3.1 Preparation

A key part of preparation should be to gather all available information about the archaeological assessment or site. Bringing this valuable information to the Aboriginal community at the outset of the engagement process is a starting point. The Aboriginal community can then share its knowledge and make decisions about its interest and level of involvement in the archaeological project.

After identifying the Aboriginal communities most likely to be interested your project, you should gather basic information about those communities, such as their cultural affiliations and some sense of both their history and their current realities (for example, languages, governance, socioeconomics, and so on).

The legacy of the historical relationships between Aboriginal and non-Aboriginal peoples in Canada has had a significant effect upon Aboriginal communities. Understanding this will help you to listen to the communities you engage and understand their needs. Some consultant archaeologists have extensive knowledge in this area. Others will develop a deeper understanding over time by working with Aboriginal communities. For consultant archaeologists seeking to broaden their knowledge, a list of resources, a bibliography, and a glossary are found at the end of this bulletin.

3.2 Initiating and sustaining engagement

The development of the engagement process should be collaborative. This will ensure that the Aboriginal community is interested in the archaeological project, comfortable with the process and able to participate. Rather than confronting the community with a rigid set of requirements based on an inflexible timetable, begin by clearly communicating the purpose of the engagement and asking for advice on how to proceed. Depending on the previous experience of the community, the initial engagement may include providing the following:

  • an orientation to archaeology in the land development process, a description of your role as an archaeologist in the project and an overview of the typical archaeological stages in a project;
  • information about the planned archaeological project, such as facts you have gathered thus far; and, the kind of input (knowledge) or participation you are seeking from the community and how that may vary for each stage in the project.

Other effective practices include:

  • showing respect for traditional and seasonal events in the community.
  • discussing opportunities to involve local Aboriginal businesses and individuals in the archaeological assessment (for example, as field crew members or monitors).
  • asking the community if they have identified areas of cultural or spiritual significance within their traditional territory (for example, through a cultural heritage values mapping exercise) and if they would be willing to share this information if it is relevant to the project.

Ask community representatives how they prefer to exchange information on the archaeological project and design the communication processes accordingly. Find out if the community has been involved in other archaeological projects and how the engagement proceeded.

Develop an understanding with the Aboriginal community (or communities) to clarify communication, including how the community will participate in the archaeological project, when its input will be sought and how it will be used, and how you will report back to the community on the project. Some Aboriginal communities have developed agreements (sometimes referred to as protocols) with local or provincial government agencies, municipal governments, archaeological consulting firms or associations, or proponents. Such agreements cover notification and the engagement and/or consultation processes. Ask community representatives if they have any existing agreements that could serve as a starting point for discussion.

By listening to the community at the initial stage, you will begin to understand how archaeology is viewed and learn the role it plays within the community. This will also establish a basis for the development of the engagement process that is to follow.

Note that engagement is best achieved by face-to-face contact. Meetings are usually more effective than letters and phone calls, both in the initial phases of engagement with a community and throughout the archaeological project. Where possible, hold meetings in the Aboriginal community. You may need to communicate information both formally and informally, through written materials, making presentations and talking to people. Each interaction should allow time for the community representatives to ask questions and communicate their perspectives.

Try to take into account the priorities of the community and other demands on its representatives. Many Aboriginal communities are overwhelmed with the volume of requests for consultation and engagement from government and proponents. Your efforts to carry out community engagement in a way that is mindful of this burden would be welcome. For example, build considerable lead time into the archaeological project plan, organize and conduct community information sessions about the project, or look for opportunities to work with other consultants or your client to consolidate engagement processes on multiple projects. If a community advises you that resource limitations could hinder participation, you may wish to facilitate communication between the community and your client to discuss how best to support Aboriginal community engagement.

It is an effective approach to try to build a long-term relationship with the community by encouraging participation and maintaining contact through regular communication. Such relationships can:

  • ease the exchange of information;
  • promote shared understanding of interests;
  • build communication channels; and
  • facilitate and expedite future archaeological projects.

3.3 Incorporating input from the Aboriginal community

As noted in Part 1 of this bulletin, when recommending avoidance and protection or excavation for certain types of archaeological sites, you must engage Aboriginal communities in the development of a strategy to mitigate impacts to the site.

The standards and guidelines make it clear that avoidance and protection is the preferred option for archaeological sites with cultural heritage value or interest. This option preserves the sites intact (See Standards and Guidelines for Consultant Archaeologists, Section 4.1).It is good practice to discuss mitigation options with the Aboriginal community early in the archaeological project, ensure that the options are clearly understood, and document the community’s preference. You must consider the input of the Aboriginal community at the point when you make mitigation recommendations. However, because proponents have the greatest flexibility at the start of a development project, it is a good idea to make the community’s preference known to your client as early as possible.

Where your recommendations do not reflect the community’s preference, you should communicate this to your client as early as possible as well.

The standards and guidelines do not require you to negotiate agreements between the Aboriginal community and your client.

Other effective strategies to incorporate input from Aboriginal communities could include the following:

  • Gather information in the language of the Aboriginal community involved. Valuable cultural information encoded in language can be lost in translation to English or French. Engaging with speakers of the community’s language, either directly or through a translator, may yield better insights into the archaeological site, its function, or the traditional uses of that area.
  • Adjust fieldwork processes or strategies, as in the following examples:
    • work Aboriginal ceremonies into the fieldwork process;
    • extend a Stage 2 survey to include lands that have been identified as of interest to the Aboriginal community, even though those lands may have low potential to contain cultural heritage resources;
    • in response to sensitivities expressed by an Aboriginal community regarding the archaeological site, increase the area where the plough zone is to be excavated by hand rather than stripped by mechanical means;
    • work with Aboriginal monitors in the archaeological fieldwork.
  • Include the concerns of Aboriginal communities in your recommendations to the Ministry on the disposition of collections.