Smart Cities Challenge Application

Question 5: Please describe how your community residents have shaped your Challenge Statement. Describe your plans for continuing to engage and involve them in your final proposal going forward. This section should include:

  • Descriptions of previous engagement with residents, businesses, organizations, and other stakeholders on topics related to the Challenge Statement.
  • Descriptions of feedback that came to light through past engagement processes.
  • Links between the Challenge Statement and engagement feedback.
  • Evidence of efforts made to be inclusive and to represent the community’s diversity.
  • Plans to sustain engagement through the development and implementation of the final proposal.

Our Challenge Statement and the outcomes were developed in consultation with our community and a decision was made to focus on our students.

Our Engagement Philosophy
We believe that the development of a strong Nation is dependent on our capacity to meaningfully engage our membership by creating opportunities that facilitate active involvement in all matters affecting their lives. Community engagement isn’t viewed as a one-time event, but rather a way of existing. Our engagement processes are continuous and reflect the collective knowledge of the generations which existed before us.

We utilize a vast array of methods to provide opportunities for our residents to be actively involved. Our engagement practices are aimed at promoting inclusion of all community members. We are committed to fostering an environment which allows us to have a shared understanding of the problems, causes and potential solutions faced by our Nation. Fostering and incorporating our community’s input, views and dreams into everything we do, is one of the reasons we exist.

Our Engagements
Our initial engagement on this project began with our Senior Management Team and our Chief and Council. Utilizing their cumulative knowledge and understanding of the diverse community needs, challenges, strengths and vision, our leadership provided insights and suggestions that helped form the challenge statement and outcomes of this proposal.

Through information gathered through strategic planning sessions, program evaluation processes and other consultation activities, the community wanted the First Nation to bring our children back to the center of everything we do. The group identified the social determinants and risk factors faced by our youth. They examined the current strategies and services and identified some gaps. Discussion occurred on the potential threats and opportunities that exist for our youth. A greater understanding of the root problems affecting our youth and the sought outcomes were attained from this engagement process.

Aadsookaanan (Sacred Stories) Revitalization Committee
The Aadsookaanan Committee consists of a group of elders, youth, traditional knowledge holders and some technical support people. They have been mandated to reconstruct our sacred stories and make recommendations to assist in ensuring that the traditional knowledge contained in our stories are once again central in transferring identity and cultural values. This reconstruction project was in direct response to addressing the issues of identity and belonging amongst our youth. Not knowing who they are as a Nishnaabeg is one of the most critical risk factors for our youth.

Our meeting began with the re-telling of our reconstructed Great Flood Story. Our elders used this story to talk about our youth and the challenges they face. Our elders also utilized the story to demonstrate that solutions to these challenges are also contained inside of our aadsookaanan. Elder Collette Goodchild says our aadsookaanan and our language will provide our youth with direction and guidance. The aadsookaanan need to be the principles upon which we build our world and how we raise our children. She further shared that bringing back our aadsookaanan and the ways of telling aadsookaanan will empower our people and allow for the transfer of knowledge and build our identity.

The elders voiced the importance of reaffirming our traditional principles in a manner that has relevance in the modern society. Our social structures have been damaged by colonization and this has disintegrated the methods by which we transfer knowledge. The group feels that technology would allow us to establish a new social structure for the transfer of traditional knowledge. We must consider the realities of the new technical world.

They provided feedback on the importance of teaching our children the skills and knowledge to meaningfully participate in the modern technologically-driven world. Along with identity, our children need to be equipped with math, science, computer, technology and other related skills, in order to be successful in and contribute to the world. The group believes that modern technology could, in itself, provide solutions to these challenges.

