Aboriginal community engagement is most effective when you approach it as an opportunity to enrich your archaeological assessment. Meaningful engagement goes beyond public notification (for example, mailing a form letter or issuing a general public notice). It seeks to build a mutual understanding of issues, expectations, and opportunities for solution and partnership.

In planning for engagement, you should recognize that every community is unique, with distinct interests, knowledge and capacity to deal with requests for engagement. Instead of proceeding on your own, it is a good idea to ask community representatives about how best to engage and collaborate with the community in the development of an archaeological project.

The guidelines encourage you to start engagement in Stage 1 of an archaeological assessment. This will help to facilitate future engagement regarding specific archaeological sites if they are uncovered at a later stage. For example, where a consultant archaeologist assesses an Aboriginal archaeological site as meeting the criteria for Stage 3 and as clearly having cultural heritage value or interest, with a high potential to go to Stage 4, informing interested Aboriginal communities at the end of Stage 2 is a recommended first step toward preparing for their engagement in Stage 3.

Early engagement will also help you to develop a long-term relationship with the community, separate from any specific archaeological project, and help to build mutual trust, respect and understanding over time.

It is advisable to talk to Aboriginal communities and your client (i.e., the development project proponent or planning consultant, management firm or other representative) about opportunities to synchronize engagement on archaeology with engagement that may be taking place for the development project as a whole. Synchronizing engagement may be more efficient for all parties involved and can help ensure that Aboriginal communities are informed and involved at the outset of the development project, before the archaeological assessment begins.

Specific approaches are outlined below. These have proven successful in archaeology and in other sectors that have engaged Aboriginal communities in Ontario.

2.1 Whom to engage

When determining whom to engage, your goal is to identify Aboriginal people who can speak to the cultural heritage of an area and represent the interests of relevant communities.

2.2 Identifying communities with a potential interest in the project.

Often, more than one community will have an interest in your archaeological project and a historical connection to the area affected by it. Consider the following factors when trying to identify Aboriginal communities with an interest in your project:

Is the geographical location of the project close to Aboriginal communities or within the traditional territory of a present-day Aboriginal community? Has more than one Aboriginal culture inhabited the area over time? For example, in southern Ontario, both Iroquoian and Algonkian-speaking peoples have occupied land over the centuries. There are several tribes or nations within these broad groupings. Some live in communities in the region today (Chippewa, Mississauga, Six Nations) and some do not (Huron). Does the project site fall within established or asserted treaty areas? What cultural affiliation has been inferred for the archaeological site or sites in the project area through archaeological fieldwork and analysis?

Where the cultural affiliation of the project area or archaeological sites within the project area is uncertain, approach Aboriginal communities with potential interest with as much information as possible and seek their input to inform your professional interpretation. Aboriginal communities with potential interest may also include: communities that have expressed interest in the development project to your client; communities known to have an interest in archaeology in the region in which you are working.

It may be useful to obtain the advice of your colleagues (for example, academic, co-worker, consultants), your professional association, your client, and any Aboriginal organizations active in the region.

In most cases, engagement on an archaeological project will be at the community level. Often there will be more than one community involved in the engagement process (see Section 5 of this bulletin). You may wish to contact regional or collective Aboriginal organizations to ask if they can help identify Aboriginal communities in an area or provide contact information. For more information about collective organizations, such as First Nation political territorial organizations or tribal councils and the Métis Nation of Ontario, please see the resources in Section 5 of this bulletin.

2.3 Identifying individual contacts within a community

Once you have identified the communities most likely to have an interest in the archaeological project, the next step is to initiate contact. One of the benefits of having long-term relationships with Aboriginal communities is that you will likely know people with whom you can initiate the engagement. Some communities have designated persons to manage requests for consultation and engagement from government and proponents. Some communities also have a designated person responsible for issues regarding lands and resources within the community. The community representative may be an elected member of the band council, a paid staff member who may or may not have expertise in archaeology, a member of a traditional society, an Aboriginal scholar, or an elder with knowledge of the customs and history of their people. If no designated representative exists, it can be helpful to ask the advice of your colleagues, your professional associations, your client, or the administrative office of the Aboriginal community in identifying an appropriate contact within the community.

After initial contact, the community will determine how best to engage with you. They will base this decision, in part, on the information you provide about the archaeological process in general and your specific archaeological project in particular. A community may wish to involve more than one person in the engagement. You and that group will discuss how best to work together and then incorporate the arrangement into the engagement processes for the archaeological project.