The Role of Networking to Achieve Your Goals as a First Nations Community

April 15, 2024

Attending the 2024 AFOA Canada National Conference in Winnipeg, the First Nations Market Housing Fund (FNMHF) is reflecting on why networking is essential to achieving the goals of empowering First Nations communities across Canada.

Strength in Collaboration

Engendered by a sense of scarcity or working with lean travel and networking budgets, some First Nations and organizations have shied away from collaboration with neighbours and counterparts. However, collaboration can result in opportunities to share resources, build capacity, reduce workload, and relieve a sense of isolation. 

Forming meaningful and supportive relationships with people who share your interests, values, and goals is key to personal job satisfaction and bolstering efforts to advocate for your community’s needs effectively. For example, the Land Claims Agreement Coalition (LCAC) brings together modern Indigenous treaty parties to ensure self-government agreements are respected, honoured and fully implemented, sharing information at tri-annual gatherings. 

The Anishinabek Nation is a political advocate for 39 member First Nations across Ontario, advocating for their rights, entering into agreements, and delivering shared services. The LCAC was formed in 2003, and the Anishinabek Nation was initially formed as the Union of Ontario Indians (UOI) in 1949, supporting outstanding achievements in sovereignty and producing tangible results for communities. Collaboration has proven to be a strong component of successful negotiations and organizing. 

Starting from Zero

Consultations with your community have likely answered the same questions and identified the same priorities. It can feel like consultants are trying to reinvent the wheel. So why would a community devote precious hours to researching a path another community has already travelled?

It is mutually beneficial to pick up the phone and ask a peer from another organization if they’ve engaged in similar activities. Recommending resources and contacts or sharing lessons learned can save weeks of research. Feeling that one’s experience and expertise are valued and will have an amplified positive impact fosters pride in one’s work. It can provide a sense of excitement about future projects.

Minding the Gap

A popular approach to building resilience in the workplace is developing a flexible mindset. In a fixed mindset, failures are regarded as permanent or shameful instead of opportunities to adapt and grow.

When falling over an obstacle, a community-minded person will likely warn the person behind them about the tripping hazard. They may value the safety of others over any embarrassment or even feel proud to offer a path to safety.

The advice of those who have walked a similar path is valuable in building and executing approaches to situations and projects. Indigenous communities may be rich with collaborators who are resilient and willing to offer insight into the missteps they’ve taken or obstacles they’ve encountered so that others may succeed.

Building Trust

The ability to rely on and support others is foundational to the survival of First Nations. It continues to be a part of how communities thrive. However, it takes time and care to develop trust with others. Being open to what our instincts tell us and taking information without forming an immediate conclusion is good practice for any social situation.

Offering some openness and vulnerability can also encourage others to open up. A good sense of what is appropriate to share while being authentic to who we are should foster safety in a new relationship. As each party shows the other care and respect, those boundaries may expand and invite more trust. 

Once trust is established, peers can be instrumental in recommending who to trust and warning us about who may not be worthy of our trust. People accountable to their peers and community likely don’t want to see their colleagues get burned.

Protecting Wellbeing

Many positions lack organizational counterparts or lateral colleagues who understand their work, even as part of a team. Finding this outlet can reduce stress through emotional and practical support, providing an opportunity to share frustrations and successes.

Engaging with colleagues in other positions and across sectors can foster new perspectives and opportunities, increased confidence and self-esteem, and a sense of belonging and purpose on a bigger scale. Like building a solid structure, power is built by support. Celebrating each other’s strengths while learning from each other’s experiences is foundational.

The Joy in Trade

The trade show floor is a highlight for many networking at conferences. Visiting booths offers a structured way to learn about organizations, products, and services. The trade aspect of a gathering provides an opportunity to support local Indigenous vendors and chat with locals from outside the conference’s participants, too.

Conclusion

Communities have distinct needs that require experts based in the community to navigate. However, mutual support and recognition through networking can ease journeys, replenish spirit, and create new pathways. Even if a relationship doesn’t result in sharing resources or working together on projects, resilience is a positive outcome.

The Fund’s recent experience gathering with Indigenous financial professionals, administrators, and leaders at the AFOA conference provided networking, learning, and professional development opportunities. We’re looking forward to meeting you at future conferences.

Opportunities

Many Indigenous-led conferences are devoted to specific areas such as education, children, health, and housing. Here are some organizations offering broader scopes that focus on leadership, partnerships, and networking. Signing up for their newsletters is the best way to receive notices of upcoming opportunities.

According to Forward Summit, their conferences bring together the very best of Indigenous and non-Indigenous business and community leaders. Conveniently hosted in multiple regions, Forward Summit offers a chance to meet “decision-makers from a variety of industries as we collectively chart a new course into the future of leadership and innovation.”

The Canadian Council for Aboriginal Business (CCAB) is a non-profit Indigenous organization that hosts five annual awards events. These events bring together Indigenous and non-Indigenous business and community leaders to network, share ideas, and join the broader conversation about the Indigenous economy. CCAB describes its events as a place to “share best practices, explore solutions to today’s business challenges, and create new opportunities.”

The International Funders for Indigenous Peoples (IFIP) is a global community of funders that has hosted four international conferences, including a summit in New York City. At their events, key Indigenous leaders, IFIP members and visionary grantmakers meet to discuss the most important issues in the field, from Indigenous women and climate change to decolonizing philanthropy that participants described as “pivotal” and have “changed their perspectives and how they work.”

The Assembly of First Nations hosts national gatherings on various topics relevant to First Nations leadership, including trade, women in leadership, and asset management. See what’s coming up here and mark your calendars for the annual Winter Gala at the beginning of December.