Our Statement Challenge and outcomes reflect the compelling body of data and knowledge that is carried by our elders that reflect generations gone before us. Our elders believe any effort to build a true sense of Nishnaabe identity must ultimately be communicated in our Nishnaabe language; our language expresses our world view. Likewise, and as emphatically, our elders advise that our aadsookaanan must be part of our youth’s foundations. They also expressed the need to develop a modern social structure to facilitate the inter-generational transfer of traditional knowledge. And finally, our elders indicate that our youth require the skills and knowledge to actively participate in and contribute to the modern, technologically-driven world.

Wiijiiwaagnag (Special Friends that accompany one)
This is a self-developed high school student support group.

The students emphasized the importance of identity, belonging and knowing one’s self to living a good life. They shared their longings for their language, ceremonies, stories and other aspects of their cultural ways. They want programs to support building a stronger sense of identity.

Most students feel they are not equipped for the technological world. Access to technology-based courses at the elementary and secondary school levels is very limited. They feel that exposure to technology should occur at an early age and continue throughout their education. The students believe that the digital world provides opportunities to close the gap.

Simply put, they want to walk this world with cultural pride and a strong sense of identity and be equipped with the tools of the modern technologically-driven world and make meaningful contributions to the world. We believe our Challenge Statement and outcomes are reflective of the needs of our youth.

Language Revitalization Team
Mandated to reconstruct our “dead” language, this group successfully led this very sensitive and emotionally charged community-based project. High levels of engagement were attained in this project and we felt this group would add value to our youth-driven strategy.

This group shared experiences from their community engagement sessions that occurred over a four-year period. They provided suggestions on how to develop and maintain long-term relationships. They emphasized how technology helped save our language.

They shared stories of the incredible sense of loss many individuals experience as a result of not understanding or speaking their own language. An elder equated language loss with the loss of spirit and the loss of the very essence of one’s existence. Without language our youth no longer interact with the universe as Nishnaabeg.

One of the most important takeaways from the engagement with this group was language revitalization is fundamentally about restoring our identity. Our youth are struggling with identity and this will not be fixed in the absence of language.

Our challenge statement and outcomes directly address the findings from our engagement session with this group. Language revitalization is a foundational part of this proposal. Our proposal will build upon the academic research and best practices utilized by the language revitalization committee and will work collaboratively with this group.

Mental Health Conference
In March 2018, Biigtigong Nishnaabeg hosted a regional mental health conference aimed at service providers. A variety of topics and presenters addressed core issues (e.g., trauma, suicide, colonization, recovery) faced by our people. In the discussions relating to topics specific to our youth, the findings reiterated the information we collected.

Our front line staff felt that issues such as inter-generational trauma and shame could only be addressed in the realm of culturally-inclusive methods. The complexities of the situation are only compounded by the fast pace of the modern world. A holistic approach, one that blends our cultural ways with needs of the modern world, is required for all programs aimed at youth.

Sustained Community Involvement
In order to achieve the outcomes of this project, we are committed to ensuring our community remains actively involved throughout its entirety. Part of our engagement strategy is to continue to utilize the existing structures and systems to ensure this project reflects local priorities, needs and aspirations. We will work closely with the Senior Management Team in the development and implementation of the final proposal.

Youth involvement will remain a priority and opportunities will be provided to elicit their input and direction into this project. The Wiijiiwaagnag Youth Group, our elementary and post-secondary students will be engaged through formal meetings, workshops, social activities, classroom activities, and one-on-one discussions.

The Aadsookaanan Reconstruction and the Language Revitalization Committees are committed to working collaboratively on this project. Regular working group meetings will occur and the procedures governing Committees of Council will apply. Our elders must guide how we will pass-on our language and aadsookaanan in the modern technologically driven world.

We will organize an engagement session(s) with technologically savvy staff and community members. This specific group can add value in the discussions of the technological component of this project.

We will conduct information and consultation activities to engage the community at established community events such as our pow-wow and our spring and fall harvesting camps. We will also utilize Biigtigong’s communication networks and systems for community engagement and reporting. We are excited about the engagement process and the opportunities to empower our people to explore new alternatives.