Aboriginal Affairs Secretariat (AAS)

Working Together: Our Stories

Best Practices and Lessons Learned in Aboriginal Engagement

Chapter 1 – Connecting With Aboriginal Partners

In February 2008, Parks Canada CEO Alan Latourelle confirmed the Agency’s desire to continue to strengthen relationships with Aboriginal peoples by developing a framework that engages Aboriginal communities in the planning and management of national parks, national historic sites and marine conservation areas. Parks Canada has also made a commitment to continue establishing formal relationships with Aboriginal partners throughout the organization. These relationships will represent a broad spectrum of collaborative structures as each one is guided by the specific cultural and legal context of their community.

Recently, greater collaboration has helped lessened the alienation Aboriginal peoples often felt when the first parks or national historic sites were created without their presence. New parks such as the Torngat Mountains National Park of Canada, new marine conservation areas such as Gwaii Haanas National Marine Conservation Area Reserve and Haida Heritage Site of Canada, and new national historic sites such as Sahoyúé-§ehdacho National Historic Site of Canada were created in collaboration with Aboriginal communities who requested that these lands be set aside for protection. This led to the creation of a number of national protected area reserves where land claims are still being negotiated and where Aboriginal involvement will help create the landscape.

QUOTE : "I remember as a child how beautiful, strong and refreshing it was, the feeling of living beside the lake. My family knew how to travel the land in any season and how to read the weather to have a safe journey. For the Anishinaabe, the land is where we grew up, where we experienced a sense of belonging- it was our home. Although it is a national park, Pukaskwa is still a home to us". - Collette Goodchild, Elder, Pic River First Nation
Healing and Reconciliation
Jasper National Park of Canada and Alexis Nakota Sioux First Nation Reconciliation Ceremony Jasper National Park of Canada and Alexis Nakota Sioux First Nation Reconciliation Ceremony.
First row L-R: Theodore Kyme, Bernice Bull, Ruth Mustus, Julian Kootenay, Phyllis Mustus, Sherrill Meropoulis, Greg Fenton, Elisabeth Kootenay, Mike Dillon.
Second row, L-R: Gladys Kyme, Percy Potts, Orlando Alexis, Arthur Bruno, Sophie Bruno, Tammy Many Grey Horses, Kelton Mustus, Howard Mustus Jr, Mariah Thunder, Don Kootenay.
Third row L-R: Howard Mustus Sr, Gilbert Potts, Janet Adams. Top: Lyndon Agina

© Parks Canada / Greg Deagle

At Jasper National Park of Canada, Aboriginal peoples had noticeably been absent from the landscape since the park’s creation in 1907. Not permitted to carry out a traditional lifestyle, they were forced to leave the park, bringing with them their stories, their cultural traditions and their intimate knowledge of the area. It has taken over a century for Parks Canada and Aboriginal peoples to come to terms with that history of dispossession and to take steps to reconcile with the past. For some, reconciliation has required formal ceremonies, sweat lodges, songs, offerings and prayers of forgiveness that have allowed both the park and the communities to join together again. For others, renewed trust has developed from the Jasper Aboriginal Forum1 created in a spirit of healing and reconciliation. The forum is helping to reintegrate dialogue, sharing and gathering of all Indigenous peoples with past links to the park.

Shauna Strand (Champagne and Aishihik First Nation) and Elder Lena Johnson (Kluane First Nation) working on hide, Megan McConnell (Champagne and Aishihik First Nation) in background Shauna Strand (Champagne and Aishihik First Nation) and Elder Lena Johnson (Kluane First Nation) working on hide, Megan McConnell (Champagne and Aishihik First Nation) in background
© Champagne and Aishihik First Nations

In the Yukon’s Kluane National Park and Reserve of Canada, the Southern Tutchone people were effectively pushed out when the area was turned into a game sanctuary in 1943. While the hunting and trapping ban was lifted for Aboriginal peoples in 1976, many stayed away out of fear of reprisal. It took until 1993 for the Champagne and Aishihik First Nations, and 2003 for the Kluane First Nation, to be allowed to resume traditional harvesting. While signed agreements provide the legal framework for cultural reintegration, decades of alienation require additional efforts. Healing Broken Connections2 is a multi-year project organized with both of these First Nations to encourage reconnection to their traditionally used territories through the participation of elders and youth in culture camps and science camps. It supported their efforts to collect, stabilize and store their knowledge about the park and use it to improve the park’s management and ecological integrity. Having First Nation partners who are willing and keen to work with and support Kluane National Park and Reserve of Canada has resulted in unprecedented levels of involvement and cooperation.

