Alberta’s Indigenous peoples were the first to practice stewardship on the land. As important sites for activities like hunting, trapping, medicine gathering and spiritual practice, forests were and are key to many Indigenous communities’ way of life. These communities have a long history of looking out for the long-term health and sustainability of the forest. The traditional knowledge and practices of Indigenous cultures are very valuable, and we are fortunate to have opportunities to learn.
Healthy relationships with Indigenous communities go beyond consultation. During a consultation, Indigenous people who know and use particular forests have a chance to give their feedback on draft plans and show companies where important features like trap lines and sacred sites need to be considered. Forestry companies and Indigenous communities are neighbours, living and working in close proximity. Being a good neighbour takes more than just getting in touch for formal consultation – it calls for building a meaningful long-term relationship where everyone benefits. That means keeping lines of communication open, practicing honesty and respect, and taking the time to get to know the community well. With the diverse array of cultures, histories and needs represented among Indigenous communities, there is no one-size-fits-all approach to forming a positive working relationship.
Specific needs differ, but creating opportunities often benefits everyone. Each community is unique, but most are broadly interested in opportunities that contribute to their social, cultural, and economic wellbeing. For example, many forestry companies collaborate with Indigenous communities by offering designated scholarships, training, and employment opportunities – the forest industry will always need skilled, dedicated people who care about the future of our forests, and many Indigenous communities want to see more educational and career opportunities for their young people. Increasing access to those opportunities is one example of going beyond mandatory consultation processes to achieve greater benefit for the forest sector and the Indigenous communities it works with.