Consulting with Aboriginal Communities:

What does the “Duty to Consult” mean for Planners?

By David J. Stinson

On the 7th of June 2012, the County of Simcoe hosted a professional development activity concerning the “Duty to Consult” with Aboriginal communities. The Lakeland District of OPPI brought together local Aboriginal representatives and planners in a half-day panel discussion to initiate a dialogue.  A pouch of tobacco was presented to Elder Mark Douglas from Rama First Nation, who offered a prayer of welcome to help open the heart and focus the mind of those in attendance.  He later praised the long registration period that morning for the chance it gave everyone to greet & mingle, indicating that it represented the true spirit of consultation by providing the time for people to get to know each other. 

He was joined on the panel by Jennifer Copegog the Lands Manager from Beausoleil First Nation, Alden Barty the Consultation Assessment Co-ordinator from the Métis Nation of Ontario, and Dave Parks the new Director of Planning for the County of Simcoe.  A brief introduction was provided to give a context to the topic. The panel discussion was facilitated by David Stinson, and included topics such as the specific concerns that planners and Aboriginal communities would want to talk with each other about, what planners wished Aboriginal communities knew about the role of planners, what Aboriginal communities wished planners knew about aboriginal land-use, the most/least important issues to discuss with each other, who one talks to when issues arise, etc.

After a short break, the event continued with a general Q & A session from the audience, allowing for more immediate and direct discussion.  In all, we had forty-one, including our guests, in attendance.  This introductory event was well received, based on the formal and informal responses we gleaned. Overwhelmingly, participants found the topic interesting, applicable and timely.  But there was also an expressed desire for more detail and more interaction.  This “scratching of the surface” could be followed up by a lecture/discussion, presentation/break-out, or fieldtrip/case-study style session to fulfill this wish. 

This was not the first time that Lakeland planners have sought to bring the “planning world” and the “aboriginal world” together [see OPJ Jan/Feb 2006; 21(1): 14-15].  We hope that it will not be the last.   A more comprehensive exploration of the practical realities of being good neighbours could perhaps be the next step.  One of the main things we learned from this event was that the understanding which has been created can only be sustained through the building of stronger relationships.  Thanks to Brandi Clement and Nancy Farrer from the Lakeland executive, and Bruce Hoppe at the County, for their assistance in making this event a success.

David J. Stinson MCIP, RPP, A.Ag., is the OPPI recognition representative for the Lakeland District and a partner at Incite Planning.

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