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Oct 2018 | Indigenous-Municipal Partnerships


The consequences and persistence of colonization in Canada continue to impact Indigenous peoples. The Truth and Reconciliation Commission (TRC) was established in 2008 to document the truths of Indigenous peoples who lived through the traumas of the residential school system. The final report of the TRC issued 94 “Calls to Action”, including calls to increase culturally relevant approaches to child welfare, eliminate the education and employment gap between Indigenous and non-Indigenous Canadians, and introduce cultural competency training for individuals in positions of influence.[i] Emerging from ongoing work between the Haisla Nation, Tamitik Status of Women in Kitimat, BC, and the University of Guelph, we are exploring existing efforts to build cultural competency in municipalities, where attempts are being made to improve relationships between municipal governments and neighbouring Indigenous communities, and/or with Indigenous residents. The San’yas Indigenous Cultural Safety Training program defines cultural competency as “adapting our knowledge, attitudes, behaviours, and skills to become […] more effective and trustworthy [allies] with people of another culture.”[ii]


“The truth and reconciliation process is far from finished, but our findings demonstrate a number of approaches that a municipal government could take to begin or continue building relationships between Indigenous and settler governments and people that advance respect, understanding, reciprocal accountability, and self-determination.”


The initial stage of this research focused on uncovering examples of approaches used by select municipalities in three provinces across the country: British Columbia, Newfoundland and Labrador, and Ontario. Based on factors including location, and number and percent of Indigenous residents, the research team contacted 90 municipalities[iii] and invited them to share their efforts to promote cultural competency and build relationships in their communities. The focus of this stage of the work was to describe efforts from the perspectives of municipal representatives.


I. Preliminary Results


Of the 90 municipalities that we contacted, 54 described some form of relationship-building effort taking place in their community. A total of 23 municipalities in British Columbia, nine municipalities in Newfoundland and Labrador, and 22 municipalities in Ontario reported some efforts. Other municipalities that were contacted may also be undertaking efforts, but did not respond to our requests for information. Through our analysis of the responses we received, we identified three broad approaches that are being used by municipal governments to advance relationship-building efforts: cultural humility and safety training; information sharing and engagement; and supporting Indigenous cultural celebrations. Additionally, we were interested in the extent to which there were examples of youth-focused efforts, so we undertook additional research accordingly. We then considered the examples we uncovered for the possibility that they could contribute to creating better relations between Indigenous peoples and settler governments and people, through building mutual respect, understanding, and reciprocal accountability, and by recognizing Indigenous peoples as self-determining individuals and communities. Below are a few examples of these efforts.

Cultural humility and safety training refers to training offered by the municipality to government employees or the public, with the goals of promoting cultural understanding, and exercising humility when dealing with topics of a sensitive nature. These efforts take the form of voluntary workshops, formal compulsory training, and group activities overseen by Indigenous leaders. An example of a municipality that uses cultural humility and safety training is Thunder Bay, Ontario. The City encourages all employees to view the Walk a Mile films, which look at the impact that issues such as “treaties, racism, [and] violence against women” have had on Indigenous peoples in the community.[iv] The goal of screening the documentaries is to encourage open discussion about diversity and relationship-building.[v]



Information sharing and engagement refers to efforts made to increase public knowledge of the history and experiences of Indigenous peoples, and to engage more meaningfully with Indigenous peoples and governments in municipal decisions. These efforts can take a variety of forms. An example of a municipality that used information sharing and engagement is Midland, Ontario. In an interim report about its Official Plan Review, the Town describes a commitment to being “much more active in its consultation process with First Nations, Indigenous Communities and Organizations, and the Métis Nation of Ontario…. The fundamental principle underlying the Town’s approach to its Duty to Consult as part of the 2015 OPR is based on a ‘government to government’ relationship…”[vi]

Indigenous cultural celebrations refer to the recognition and celebration of Indigenous peoples and their cultures to promote relationship-building in the community. A staff person from St. Albans, Newfoundland and Labrador described the community as being “home to a plethora of Indigenous-centred community events” and discussed efforts to collaborate with nearby Miawpukek First Nation.[vii]

Finally, we use the term youth participation to refer to relationship-building efforts that involve and/or focus on youth. This might involve youth-led initiatives or efforts made by the municipality to improve the wellbeing of Indigenous young people. For example, the City of Burnaby, British Columbia “participated in the development of the Burnaby School District’s Aboriginal Enhancement Agreement,[viii] which aims to improve relationship-building efforts in the education system by offering increased support to Aboriginal students. For example, the agreement mentions the introduction of specialized programming for Indigenous students that consider Indigenous ways of thinking.[ix]

II. Concluding remarks


Some municipalities across the country are working to advance cultural competency within their jurisdictions. Their efforts can be organized in the categories of cultural humility and safety training, information sharing and engagement, and Indigenous cultural celebrations. Youth-focused efforts are also evident. A critical next step in this research is to better understand the experiences of Indigenous peoples and their governments with municipalities’ efforts. The truth and reconciliation process is far from finished, but our findings demonstrate a number of approaches that a municipal government could take to begin or continue building relationships between Indigenous and settler governments and people that advance respect, understanding, reciprocal accountability, and self-determination.


BRONAGH RYAN is completing a degree in Criminal Justice and Public Policy at the University of Guelph. Her research interests include Indigenous justice and public policy.

LEAH LEVAC is an Associate Professor of Political Science at the University of Guelph. Her research focuses on the interplay between northern, Indigenous, and young women’s wellbeing experiences, and the development of public policy, and on citizen engagement in policy development, particularly at the municipal level.

Research and preliminary writing for this project was directed by Dr. Leah Levac and undertaken by Bronagh Ryan, and by students of POLS*4900/6950 (W18) at the University of Guelph: Alexandra Cotter, Desneige Frandsen, Horeen Hassan, Steffani Lang, Lindsay Nedelko, Ashley Pedersen, Jaida Regan, and Celina Whaling-Rae. This work emerged from an ongoing collaboration with Tamitik Status of Women (Kitimat, BC) and Haisla Nation. We humbly acknowledge our work from the ancestral homelands of the Attawandaron People, and in the treaty lands and territory of the Mississaugas of the Credit. 


[i] “Calls to Action,” Truth and Reconciliation Commission, accessed June 2018,
[ii] “Frequently Asked Questions,” San’yas Indigenous Cultural Safety Training, accessed May 2018,
[iii] This included 40 in British Columbia, 20 in Newfoundland and Labrador, and 30 in Ontario.
[iv] “Walk a Mile film project,” City of Thunder Bay, accessed October 2018,
[v] Ibid.
[vi] First Nations, Indigenous, & Aboriginal Consultation: Town of Midland Official Plan Review Interim Report (p. 2), accessed April 2018,
[vii] Miawpukek First Nation, accessed May 2018,
[viii] City of Burnaby Social Planning Committee Notice of Open Meeting, 2016 September 14 (p. 34), accessed Sept 2018,
[ix] Burnaby Schools Aboriginal Enhancement Agreement, 2014-2019," Burnaby Schools, accessed May 2018,