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I have been mediating conflicts for over 30 years, with some of the most complex involving Indigenous communities. A shared understanding between parties at conflict is fundamental to finding a lasting solution. Needless to say, we have some work to do in that regard.

A month ago, roadblocks and rail disruptions dominated our national dialogue. Then, the worst pandemic in modern history swept the world and took over headlines. While this health crisis deserves our full attention, the critical conversations with all Indigenous peoples in Canada have not gone away.

My first mediation with a First Nation occurred in the early 1990s. It took place in a school gymnasium in a small community on the edge of Wood Buffalo National Park. Virtually the whole community from toddlers to grandmothers attended and many had their say. This was my first experience with elders and their commitment to oral history which largely defines the indigenous experience in Canada.

I learned many lessons in that school gym and in other mediations with Indigenous communities. Here are some I offer to you for your consideration:

  • Begin by designing the process with them. That’s how I ended up in the gym. Take the time to learn how they want to participate. They have been reaching consensus solutions for hundreds of years.
  • Acknowledge and accept their deep commitment to the land and to the environment.  It is central to their traditional way of life and how they see the future.
  • Listen to the elders. They are the keepers of their oral history which is central to their cultural identity. Indigenous communities across Canada all hold unique identities and their oral histories are integral to their way of being.
  • Know that they expect the faults of the past to be acknowledged. Apologies are well and good, but they want and deserve real change for the future.  It does not always look like our future. 
  • Be patient and learn. The lessons of the past need to guide our co-creation of the future. One that truly fosters partnerships and produces shared benefits for all participants.

To defeat this pandemic, we know we must set aside our political posturing and petty grievances and work together as never before. I hope and trust we will remember these lessons of collaboration and continue in the future to engage indigenous communities in a dialogue about future possibilities rather than a debate about past wrongs.

Your questions and comments are welcome and appreciated.

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David Gould (LLB, QC, C Med) has helped hundreds of lawyers and their clients – business and government organizations, and individuals – in conflict situations to co-create solutions for the future. For more information, contact: david@davidgouldmediation.com or visit www.davidgouldmediation.com

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