Quote: "In years to come we will look back on the early years of implementing our Land Claim Agreements and amid the struggles and growing pains, we will also smile upon the triumphs and the foundations that were laid with a sense of pride and achievement. When co management of our lands is the ‘”norm”, when culture and traditional history is an essential and integral part of land management, when our people have walked every part of this Park again, we will look back at Healing Broken Connections and be filled with the awesome power of Kluane because the most important parts of reconnecting with our lands; the human element, the relationships, the stewardship and the respect for our land and its living creatures will have been championed by projects like this." - Chief and Council of Kluane First Nation

Parks Canada and the Mi’kmaq communities of Prince Edward Island have fostered closer ties since hiring a Manager of Joint Projects, Mi’kmaq Confederacy of Prince Edward Island (MCPEI) – Parks Canada.3 Communications had already improved significantly after the Mi’kmaq Confederacy of PEI was formed in 2002 as a Tribal Council for PEI’s two Mi’kmaqa First Nations. MCPEI proposed to hire a co-managed and co-funded project manager to advance cooperation towards mutual goals. The manager, hired in 2005, working from the MCPEI offices, has played a pivotal role in building a positive, active relationship to ensure the proper management and presentation of land and sites with current or historical Mi’kmaq importance.

Sharing Aboriginal Stories and Cultures
Raj Anderson playing the fiddle at the Church in Batoche National Historic Site of Canada Raj Anderson playing the fiddle at the Church in Batoche National Historic Site of Canada
© Parks Canada

In Saskatchewan, Batoche National Historic Site of Canada, which includes remnants of a village, farmland and the 1885 battleground, is considered the heart and soul of the Métis Nation and a symbol of hope, renewal and reconnection for all Métis people. However, the Métis had largely disassociated from Batoche after it became an historic site in 1923. Its federal administration seemed distant to the community.
The Batoche National Historic Site and Gabriel Dumont Institute (GDI) Partnership4 now has staff collaborating with the Métis Nation of Saskatchewan and GDI (a Saskatchewan organization assisting in Métis training, education and employment) to restore ties. Since 1996, they have worked together to hire unemployed or under-employed Métis to provide them with training in heritage presentation and asset management. Staff and GDI Publishing have enhanced the site’s programming since 2005 with several cultural events. A “living history” in Albert Caron’s home gives visitors a chance to hear Métis stories and learn some of the Michif language from elders. The "Métis Women’s History of Resistance and Survival: Stories of Tourond’s coulee / Fish Creek and Batoche" is a community storytelling sharing circle and recording that honours the forgotten and untold stories of Métis women and children.

Members of the Nuu-chah-nulth Working Group on the steps of the new Longhouse Exhibit Members of the Nuu-chah-nulth Working Group on the steps of the new Longhouse Exhibit L to R: Barbara Touchie, Ucluelet First Nations, Benson Nookemis, Huu-ay-aht First Nations, Steve Tatoosh, Hupacasaht First Nations, Barney Williams Jr., Tla-o-qui-aht First Nations, C. Anne Robinson, Tseshaht First Nations.
© Parks Canada / Crystal Bolduc

In Pacific Rim National Park Reserve of Canada, the Nuu-chah-nulth Working Group5 came about in September 2006 when the park reserve began a four-year project to reconstruct the 1948 Wickaninnish Interpretive Centre. The centre has spectacular views of Wickaninnish Beach and the Pacific Ocean, but its static and dated exhibits no longer met visitor expectations or park objectives. Through consultation with Aboriginal partners it became evident that there was an opportunity to share Nuu-chah-nulth culture and heritage, and build relationships with the First Nations linked to the park. The working group has representatives from nine First Nations, along with the Nuu-chah-nulth Language Group and the Nuu-chah-nulth Cultural Centre. By sharing family connections and stories, the group is ensuring their heritage will be presented for future generations.

