November 11, 2019

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Road map to reconciliation clear, concise

SEAN KILPATRICK / THE CANADIAN PRESS FILES</p><p>Canada's corporate section has its part to play in reconciliation, found the Truth and Reconciliation Commission of Canada in 2015.</p>

SEAN KILPATRICK / THE CANADIAN PRESS FILES

Canada's corporate section has its part to play in reconciliation, found the Truth and Reconciliation Commission of Canada in 2015.

In the executive summary of its report into Canada’s Indian residential school system released in June 2015, the Truth and Reconciliation Commission of Canada set out 94 recommendations — or calls to action — for redressing the cultural genocide perpetrated by the system and for moving towards reconciliation.

Call to Action 92 specifically addressed Canada’s corporate sector, calling upon it to engage in meaningful consultation with First Nations so as to obtain free and informed consent for economic development projects involving their lands, and to train management and employees about Aboriginal peoples and appropriate cross-cultural communication.

With their new book, Indigenous Relations: Insights, Tips & Suggestions to Make Reconciliation a Reality, Bob and Cynthia Joseph have created an approachable and user-friendly guidebook to meeting these obligations.

A followup to Bob Joseph’s bestselling 21 Things You May Not Know About the Indian Act, Indigenous Relations focuses on the elements of respectful relationship-building essential for any kind of partnership with Indigenous Peoples.

While aimed primarily at businesses engaged in resource-based economic activity on or involving First Nations, the book is also quite applicable for any organizations seeking to make reconciliation a reality, including government departments, universities, schools and non-profit groups.

A certified Master Trainer and founder and president of Indigenous Corporate Training (ICT), author Bob Joseph of the Gwawaenuk Nation teaches businesses how to work effectively with Indigenous Peoples. His co-author on the present book, wife Cynthia Joseph, is a retired lawyer who plays a leading role in developing ICT’s online programs.

Structured as a how-to manual (presumably derived from ICT’s training modules), Indigenous Relations features a lot of bullet points — many of them dos and don’ts — while its brief chapters discuss such topics as protocols for working with elders and basic understandings related to treaties and the Indian Act, as well as a glossary and bibliography of further reading and viewing. Much like Gregory Younging’s 2018 book Elements of Indigenous Style, the book also covers key definitions and usage (e.g. the differences between "Aboriginal peoples" and "Indigenous Peoples"), as well as offensive or inappropriate phrases (e.g. "let’s circle the wagons") to be avoided at all costs.

Most of the text is built around ICT’s model of RESPECT: Research; Examine; Strategize; Present; Evaluate; Customize; and Transform.

As the authors explain, respectful partnerships with First Nations require that the organization first thoroughly research that community and understand its history, issues, priorities and form of governance (elected or hereditary chiefs?) before arranging a meeting or presentation. Tips for meetings themselves refer to the role of humour in Indigenous communities and the basics of interpersonal communications — for example, don’t expect everyone to maintain a lot of eye contact or shake hands.

Most importantly, they point out, the timelines and priorities of your business are your problem; Indigenous communities — focused as they are on cultural survival and the preservation of sacred lands — will not be compelled into accepting or meeting them.

That is why the private sector needs to practise RESPECT: no outside economic project involving First Nations can proceed without their consent and partnership. Any shortcuts, exercise of bad faith or imposition on the part of external businesses or governments will result in poor relationships, opposition, negative media coverage and a lost opportunity for economic development — and, more importantly, for reconciliation.

The book concludes with two versions of a "Personal Pledge of Reconciliation with Indigenous Peoples," which can be signed as an individual and as a professional, setting out discrete actions one can take both at home and at work. In this way, Indigenous Relations is an essential tool for anyone wishing to contribute to reconciliation.

Michael Dudley is a librarian at the University of Winnipeg.

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