• Shahan Mahmood

Moving Forward Together with Indigenous Communities

As a business student and aspiring lawyer, I've always been curious as to how negotiation processes look when they involve a non-indigenous and indigenous party. I wanted to learn more about how to best approach such conversations, so I decided to reach out to the Queen's community.

I recently had the pleasure of speaking with Elder Wendy at the Four Directions Indigenous Student Centre at Queen’s University. I asked her what values needed to be championed during indigenous consultations for any project (landscape, economic, infrastructure). She identified two values that must be upheld during the consultation process: commitment and accountability.

These two values were emphasized by the Elder as key drivers for success when non-Indigenous people work with Indigenous communities. Accountability and commitment help ensure that the government follows through on its promises and is committed towards projects that further reconciliation.

There has been historical precedence of the federal government not holding itself accountable nor committed to its promises to First Nations peoples. Prime Minister Justin Trudeau promised to uphold the UN Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples and implement them into Canadian law. However, Trudeau recently approved the controversial Kinder Morgan tar sands pipeline and forced the pipeline through unceded territories without free, prior, and informed consent from the Indigenous peoples who occupy and control the land.

Throughout my life, I have been a part of and conducted the KAIROS blanket exercise. The KAIROS blanket exercise allowed me to explore the nation-to-nation relationship between Indigenous and non-Indigenous peoples in Canada. During the exercise, my views on colonialism and resistance were reinforced. During the exercise, I noticed many people “resisted” colonialism by kicking the blankets outwards while the facilitators kicked the blankets inwards. This part of the exercise holds significant meaning. Indigenous peoples have always resisted colonialism and oppression and it is our duty as dwellers on Turtle Island to advocate and help those who have been systematically oppressed. The right to govern belongs to those who own the land. The KAIROS Blanket exercise showed me the frustration we experience when people unjustly take away what is ours—a frustration Indigenous people have felt for decades in Colonial Canada.

Elder Wendy also emphasized that the consultation process differs from nation-to-nation and that if we want to approach consultation appropriately, there must be all stakeholders actively present in any dialogue. Being actively present means having a significant representation of all stakeholders rather than a “token” diversity representative that speaks for an entire nation or organization.

As someone who will be graduating in a bit less than 2 years, and will be entering the workforce, I hope to ensure that I maintain those values if my work involves approaching indigenous communities. It's important to realize that genuine commitment and accountability go a long way. It's clear that we have work to do as a country, but it's important that we start with ourselves.

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