QUOTE: “As we work through difficult or sensitive items, it only serves to strengthen our commitment to presenting our Nations in a manner that dignifies our people through our joint endeavor.” Ida Mills, Ditidaht Elder


Cesi Mitchell, one of the participants of the Voices of Akwesasne project Cesi Mitchell, one of the participants of the Voices of Akwesasne project.
© Parks Canada

At St Lawrence Islands National Park of Canada, surveys clearly indicated that visitors wanted more information about its Aboriginal connections. But it was impractical for members of the Akwesasne nation to commute for three to four hours daily to be at the park. To establish a permanent Haudenosaunee presence, staff collaborated with the Kanienkehaka (Mohawks) of Akwesasne to create Eastern Ontario Voices of Akwesasne6. The co-managed video project has Akwesasne community members sharing stories of the Haudenosaunee (Iroquois) people, their culture and traditions, and their connection to the park, including Aboriginal knowledge of animals, plants and black-ash baskets. The compelling stories are available on interactive screens at the park’s visitor centre and within the Akwesasne community and firmly places the Haudenosaunee as a living culture in the viewers’ minds. The community of Akwesasne has also been using the video to showcase their culture to various groups well beyond the original intent of the project.

Members of the Georgian Bay Island National Park of Canada Cultural Advisory Circle during a Feast for the Dead Members of the Georgian Bay Island National Park of Canada Cultural Advisory Circle during a Feast for the Dead
© Parks Canada

In 1999, staff at Georgian Bay Islands National Park of Canada reached out to Elders for guidance on a planned project on Aboriginal commemoration and gravestone restoration. What started as a simple project evolved into the Cultural Advisory Committee, formed in August 1999, now known as the Cultural Advisory Circle, Georgian Bay Islands National Park7. Meeting quarterly, the group has been helpful with every aspect of the park’s development, cultural resource management and integration of Aboriginal issues and knowledge. Circle Elders, grandparents and community members represent the Beausoleil First Nation, Chippewas of Georgina Island, Chippewas of Rama, Georgian Bay Métis Council, Georgian Bay Native Friendship Centre, Moose Deer Point First Nation, Wahta Mohawk Territory, and Wasauksing First Nation. By sharing "The Story of Fairy Lake" and other teachings for guided hikes, archaeological projects and heritage presentations, they are re-establishing the landscape’s indigenous links. A day program for grade four Aboriginal youth and Aboriginal Youth Day are held every year to support an archaeology project. Various other ceremonies such as feasts and pipe ceremonies to honour ancestors have also been held by the circle members.

QUOTE: "All First Nations have a connection to the earth, the air, the water and all the creations that dwell here. We are endowed with a responsibility to protect and maintain the environment and the life forms that inhabit this earth for seven generations." – Chief Louise Hillier and Band Council, Caldwell First Nation
Cultural Expressions on the Land
Inuit on the land in Torngat Mountain National Park of Canada Inuit on the land in Torngat Mountain National Park of Canada. L-R:
Sarah Pasha Annanack, Molly Emudluk, Minnie Unatweenuk, Susie Morgan, Jacko Merkuratsuk, Sarah Unatweenuk, Tommy Unatweenuk

© Parks Canada

On the Labrador Peninsula, Gatherings in a Timeless Place: kANGIDLUASUk Base Camp8 has created a unique opportunity since 2006 to experience Inuit life. The Torngat Mountains National Park of Canada was created with the consent of Northern Quebec Inuit and Labrador Inuit through their respective land claim agreements and presented as the "Inuit’s gift to all Canadians.” To ensure new and better ways of increasing Inuit presence in the park and to support summer operational programs, the Inuit managed Base Camp located just outside the park’s southern boundary welcomes the young and old of Inuit families, along with researchers and visitors to explore the park through the lenses of both Inuit culture and science. Participants connect to the mountains as an Inuit homeland through the storytelling of Inuit companions and guides.

