mullin

Engaging community members

Many Indigenous nations, organizations, and communities highly value giving the opportunity for all community members to contribute to important projects. To accomplish this, you will want to include some aspect of community engagement in your project. Community engagement can be as simple as issuing a survey or hosting a community town hall to let people know about the project. Depending on your project, you may need a multi-pronged approach with multiple community workshops and a communications plan to share information and provide opportunities for community-member involvement. As with all aspects of your project, you must plan community engagement with your partners to make sure you get it right.

NB: If you work for a government, you should familiarize yourself with your government’s policies and procedures for consultation and engagement with Indigenous nations, organizations, and communities.

Photo by Kristin Clark

Logistics in northern or remote communities

There are many practical considerations that need to be taken into account for a project to succeed, especially if you are working in a northern or remote community. You need to consider timing, travel, technology, culture, and more. The best advice: Ask someone who has worked up north.

Tips about meetings and workshops

Your project will include numerous meetings. The following suggestions apply to both small partner meetings and big community meetings or workshops. Other tips can be found in the resources listed above.

Photo by Ryan Dickie

Many discussions, meetings, workshops, and interactions will be needed to establish a partnership and plan.

  • It might be appropriate to hold several smaller meetings to build relationships, or accommodate those that might be unable to attend or speak in front of others for cultural reasons.
  • If possible, meet on the territory of the people you will be working with. If meeting elsewhere, offer to pay for travel and accommodations, and consider what is feasible for all partners.

Co-create the meeting agenda.

  • Always circulate a “draft agenda” and ask what people would like to discuss at the meeting, both in the lead-up to the meeting and at the beginning of the meeting.
  • Allow sufficient time in the agenda for unforeseen delays, questions, and discussion.

Reimburse attendees for their time or travel costs.

  • Some people may attend as part of a paid role, while others are volunteering their time as community members. Consider how financial privilege can play out in the partnership.
  • Ensure payments are equitable and fair among attendees.
  • Need help determining acceptable honoraria? Ask a community member with experience what a fair rate would be.

For bigger meetings (like community engagement), outreach is crucial.

  • Communication is most effective when it comes from local partners.
  • You can support this work by drafting invitations, making posters, etc.
  • Use the communications channels the community uses already (radio, local newspaper, posters in the grocery store, Facebook, etc.)

Use meeting formats that are inclusive and participatory.

  • A roundtable format gives everyone at the meeting an opportunity to speak without interruption.
  • Appreciate silence, as it may mean people are figuring things out; show humility and respect for their thoughts.
  • Break out into small groups for in-depth discussions, to allow everyone to be heard and to contribute.
  • Use participatory methods for meetings;  there are a wealth of ideas out there.
  • Work on your facilitation skills by pairing up with someone who can give you critical feedback.

Confirm and follow up on meetings.

  • Check in with your central contact a few days prior to the agreed meeting or workshop date to confirm it is still on.
  • It is not uncommon for  meeting dates and times to be changed because of unexpected events in the community (such as funerals).
  • Always follow up your meetings with something in writing.

Respect the participants’ culture and traditions.

  • Open meetings in the way the community usually does (opening prayer, ceremony, official welcome from the Chief, etc.)
  • Ask about their ways of doing things and do your best to follow them.

See the “Wise Practices” section in the above-mentioned Virtual Engagement Guide.

Ask for feedback and suggestions after the meeting.

  • At the end of a meeting, ask people to share one thing they liked and one thing they disliked about the meeting.
  • Consider having a simple one-page evaluation form for people to share anonymous comments with you.
  • After the meeting, invite people to share their thoughts with you about how the next meeting could be improved.

Ongoing communicating, sharing, and learning

As your partnership progresses, it is worthwhile to stop and take stock. This does not need to be a formal process. You might schedule times throughout the project for partners to discuss lessons learned, review how the relationship is working, and take steps to make it more effective. Are things happening as you expected? Are you achieving your goals? Are all partners happy with how things are unfolding?

Communicating about your project with partners, organizations, governments, and community members is often overlooked, but it is a crucial part of your project cycle. Communicating can be as simple as sharing notes after a meeting with all attendees or could involve creating posters or newsletters to share high-level information about progress or outcomes. Sharing information in an ongoing way is a fundamental part of building trust and accountability. 

