A Toronto workshop brought together ENGO leaders and Indigenous knowledge keepers to share—and learn from—differing worldviews about relating to, caring for and identifying with land

Indigenous workshop

Within Canada’s current social movement toward truth and reconciliation, there are known differences in opinion about ownership, stewardship, responsibility and reciprocity in regards to the land beneath everyone’s feet—because they are commonly expressed by Indigenous and non-indigenous environmental leaders.

This past February, in an effort to build bridges between these opposing perspectives, Toronto’s Sustainability Network hosted an Indigenizing Canadian Environmental Identities workshop at that city’s Centre for Social Innovation. The sold-out event, designed for environmental non-governmental organizations (ENGOs) and made possible by the Community Fund for Canada’s 150th, aimed to “support the development of a cross-cultural understanding about environmental identity and eventually help build relationships between ENGO leaders and Indigenous knowledge keepers.”

The workshop started on a Saturday morning with a prayer, smudge ceremony and land acknowledgement. From there, two facilitators from Ontario First Nations—Damien Lee, an assistant professor in the Department of Indigenous Studies at the University of Saskatchewan, and Kathleen Ryan, senior coordinator at the Saugeen Ojibway Nation Environment Office—introduced the day-and-a-half-long schedule and its participants. Workshop attendees were guided through identity and positionality activities that included deconstructing real-life experiences; they heard three Elders share their wisdom, and learned about building genuine relationships with inherent Indigenous leaders.

“Participants understood that the first call, and the reflex, is to call band and council—try to get the elected chief, try to get some time on the agenda. It’s the most obvious door to knock on, and it’s not like it’s not worth doing, but it does take a lot more research to get to know an Indigenous community,” says Paul Bubelis, executive director of Sustainability Network.

“After many months, or maybe even a year or two, you’ll get a sense of who those inherent Indigenous leaders are. If you want to establish a relationship with an Indigenous community that’s not a specific deliverable, you’ve got to be in it for the long haul. You’ve got to understand the plethora of issues and challenges Indigenous communities are facing, and realize land use planning or a caribou protection plan may not be top of that community’s list.”

The workshop fit neatly inside Sustainability Network’s broader agenda to serve as a national hub for the ENGO community, leadership and partners. You can find upcoming events on the organization’s website, sustainabilitynetwork.ca—including an ongoing online course in Economic Literacy for a Green Economy, a May webinar on NAFTA and Free Trade: An Ecological Economics Perspective, and more. Don’t miss subscribing to The Digest, a monthly digital newsletter featuring event reminders, the latest in nonprofit management research and ENGO capacity-building opportunities.