While Harry Haye looks on, Jacko Merkuratsuk shows his son Jimmy how to fish While Harry Haye looks on, Jacko Merkuratsuk shows his son Jimmy how to fish
© Parks Canada

A typical day at the Base Camp sees elders sharing their knowledge of the land with scientists, park managers, tourists and youth. Operating from late July through August, the camp provides accommodations, meals, guides, polar bear monitors and a staging area for trips into the park. The camp helps with the logistical challenges and costs of maintaining a meaningful Inuit presence in the park as the nearest community is almost 100 kilometres away. The Nunatsiavut Government, the Makivik Corporation and the Cooperative Management Board for the Torngat Mountains National Park helped to make the project happen and continue to support the base camp and its operation. The research station completed by the Nunatsiavut government will improve services to researchers.

QUOTE: "I think the park will once again be home to Inuit and that our attachment to the area, felt by so many of us, will once again be real, something we will experience and pass on to our children." - Leroy Metcalfe


Labrador Leadership Program Participants Labrador Leadership Program Participants. L-R
1st row: Fred Butt, Sybilla Bennett,
2nd row: Sara Rumbolt, Ashley Lawless, Nicole Parsons, Andy Miller - Parks Victoria exchange staff.

© Parks Canada

The Labrador Leadership Program – Aboriginal Youth in National Parks and National Historic Sites 9 gives 19 to 30 year old Inuit a chance to explore career and educational opportunities related to national parks and historic sites. Participants learn about resource conservation, heritage presentation, warden responsibilities and visitor services. A successful partnership with Conservation Corps Newfoundland and Labrador and the Quebec Labrador Foundation has led to a Green Team Program to increase work experiences and opportunities for Aboriginal youth in Labrador. It gives youth the chance to develop leadership skills in connection with the development of Torngat Mountains National Park of Canada and the proposed Mealy Mountain National Park. Funding has been provided through Nunatukavut (former Labrador Métis Nation), the Nunatsiavut Government and the Grenfell Association (a foundation that funds selected Labrador projects).

Going forward
Members of the New Brunswick First Nations Advisory Committee Members of the New Brunswick First Nations Advisory Committee: Terry Richardson (Pabineau First Nation), Blair Pardy (Fundy National Park of Canada), Chief Joe Knockwood (Fort Folly First Nation), Yves Bossé (Atlantic Service Centre), Stuart Gilby (Legal counsel for Assembly of First Nations’ Chiefs in New Brunswick Inc.), Larry Perley (Tobique First Nation), Chief Stewart Paul (Tobique First Nation), Donna Augustine (Elsipogtog First Nation), Gordon LaBillois (Eel River Bar First Nation), Danielle Richard (Kouchibouguac National Park of Canada).
© Parks Canada / Marie Katheleen Fernandes

The New Brunswick First Nations Advisory Committee is the first of its kind in Atlantic Canada10. The committee was formed in October 2010 with the Assembly of First Nations chiefs in New Brunswick, Kouchibouguac National Park of Canada and Fundy National Park of Canada. Its formation coincided with final consultations for updating Fundy National Park’s management plan. Five representatives from 14 of the 15 Mi’gmag and Wolastoqiyik First Nation communities of New Brunswick are on board, along with five Parks Canada representatives. The committee will ensure that the interests of the Mi’gmag and Wolastoqiyik are considered in the management of all New Brunswick’s national parks and national historic sites.

