Considerations for Engagement with Indigenous People

It is important to acknowledge the experience of Indigenous people in Canada if we are to truly end youth homelessness, particularly in light of their consistent overrepresentation in vulnerable populations. Indigenous homelessness is notably different; the structural and systemic determinants associated with colonialism, the Indian Act, treaty making, residential schools and the Sixties Scoop have resulted in considerable discriminatory impacts that are in fact intergenerational.[1]

A sense of being homeless can be experienced from diverse perspectives: cultural, spiritual or emotional. It is more than a loss of housing. The impact of colonization, residential schooling, intergenerational trauma, ongoing discrimination and racism in Canadian society has contributed to the ongoing systematic marginalization of Indigenous people, including Indigenous youth.[2]

This is illustrated by the higher than average proportion of Indigenous people experiencing poverty, violence, core housing need, low educational attainment and poor access to services and housing. As Indigenous people move into cities from reserves, their settlement and cultural reconnection needs must be addressed, along with the jurisdictional vacuums that impact their significantly reduced access to basic services both on and off reserves. This is notably relevant to Indigenous youth as well.

Indigenous people’s economic, spiritual and social development has been and continues to be negatively impacted by government policies and practices at the local, provincial, territorial and federal levels. In particular, the establishment of residential schools, reserves and the Indian Act resulted in a widespread and intergenerational loss of culture, language, community and identity still impacting today’s Indigenous people.[3]

Some Indigenous youth respond to discrimination and stereotypes  by distancing themselves from this part of their identity. Others have not had the opportunity to experience or develop a strong cultural identity due to the loss of teachings and traditions within their families or communities. [4] This is especially so for many urban Indigenous youth and those growing up in the child welfare system.

Recognizing these critical issues, A Way Home will, in the future, complement this toolkit with a more robust Indigenous module, which will include resources specific to Indigenous youth homelessness.

Key terms used:

Indigenous Peoples: Indigenous is a term used to encompass a variety of Aboriginal groups. It is most frequently used in an international, transnational or global context. This term came into wide usage during the 1970s when Aboriginal groups organized transnationally and pushed for greater presence in the United Nations (UN). In the UN, "Indigenous" is used to refer broadly to peoples of long settlement and connection to specific lands who have been adversely affected by incursions by industrial economies, displacement and settlement of their traditional territories by others. This the term we recommend using in the context of community planning.


Aboriginal: A collective name for the original peoples of North America and their descendants. The Canadian constitution recognizes three groups of Aboriginal people: Indians (commonly referred to as First Nations), Métis and Inuit (Aboriginal Affairs and Northern Development Canada).

First Nations (non-status): People who consider themselves Indians or members of a First Nation but whom the Government of Canada does not recognize as Indians under the Indian Act, either because they are unable to prove their status or have lost their status rights. Many Indian people in Canada, especially women, lost their Indian status through discriminatory practices in the past. Non-status Indians are not entitled to the same rights and benefits available to Status Indians (Aboriginal Affairs and Northern Development Canada).

First Nations (status): People who are entitled to have their names included on the Indian Register, an official list maintained by the federal government. Certain criteria determine who can be registered as a Status Indian. Only Status Indians are recognized as Indians under the Indian Act, which defines an Indian as “a person who, pursuant to this Act, is registered as an Indian or is entitled to be registered as an Indian.” Status Indians are entitled to certain rights and benefits under the law (Aboriginal Affairs and Northern Development Canada).

Inuit: An Aboriginal people in Northern Canada, who live in Nunavut, Northwest Territories, Northern Quebec and Northern Labrador. The word means "people" in the Inuit language — Inuktitut. The singular of Inuit is Inuk (Aboriginal Affairs and Northern Development Canada).

Metis: People of mixed First Nation and European ancestry who identify themselves as Métis, as distinct from First Nations people, Inuit or non-Aboriginal people. The Métis have a unique culture that draws on their diverse ancestral origins, such as Scottish, French, Ojibway and Cree (Aboriginal Affairs and Northern Development Canada). [5]

Due to the significant overrepresentation of Indigenous people among homeless populations in Canada, Indigenous communities should play a major role in all efforts to address youth homelessness. The planning process can create new opportunities for meaningful collaboration between mainstream and Indigenous communities, enabling diverse groups to come together to better understand the needs and experiences of marginalized community members.

The Homeless Hub has developed a summary on Indigenous homelessness in Canada and an overview of the causes of Indigenous homelessness.

Communities like Winnipeg and Yellowknife have pointed us toward resources that can help you in developing your engagement approach with Indigenous peoples. However, these communities have only recently engaged in the planning work. Their learning will greatly benefit our collective knowledge on this issue in the future.


One emerging insight from Winnipeg is that because many youth in the city have come from rural and remote areas across Manitoba, the engagement process must be broadened to include the region. Web-based and in-person consultations are being planned with Indigenous communities and youth across the province, which comes with additional resource needs but will ultimately enhance the effectiveness of the plan.

Another point to note here is that on-reserve Indigenous people may see rural and urban places as an extension of their traditional territories; as such, when we consider our approaches we can’t simply assume we are assisting ‘migrant’ Indigenous youth not otherwise connected to urban centres. In reality, Indigenous people may not be ‘migrating’ to the city, “but rather returning to a place that they have always known, historically, economically and spiritually,” says Albert McLeod of the Social Planning Council of Winnipeg.

