Whenever members of the Circle for Aboriginal Relations meet, they network and share knowledge as a key to creating a broad understanding of different perspectives. The non-profit group, which has been in existence since 2004, consists of professionals from diverse backgrounds who work within Aboriginal communities.
Sandy Sanderson is director of Aboriginal relations with the group and is also serving on the board of directors as treasurer.
“This is a non-partisan group. It is like a conduit between government, industry, and Aboriginal nations. Those relationships tend to be through consultation or community initiatives,” he said.
Speaker events throughout the year feature someone from the three partnering groups, and it creates a safe environment for everyone to learn more about the topic.
“It doesn’t mean that they have to buy into the opinions being expressed, but at least they are more informed,” he added.
At the end of January, Chief Clarence Louie, Chief of the Osoyoos Indian Band, will be speaking at the Haskayne School of Business at the University of Calgary. Under Louie’s leadership, the Osoyoos Indian Band has become a multi-faceted corporation that owns and manages nine businesses and employs hundreds of people. In 1998, the Osoyoos Indian Band Development Corporation was formed to manage and provide strategic direction to the existing businesses and as well as seek out new economic opportunities.
Events, such as these, are held at different locations throughout the province.
“It really helps build knowledge and develop networks,” said Sanderson.
The fifth annual conference was held last June at the River Cree Resort at Enoch and focussed on economic capacity building.
“We have a great response from people, and the conference has been growing every year. We’re not just the only organization of this type but the conference is the only one of its type as well that’s really about bringing people in these particular roles together,” said Sanderson.
Speakers like Louie and Chief Roland Twinn of Lesser Slave Lake Management Services Ltd., said Sanderson, provide valuable first hand points of view.
“Rather than just having perceptions or talking about it, the government and industry people who were there heard first hand from an Aboriginal perspective. They really began to share the vision of the First Nations and they took back to their own organization a new awareness and feeling of partnership,” he said. “They understood, perhaps for the first time, what it is they are trying to do and why.”
CFAR has been working on a credential recognition program as well.
“We’ve got people working to make it possible for individuals to take courses so they can become certified in terms of their profession,” he added. “That’s going to provide the key components but also consider prior learning assessments so their past experience is recognized.”
A knowledgeable person who doesn’t have a university degree will still be able to make a huge contribution, such as a mentor, a leader, or expert in a particular area.
Along with speaker events, newsletters and website forums keep members in touch with each other.
“Networking and knowledge are the keys to understanding and to building sustainable relationships,” said Sanderson.