Building Trust and Understanding: A Guide to Collaborating with Indigenous Communities on Events

As the Director of Events at the University of Manitoba, I have had the honour of working closely with our local Indigenous community in planning a wide range of events. These have included ceremonial gatherings such as sunrise pipe ceremonies, conferences such as the Blueprint for Indigenous Education, and large community gatherings, like the opening of the National Centre for Truth and Reconciliation. Through these projects, I have had the opportunity to spend time with and learn from our local Elders and Knowledge Keepers, engaging in many discussions about ways in which our communities can come together in a spirit of harmony and respect. As a result of these experiences, I have gained a deep appreciation for the traditions and sacred values of our indigenous communities. In an effort to support other event planners seeking to collaborate with Indigenous communities, I would like to share some tips for achieving successful and respectful partnerships.

  1. Firstly, event planners should be mindful of cultural practices and beliefs and show respect for the traditions and heritage of the community. Before embarking on the planning process, research the community’s history, values, and customs, and be prepared to ask questions and learn more. Avoid making assumptions or relying on stereotypes, and demonstrate a genuine interest in the community’s culture and way of life. Remember that each indigenous community is unique and has its distinct customs and traditions, so approach each project with an open mind and a willingness to learn.
  2. It is important for event planners to understand that asking members of the Indigenous community to participate in their events requires sensitivity and respect. Ceremonial acts like honour songs and blessings are not performances but rather deeply meaningful and sacred traditions that should be approached with care and reverence. Asking an Elder, Knowledge Keeper, or Drummer to participate in an event should not be treated like a business transaction. Instead, it should be done in a way that shows respect for their culture and honours their traditions. This could involve passing tobacco and asking for their consideration or reaching out through a community leader or organization. It is important to remember that these traditions have been passed down through generations and are considered an integral part of a culture. Event planners must approach these sacred practices with the appropriate level of respect and sensitivity and be prepared to adjust their plans if necessary to honour the wishes of the community.
  3. Effective communication is important when working with any group, particularly when working with Indigenous communities. Clear and transparent communication is essential to building trust and understanding between the event planners and the community. Take the time to listen and understand the community’s perspective and clearly communicate the event’s goals and objectives. Avoid using jargon that may be unfamiliar, and use inclusive language that respects cultural diversity.
  4. Indigenous communities often have sacred sites that hold cultural and spiritual significance. Event planners must be aware of these sites and take care not to disturb them, even if it means changing or adapting your plans. This could involve avoiding using certain areas or ensuring that certain activities do not occur near these sites. It is important to involve indigenous community members in the planning process and to seek their guidance on how best to respect their sacred sites.
  5. Involve community members in the planning and incorporate their ideas and input into the event. This not only helps to ensure that cultural traditions and customs are respected but also helps to build a stronger relationships. 
  6. Many Indigenous communities face significant economic challenges and are marginalized. Make a conscious effort to ensure that the community benefits economically from the event. For example, hire local workers and businesses to support the event and provide fair compensation for their contributions. Consider working with local organizations and community leaders to identify ways to maximize the event’s economic impact.
  7. Indigenous communities often have a deep connection to the land and a strong commitment to environmental sustainability. Planners should take steps to minimize the event’s environmental impact and work in partnership with the community to preserve the local ecosystem.

Finally, I recommend planners take the time to understand the “why” behind the “how” of cultural traditions and ceremonial practices. Ultimately, the key to planning successful events for indigenous communities is to approach the process with humility, respect, and a willingness to learn. By taking the time to understand the cultural traditions and practices of the community, involving members of the community in the planning process, and ensuring that economic benefits are shared with the community, event planners can help to create meaningful and impactful events that honour and celebrate the rich cultural heritage of Indigenous communities.