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Indigenous Engagement in the Time of COVID

Indigenous Engagement in Nuclear

In the years and months prior to the COVID-19 pandemic, Indigenous engagement was an important priority for many companies in the nuclear supply chain. Responding to shifting social values, customer and market incentives, and new benchmarks for Coroporate Social Responsibility (CSR) and Environmental, Social, and Governance (ESG) practices, executives and employees sought out support to develop internal Indigenous Relations programs (PAR), and connected with peers, local Indigenous communities and stakeholders.

Companies attempted to learn and adopt new culturally aware practices; navigate the space between Indigenous communities, stakeholders, project proponents, and license holders; and add value to existing programs and initiatives. While no two programs or initiatives were exactly alike, there were actions, processes, and methods shared amongst the companies as best practices, providing the foundation upon which many programs were built. These included community visits, event sponsorships, job and business fairs, and other engagement activities with Indigenous communities and groups.

COVID-19 Restrictions

The arrival of COVID-19 halted many of these activities and initiatives, as cities locked down, travel was restricted, and companies scrambled to adjust to a new operational reality. Many Indigenous communities – often rural, remote, and already chronically under-resourced – closed to non-residents to prevent community spread that would devastate their most valued and vulnerable, and refocused internally on critical operations and community support. And now some four months later, unsure of if/when this pandemic will recede, communities and companies are trying to navigate the various phases of lockdown and implement new social and health practices to hold off the next wave.  

What does this all mean for Indigenous engagement?   It has created an opportunity.

An Unprecedented Opportunity

The COVID-19 pandemic has provided an unexpected and unprecedented opportunity for companies to re-evaluate the values and priorities foundational to their Indigenous Engagement programs – Why are we doing this? There is time to assess the efficacy and impact of the standard processes and methods traditionally employed. Is this working? The new operational environment will require a fundamental transformation of how companies plan, implement, and assess any future activities and projects. What needs to change?

OCNI Indigenous Engagement Plan (IEP) Assessment and Redesign

For OCNI, a comprehensive assessment process, and advice and guidance from the OCNI Indigenous Engagement Committee (IEC) and Board of Directors resulted in a thorough redesign of the OCNI Indigenous Engagement program and plan. The results included renewing OCNI’s commitments to:

  • Engage and communicate with Indigenous communities, organizations, and stakeholders with expertise on Indigenous relations;
  • Participate in the CCAB PAR Program;
  • Support Indigenous employment and business development initiatives engaged by our nuclear partners and members;
  • Support members developing and implementing Indigenous Engagement Plans (IEP)
  • Provide awards for Indigenous students attending nuclear industry related programs

And, developing and implementing new initiatives including:

  • Identifying Indigenous businesses, and their capacity and capability to meet OCNI and nuclear supply chain community contracting and procurement requirements;
  • Incorporating Indigenous content into our Town Hall and webinar series, and corporate communications channels

This is the perfect opportunity for companies to reflect inward as to why and how they engage Indigenous communities and groups, to develop programs centered on support and capacity development, and to include Indigenous peoples in the process of identifying priorities, defining success, and setting time frames. Taking advantage of this opportunity and meeting these new challenges won’t be easy, but the relationships and results will be worth it.

-Joseph Bastien, Manager Indigenous Engagement and Special Projects

(Originally published July 29, 2020)