Lac Seul First Nation

The Lac Seul First Nation is located in the northwest part of Ontario and is made up of three distinct and separate settlements – Frenchman’s Head, Kejick Bay and Whitefish Bay – with a total land base of 66,248 acres. The current on-reserve population is approximately 925, with a total registered population of just over 3,600.

lac seul loon logo

In 2020 with the Fund’s support, the Lac Seul First Nation and Urban Systems Ltd., a community planning and engineering firm, embarked on a project to develop a Comprehensive Community Plan (CCP) and a Land Use Plan (LUP). Karen Ningewance, CCP Coordinator, Lac Seul and Dan Penner, Planner, Urban Systems were challenged to outline a process that would include joint planning and a public engagement process in the three communities, as well as with membership living off reserve.

From the beginning, it was understood that the work project and meeting plans would need to be safely conducted in compliance with the COVID-19 protocols and regulations. The Fund also introduced a no-travel policy applicable to all Fund staff and CD service provider contractors. This meant that the engagement process needed to be flexible. Ideally, the engagement plan would follow the traditional format of community gatherings and workshops including finding common ground, and consensus on priorities among their three communities. The pandemic restrictions meant finding new ways to involve the membership in this process.

The key challenge was to figure out how to conduct effective and meaningful community engagement to meet the objectives of the project when stay-at-home orders were in effect. Numerous tactics and strategies were considered and acted upon to ensure activities were undertaken in a safe and respectful manner. This included:

Keeping membership informed and involved

  • Getting information out to the members with less emphasis on lengthy documents.
  • Additional outreach to the elders to keep them informed and involved.
  • Utilizing various forms of communication to reach people in all age groups.
  • The Local Coordinator narrated a video which was developed to introduce the project.

Effective use of technology appropriate to the intended audience

  • Increasing the utilization of Facebook.
  • Increasing the use of online technology.
  • Utilizing different online tools to actively engage the membership.
  • Conducting surveys via mail and online.
  • Incorporating virtual engagement based on a suite of tools used by Urban Systems that are compatible for different audiences.

Mobilize local resources to support engagement and the process

  • Additional local hiring to assist with the gathering of member input.
  • Sought additional local resources to support the project such as distributing and gathering surveys. For example, high school students requiring volunteer student hours.
  • Utilizing local resources such as the elementary schools, Youth Chief and Council.
  • Engaging managers of various departments who will play a huge role in the implementation of the CCP and LUP.
  • Reallocation of the community budget given the reduction in travel.
  • Increasing reliance on the Local Coordinator to ensure an effective engagement process.
  • Increasing support to the Local Coordinator to conduct one-on-one interviews and to work out the details of those interviews in advance.
  • Regular check-in calls to ensure the First Nation and the consultant are on the same page.

Lessons learned

  • Allow more time to complete tasks.
    • Recognize that some tasks require more time or effort which could result in some delays. For example, information gathering may be challenged due to limited access to information or the need to meet one-on-one versus in small groups. This is especially important for those who either do not have access to the internet or are uncomfortable using online technology.
  • Learn how to be creative in the absence of the usual form of engagement.
  • Find different ways to keep people informed and engaged.
  • Use different materials based on different audiences in the community and off reserve.
  • Be flexible.
  • Be inclusive – do not forget the children.
  • Invite other resources in the community that could help.
  • Recognize the limitations of working from home and not having the benefits of a fully functional office space.
  • Recognize the importance of having the capacity to use technology and the infrastructure and people to support it. Some communities may not have the functionality to support a similar process.
  • The importance of the community’s commitment to making the process work, including having Chief and Council buy-in and support for the process together with the flexibility of the Local Coordinator.
  • Not compromising the effort that we need to put into future tasks.
  • Communication is a real key to project success.

While the project will not be concluded until 2021, the experience of the Lac Seul First Nation and Urban Systems partnership to date is one that the Fund is honoured to share, especially given the significance of their undertaking in the challenging time of COVID-19. The commitment to community outreach is a shining example of embracing change and building new connections.

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