Bridging the gap to work effectively with Indigenous peoples
Q&A with Bob Joseph, educational trainer on consulting with Aboriginal communities
When Bob Joseph started leading educational workshops on how to work effectively with Aboriginal peoples in 1994, there was no obligation for companies or governments to consult with communities on development. Progress has been made, but there are still gaps. Working relationships between the stakeholders and communities require an understanding of some pivotal values differences.
To close those gaps, Bob works with a wide range of organizations from large companies to small non-profits across Canada, the U.S., parts of Central and South America, Europe and the South Pacific. Earlier this year Bob was invited to host a workshop with Urban Systems.
As a member of the Gwawaenuk Nation, one of the many Kwakwaka’wakw tribes on Vancouver Island, Bob is well aware of the struggles and sacrifices his ancestors endured. When he sees the positive actions that come out of companies engaging in his workshops, he knows this work is more than a job.
Generous with his time, Bob spoke with us at length about his work and what he is seeing as he travels and bridges some important gaps.
Urban Systems (US): What is the gap you’re looking to fill with the training you offer?
Bob Joseph: The main reason people bring us in is a gap in knowledge of history and in how to do this work. For a lot of governments, oil, gas, pipelines, utilities, miners, and forestry workers — once they realize they have to do consultation to fulfill legal and regulatory requirements they really start asking questions.
They often come to us for risk management. How do we learn about this stuff and learn how to do it in a way that’s respectful so that we can make sure we’re fulfilling our obligations? By doing so, they can avoid legal challenges and project delays. That’s how we fit into the grand scheme of things.
There’s often a big gap between legal and regulatory requirements — a lag between what government regulations are and what the courts have directed to see happen. That, and we end up having a clash of values — that is really where the big gap is.
US – How does a clash of values show up? What does it look like?
Bob Joseph:On the one hand, you might have government regulations saying you have to go in and consult, and they give you timelines: You need to do it in 30 days or 180 days or perhaps longer. And on the community side, they work on a different timeframe. They tend to make decisions based on the seventh-generation principle.
This principle, from an Aboriginal peoples perspective, is about making decisions that will affect seven generations of people away from the one you’re in. So they tend to think longer term, whereas governments and businesses are usually working in one, three and five-year timeframes.
So you have a values clash right away just on issues like time. We try to encourage people to build relationships over a longer period, which really helps to close the gap and build understanding. Tight timelines can really get you into a lot of trouble.
US – What are some of the major issues and themes you’ve seen emerge?
Bob Joseph:Some of the big issues are capacity — the ability for all the parties involved in the consultation to work collectively. If you think of First Nations communities, they don’t ever get money from Aboriginal Affairs and Northern Development Canada (AANDC) to talk to mining companies. And mining companies usually don’t plan consultation the way they should because they don’t understand the issues — back to that gap piece again. And they’re getting conflicting messages from governments and lawyers. The big issue is making sure we have enough capacity to deal with this stuff.
US – How did you come to be doing this work?
Bob Joseph:I joined BC Hydro in 1991 to start from the bottom and crawl my way up just like everybody else. I started in Human Resources and then joined a department called Aboriginal Relations just based on a conversation outside of some elevators one day. They asked me if I would put on a presentation for employees. This was in 1994. So I started talking to hydro employees about this. Before I left in 2002, we had talked to over 4,700 hydro employees across the system, but we began to be benchmarked by other companies — railway companies, telecommunications, a forestry company, some government agencies and it really just grew from there.
Read part 2 in this series, The Equality Principle: A barrier to understanding Aboriginal peoples.
Skip ahead to part 3, Fielding uncomfortable questions in Aboriginal relations