Knowledge mobilization is a specific form of communication; it is getting information into the right people’s hands in order to have an impact or change something. For example, maybe the local or regional decision-makers require a summary of a plan in order to approve it so the work can move forward. Or perhaps a media release will help people make different choices. Regardless, you need to identify who the audience is, what change or decision you are hoping for, and how (message and channel) you will reach this audience.

Tools and Resources

Photo by Amanda Sheedy

Indigenous approaches to evaluation

The tools and methods you might typically use to evaluate a project or program may not fully capture the values of your Indigenous collaborators. There are a number of Indigenous-centred evaluation methods that use sharing formats that are more conducive to Indigenous cultures and that address the aspects of a project that are relevant to Indigenous people. Discuss with your collaborators what evaluation methods to use.

Photo by Ezra Soiferman

Learn some communications basics

Communications is a vast field, but here are some basics to get you started.

Photo by Erin Neave

Use plain language and visual aids, and translate when possible

As much as you can, represent ideas with images and icons that are rooted in the place. Plain-language writing ensures that all readers can understand quickly, easily, and completely. Whenever possible, translate materials into the local language and provide interpretation at meetings attended by fluent language speakers.

Tips for building equity and reconciliation into partnerships

Create a knowledge mobilization and or communications plan early on.

  • Decide together and ahead of time with whom results will be shared and how.
  • A knowledge mobilization and/or communications plan will help partners think about who might use your project results and the most useful format for them.
  • Consider formats that are most accessible for community members, such as posters, radio interviews or town hall meetings.
  • Peer-reviewed journals and conferences are only one of many other ways to share your results.

Sharing information is fundamental to maintaining accountability and trust.

  • Researchers must be held accountable for knowledge sharing to the community, even if the funding has ended for a project or after students have completed their programs.
  • Attention to maintaining these relationships even when individual projects are not underway will deepen trust and benefits among partners.

Determine how partners would like to provide and receive feedback.

  • It might be culturally inappropriate or uncomfortable for partners to directly provide or receive any critical feedback. 
  • Create an open and welcoming space to share stories of success and issues. This might mean hosting review discussions in a familiar or informal setting. 
  • Give opportunities to provide feedback individually, as well as in a group setting.
  • Consider creating seasonal opportunities for reflection and feedback, held on the land if possible. 
  • Procure services from an independent and respected third party to open up the conversation.

Evaluate the partnership in addition to the project.

  • Review the partnership agreement (or other document detailing the partnership) and discuss whether anything needs to be changed or updated to ensure success of the partnership and the project.
  • Compare project outputs to those set out in the plans and agreements that were established at the beginning of the relationship.
  • If particular objectives have not been achieved, discuss why, and consider what steps can be taken if those objectives are still desired.
  • If you are using an Indigenous Knowledge protocol or data sharing agreement you can also review them.

Identify measures of success (indicators) with partners in planning stage.

  • Identify indicators, outputs, or results for both the partnership and the project in conversation with partners, including how they will be gathered and by whom.
  • Ask potential partners what a successful collaboration looks like (i.e., What elements need to be in place? What is the desired process and outcomes? How will we know if we’re meeting our goals?)

Success is more than just achieving project outcomes.

  • Some successes are preliminary and process related (e.g. obtaining funding, convincing people that Indigenous Knowledge is strong and real, communities having a say in what’s done).
  • Overcoming challenges within a project/partnership can also be considered a form of success.

Document the evaluation and learning process and outcomes.

  • This is a good opportunity to generate important data, with consent, that can help others undertake similar work. 
  • A well-documented evaluation and learning process can contribute to improved partnerships beyond your project.

Consider the legacy of the partnership.

  • Keep a personal connection with project partners.
  • If it is the end of your tenure in a position that is relevant to this geographical area and its people, set up personal introductions to your successors.

References and other useful resources

Akwesasne Task Force on the Environment. (1996). Protocol for Review of Environmental and Scientific Research Proposals.

Australian Government Department of Environment and Energy. (2019). Partnering with Indigenous Organisations. Commonwealth of Australia.

Barnaby Consulting Ltd. and Thorpe Consulting Ltd. (2020). A Review of Traditional Knowledge Frameworks for Bilateral Water Agreement Decision Making.

Benson, K., & Winbourne, J. (2015). Literature Review and Interviews: Indigenous Ways of Knowing Boreal Caribou Populations. Sahtú Renewable Resources Board.