Lessons learned
  1. Seek Partnerships. Each partnership achieves more results and greater impact by pooling ideas, resources, insights and efforts than is possible by working alone. Partnerships can also extend a project’s outreach to more groups of people.
  2. Connect at Different Levels. It’s essential to establish personal relationships with various members of a community in addition to its leadership in order to build trust and mutual respect.
  3. Be Realistic. Ensure goals and timelines are reasonable and take available human resources into account. Working with Aboriginal Knowledge Holders, for example, requires significant consultation with a community, which takes commitment, time and effort.
  4. Incorporate Aboriginal World Views. The relationship established between the Cultural Advisory Circle and Georgian Bay Islands National Park of Canada, for example, is nurtured by the principles of the Seven Grandfather teachings. The Circle is seen as an example on how to develop mutually-beneficial relationships throughout Parks Canada.
  5. Be Patient. Allow enough time for relationships to become established. Collaborative projects need adequate time to establish trust and create a solid foundation for working together, especially if ties were severed or damaged in the past. A solid relationship built over time not only helps avoid differences that might arise but is usually the best resource for resolving them also.
  6. Write Down Everything. Having a written and signed agreement helps to resolve potential differences. It also helps to maintain the relationship and its customary practices when leadership changes on the part of either party.
  7. Ask For Early Input. If you produce a video, an exhibit or a management plan, involve people at the beginning and show the work-in-progress to community members. After seeing how their contribution can enhance the project, more people will be willing to participate in the project.
  8. Get Legal Advice. Make sure that any written agreements in no way affects land claims or other assertions of traditional rights.
  9. Set Up Tent. In some places, such as remote parks for example, culture and science camps provide the highest level of participation for the lowest cost. They are a proven way to reintegrate Aboriginal peoples, young and old, to traditionally used lands.
  10. Make History. Document all your projects from start to finish so there are photographs, tape recordings and reference notes for the benefit of future generations.
  11. Have a Picnic. Holding gatherings on the land within a park removes both real and perceived barriers associated with formal meetings and their structures. Outdoor events also tend to attract more participants.
  12. Welcome and Involve Aboriginal Children and Youth. In most Aboriginal communities, culture and stories are transmitted to children and youth during community events. Be aware and open to Aboriginal children and youth taking part in activities, even some related to more formal processes.

a There are multiple spellings of the word Mi’kmaq in English, depending on geographical location and type of orthography. However, all are considered to be of the same Nation. For the purpose of this publication, and to respect regional differences, we have kept the original spelling with which the community identifies.
1 Sherrill Meropoulis, Aboriginal Liaison Officer, Jasper National Park of Canada, Tel: (780) 852-6154, Email: Sherrill.meropoulis@pc.gc.ca
2 Pauline Wroot, Aboriginal Liaison, Kluane National Park and Reserve of Canada, Tel: (867) 634-2329, Email: Pauline.wroot@pc.gc.ca
3 Jesse Francis, Manager of Joint Projects, MCPEI – Parks Canada, Tel: (902) 436-5101, Email: jfrancis@mcpei.ca or jesse.francis@pc.gc.ca
4 Ray Fidler, Site Manager, Batoche National Historic Site of Canada, Tel: (306) 423-6227, Email: ray.fidler@pc.gc.ca
5 Karen Haugen, A/First Nations Program Manager, Pacific Rim National Park Reserve of Canada, Tel: (250) 726-3508, Email: karen.haugen@pc.gc.ca
6 Sophie Borcoman, Visitor Experience Manager, St Lawrence Islands National Park of Canada, Tel: (613) 923-5261 ext. 109, sophie.borcoman@pc.gc.ca
7 Brian Charles, Aboriginal Liaison Officer, Georgian Bay Islands National Park of Canada, Tel: (705) 526-9804, Ext. 239, Email: brian.charles@pc.gc.ca
8 Gary Baikie, Visitor Experience Manager Torngats Mountains National Park of Canada, Tel: (709) 922 1290, Email: gary.baikie@pc.gc.ca
9 Maggie John, Aboriginal Affairs Co-ordinator, Gros Morne National Park of Canada, Tel: (709) 458-3597, Email: maggie.john@pc.gc.ca
10 Yves Bossé, Aboriginal Liaison Advisor, Atlantic Service Centre, Tel: (902) 426-5875, Email: yves.bosse@pc.gc.ca

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