Blog: Increasing Indigenous Engagement in the Healthy Great Lakes program

The efforts of CELA and the Healthy Great Lakes program to enhance the capacity of organizations working to influence freshwater policy in Ontario have been significantly improved over the years by the wisdom and contributions of many Indigenous advisors, consultants, and collaborators. We understand and value the relationship that Indigenous Peoples have with water. We recognize, and continue to prioritize addressing, the significant challenges with access to clean water that too many Indigenous communities face.

In alignment with CELA’s strategic plan and mandate of furthering access to justice and environmental protection, we are committed to increasing our engagement and outreach to Indigenous Peoples and communities throughout the province. This includes determining how we can better support Indigenous involvement and participation within the Healthy Great Lakes program and improve our service delivery to Indigenous communities within our organization as a whole.

In 2021, CELA asked Coeuraj – a transformation practice that exists to build a more inclusive, collaborative, and sustainable world – to assist us in facilitating an in-person, internal workshop focused on reviewing our current Indigenous engagement efforts, and to prepare a report outlining their findings and recommendations for next steps. Coeuraj helped us identify operational and programmatic changes that would allow our work to be more connected to Indigenous land and water stewardship initiatives.

The discussion and review highlighted that CELA has strong existing relationships with Indigenous individuals, groups, and organizations from which we can build and expand. It also outlined many areas where CELA can and will strive to deepen our learning, extend our outreach, and offer more value to Indigenous Peoples and communities with whom we are privileged to work. Coeuraj’s report also helped CELA to recognize the barriers entrenched within some of our current practices, that must be addressed and improved if we are to move forward and grow our relationships with authenticity and respect.

The report presented a series of recommendations built around two priorities:
• understanding the implications of current policies on the ability of Indigenous organizations and communities to engage with CELA’s work
• exploring ways the Healthy Great Lakes program could offer support to existing Indigenous-led initiatives within the region

Thanks to the discussions at the workshop and the recommendations in the report, CELA staff were able to centre and articulate plans for improved Indigenous engagement and leadership within the Healthy Great Lakes program and we were successful in securing renewed funding from the Charles Stewart Mott Foundation as a result.

With a further two years of funding secured, CELA will continue to work toward ensuring clean, affordable, safe drinking water and freshwater health for all life, with a focus on vulnerable and marginalized communities. CELA is grateful to the many Indigenous leaders and collaborators who have offered their time and insights, and we look forward to co-creating solutions aimed at building meaningful relationships and increasing participation in water-related decision-making in the Great Lakes region.

To learn more, please check out the Healthy Great Lakes page on CELA’s website and subscribe to CELA’s monthly electronic newsletter.