Carter, N., Höfer, J., Mańko, M., Mayers, K., Rasouli, K., Rosenbaum, P., & Van Wyk de Vries, M. (n.d.). Guide for Fruitful Collaborations. Retrieved September 16, 2022, from

Davidson-Hunt, I. J., & O’Flaherty, R. M. (2007). Researchers, Indigenous Peoples, and Place-Based Learning Communities. Society & Natural Resources, 20(4), 291–305.

Fletcher, C. (2003). Community-Based Participatory Research in Northern Canadian Aboriginal Communities: An Overview of Context and Process. Pimatziwin: A Journal of Aboriginal and Indigenous Community Health.

Heritage Canada. (2017, September 11). Indigenous peoples and cultures.

Herman, R. D. K. (2018). Approaching Research in Indigenous Settings: Nine Guidelines. In K. Gentelet, S. Basile, & N. Gros-Louis McHugh (Eds.), Toolbox of Research Principles in an Aboriginal Context.

Indigenous Circle of Experts. (2018). We rise together: Achieving pathway to Canada target 1 through the creation of Indigenous protected and conserved areas in the spirit and practice of reconciliation : the Indigenous Circle of Experts’ report and recommendations. Parks Canada.

Johnson, N., Behe, C., Danielsen, F., Kruümmel, E.-M., Nickels, S., & Pulsifer, P. L. (2016). Community-Based Monitoring and Indigenous Knowledge in a Changing Arctic: A Review for the Sustaining Arctic Observing Networks. Final Report to Sustaining Arctic Observing Networks.

Kania, J., Williams, J., Schmitz, P., Brady, S., Kramer, M., & Splansky Juster, J. (2021). Centering Equity in Collective Impact. Stanford Social Innovation Review, 20(I).

Prince Albert Model Forest. (2018). Grassroots Stewardship: A Best Practices Guidebook for Community-Based Ecological Conservation and Land Use Planning In Northern Saskatchewan.

Raygorodetsky, G., & Chetkiewicz, C. (2017). Watching, listening, and learning to understand change: Developing a community-based monitoring (CBM) initiative in Ontario’s far north. Wildlife Conservation Society Canada.

Reed, M. G., Robson, J. P., Lindgren, A., Friedrichsen, P., Brock, T., Davidson-Hunt, I., Lichtenstein, G., Shackleton, S., Vasseur, L., & Worthen, H. (2020). Foundational Principles for Intercultural and International Research with Indigenous and Rural Peoples: Connecting Principles to Knowledge Mobilization. University of Saskatchewan.

Tamarack Institute. (2020). Spectrum of Community-Led Approaches to Change. Tamarack Institute.

Tondu, J. M. E., Balasubramaniam, A. M., Chavarie, L., Gantner, N., Knopp, J. A., Provencher, J. F., Wong, P. B. Y., & D., S. (2014). Working with Northern Communities to Build Collaborative Research Partnerships: Perspectives from Early Career Researchers. ARCTIC, 67(3).

Tobias, J. K., Richmond, C. A. M., & Luginaah, I. (n.d.). Community-Based Participatory Research (CBPR) with Indigenous Communities: Producing Respectful and Reciprocal Research. Journal of Empirical Research on Human Research Ethics, 8(2).

Truth and Reconciliation Commission of Canada. (2015). Honouring the truth, reconciling for the future: Summary of the final report of the Truth and Reconciliation Commission of Canada. Truth and Reconciliation Commission of Canada.

Whyte, K. P., Reo, N. J., McGregor, D., Smith, M. A. (Peggy), Jenkins, J. F., & Rubio, K. A. (2017). Seven Indigenous principles for successful cooperation in Great Lakes conservation initiatives. In E. Freedman & M. Neuzil (Eds.), Biodiversity, Conservation, and Environmental Management in the Great Lakes Basin (1st ed.). Routledge.

Wilson, N. J., Mutter, E., Inkster, J., & Satterfield, T. (2018). Community-Based Monitoring as the practice of Indigenous governance: A case study of Indigenous-led water quality monitoring in the Yukon River Basin. Journal of Environmental Management, 210, 290–298.

Wong, C., Ballegooyen, K., Ignace, L., Johnson, M. J. (Gùdia), & Swanson, H. (2020). Towards reconciliation: 10 Calls to Action to natural scientists working in Canada. FACETS, 5(1), 769–783.