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How to Build Your First Nations Communications & Engagement Strategy

As organizations across the Maritimes increase their efforts to build stronger relationships with Indigenous communities, communicators are looking for guidance on where to start, the protocols for consultation, and how to be authentic in their efforts.

To help our members address these challenges, IABC Maritime Canada welcomed Nadine Bernard, Founder, Indigevisor Advisory & Consulting, and Senior Consultant, Public Service Commission, NS, to talk about building First Nations communications and engagement strategy as part of our Diversity, Equity and Inclusion event series. As a consultant, she has helped bridge the gap between Indigenous communities and organizations, and she drew on that experience to offer communicators the following tips and tools for start engaging in meaningful consultations with First Nations communities.

Land acknowledgement statement

A crucial component of effective engagement strategy, it is probably the easiest and the first step you should take. It should have three components:

  1. an acknowledgement of the land that we live, work, and play

  2. an acknowledgement of the territory as ancestral, traditional, and unceded, with a recognition of the Peace and Friendship treaties signed between 1725 and 1769. It is important to note that these treaties were not a surrender of land but an end to discord.

  3. an acknowledgement that we are all treaty people.

“The third part of the statement is a reminder that this applies to all parties involved, Indigenous—I’m Mi’kmaq myself—and settler alike,” Ms. Bernard said. “So, for those of us that share this land, that work here, that visit here—this is really important, because this is just as much my responsibility as it is yours.”

Reconciliation via relationship building

Reconciliation has become a buzzword among organizations since the creation of the Truth and Reconciliation Commission (2008-2015). It is also the core tenant of relationship building with Indigenous communities, so organizations should ask themselves whether their communications efforts are rooted in reconciliation and how they will develop ongoing engagement with First Nations communities.

Ms. Bernard highlighted Call to Action #92 from the Commission, which calls upon Canada’s corporate sector to ‘adopt the United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples as a reconciliation framework and to apply its principles, norms and standards to corporate policy and core operational activities involving Indigenous peoples and their land and resources.’ This includes:

  1. ‘Commit to meaningful consultation, building respectful relationships and obtaining the free, prior, and informed consent of Indigenous peoples before proceeding with economic projects.’

  2. ‘Ensure that Aboriginal Peoples have equitable access to jobs, training, and education opportunities in the corporate sector and that Aboriginal communities gain long-term sustainable benefits from economic development projects.’

  3. ‘Provide education for management and staff on the history of Aboriginal peoples, including the history and legacy of the residential schools, the United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples, Treaties, and Aboriginal rights, Indigenous Law, and Aboriginal Crown Relations. This will require skills-based training in intercultural competency, conflict resolution, human rights and anti–racism.’

“Obtaining the Call to Action 92 Endorsement will support your business development, recruitment, cultural sensitivity objectives and the adoption and implementation of best practices to develop strong business relationships with Indigenous Peoples and communities,” Ms. Bernard said.

Create your relationship building suitcase

Before you engage, Bernard recommends that you:

  1. Know the leaders of the Indigenous communities you will be engaging.

  2. Know the Indigenous organizations and their respective representatives that you will be consulting with on major projects.

  3. Have a tailored land acknowledgement on your organization’s landing page and in the signature of your email.

  4. Invest in cultural competency training to understand the history of Indigenous peoples, the systemic trauma they have faced, the barriers that remain to their success, and how their progress or career contentment may differ from your expectations.

  5. Know the Indigenous territories in which your organization operates, whether that is Mi’kma’ki, Wolastoqiyik (Maliseet), or Anishinaabe.

Ultimately, Ms. Bernard says there are real benefits to seeking out an Indigenous liaison or creating such a position in your organization to build reconciliation into your DEI framework and audit all aspects of your operations and communications to identify opportunities for improvement.

“Reconciliation is the responsibility of everybody in Canada,” she says. “There's so many pieces to it, and one missing piece can really deter success in the end.”

Nadine Bernard’s company, Indigevisor Advisory and Consulting, offers cultural competence training and cultural audits to organizations. She also works as a cultural liaison on major projects. Learn more about Indigevisor Advisory and Consulting by clicking here. You can contact Ms. Bernard via email: or cell: 902-217-7972.


About the author:

Mark Campbell, Director of Digital Communications for IABC Maritime Canada, is the proprietor of Words' Worth Communications Consulting, which has provided copywriting, editing, and proofreading services to clients such as NBCUniversal, The Mount Sinai Health System, AMC Networks, and Dalhousie University.

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