Further, we have to also be cognizant that the paradigm from which youth-serving agencies approach their work remains grounded in Western post-colonial legislation and policy. In other words, we can’t assume that the established organizations that play a key role in addressing youth homelessness are necessarily aligned with Indigenous infrastructures’ relations with governments economic development on and on-reserve and urban reserve development, etc. (Albert McLeod, Social Planning Council of Winnipeg).

The following list highlights just a few of the things to consider when engaging with Indigenous peoples. Currently, there are limited youth plans with a concerted focus on Indigenous people. This is key priority for future iterations of this toolkit.

Table 21: Considerations in Developing an EngagementApproach with IndigenousPeople

Considerations in Developing an Engagement Approach with Indigenous People
from the Youth Engagement Toolkit
Purpose Are you clear about why you are engaging with Indigenous peoples?

Do you have support for the level of engagement you are proposing?

Focus Have you considered all relevant Indigenous voices on the matter?

Are there overlapping interests on the issues(s) among Indigenous people?

Ask those you hope to engage whether there are other people whom you should consider inviting to the table. This will help you better understand traditional social structures.

Review the governing systems of those Indigenous communities you hope to engage to have a working understanding of any protocols that should be considered and followed.

What are their protocols of engagement?

Youth Youth may require additional orientation to help them prepare and contribute to discussions with those already familiar with and involved in specific projects. Keeping the orientation youth friendly and offering a variety of formats to familiarize them with the information is useful (online, written, verbal briefings, etc.).

Try to make sure you include representation of both male and female Indigenous youth.

Acknowledge the discrimination faced by youth due to both their age and their ethnicity.

Another useful resource for engaging Indigenous youth that can be reviewed as you develop your approach isEngaging and Empowering Aboriginal Youth: A Toolkit for Service Providers.

Elder involvement Consider a face-to-face meeting with an Elder for introductions before the meeting.

Have you allowed Elders the opportunity to speak first and last?

Gifting You may want to consider gifting your distinguished and/or invited guests in addition to honoraria.

Seek advice from communities of origin as to what might be considered appropriate.

Respect, reconciliation and the relationship Acknowledge the traditional territory where a meeting is being held.

Have you considered a ‘neutral’ location if you are involving multiple Indigenous communities?

Do you know the traditional name of the group?

If you are meeting with one Indigenous group, try to have the meeting in the location of that group.

Traditional introductions are common among Indigenous cultures. Prepare to share your own family background at meetings.

Ask as many questions as required in order to remain informed and respectful.

Urban If your engagement issues impact urban Indigenous people, are you engaged with Friendship Centres?

Are you mindful of other organizations, apart from Friendship Centres, that serve urban Indigenous communities and could be included in your engagement?

Are you respecting local protocols even within the urban setting?

Women Are you recognizing the role of women within Indigenous communities?

Are you making efforts to capture the individual and collective perspectives of Indigenous women in your engagement?

Are you ensuring that Indigenous women’s political leadership and political organizations are being engaged?

Based on the Homeless Hub’s toolkit for building partnerships with Indigenous communities in the context of a PiT Count, the following strategies are useful in considering your consultation during the youth plan development. These were adapted to include the input of communities consulted in the development of the toolkit, as well as learning from the Aboriginal Plan to End Homelessness in Calgary.

Table 22: Indigenous Engagement Strategy Examples

Strategy Description Rationale
Inform Indigenous communities about the youth plan • Build relationships with Indigenous services, Community Advisory Boards (CABs) and umbrella organizations
• Distribute information at Indigenous cultural events and community/agency meetings
• Distribute posters and pamphlets to organizations & agencies serving Indigenous community members
• Utilize social media and email to distribute information
• Indigenous Peoples have the right to know about and be involved in research and responses impacting their communities
• Informing community members early will increase Indigenous engagement, participation, and volunteerism
Partner with local organizations • Partnerships should begin early and be ongoing
• Partnerships should be based in shared interests, benefits and goals
• Partner with:
○ Indigenous CABs
○ Indigenous umbrella organizations
○ Indigenous governments
○ Organizations/groups that represent the interests of urban Indigenous Peoples
○ Agencies/organizations serving Indigenous community members experiencing homelessness
○ Indigenouslyowned businesses
• Increases Indigenous participation and thus data quality and count accuracy
• Partnering with multiple organizations and agencies will better reflect the diverse views of Indigenous community members
• Partnerships can be mobilized in future efforts to address youth homelessness
Include Indigenous community leaders in your planning committee • Indigenous Peoples should play leadership roles in the youth plan
• Yoursteering committee should include as many Indigenous community members as possible
• The steering committee should include or be led by an Indigenous community member who is well-known and recognized by local Indigenous communities
• Partner with Indigenous community leaders to plan and implement Indigenous consultation events
• Indigenous leadership will likely increase Indigenous participation
• Indigenous leaders are best positioned to anticipate and plan for engagement challenges
Ensure Indigenous feedback • During consultations, communities should be asked how the youth plan research approach can reflect their concerns
• Community meetings should be in a highly accessible location and provide childcare (organizers may want to provide transit tokens)
• Community members should have multiple ways of providing feedback on the count (phone, email, office hours, etc.)
• Assists organizers in identifying and addressing local Indigenous communities’ concerns about participation
• Will help determine what additional research might be needed for the plan
Will help determine how the youth plan can provide benefits to both Indigenous participants and local Indigenous communities
Plan content that addresses Indigenous homelessness specifically • Guiding principles, vision and mission of initiative account for First Nations principles of Ownership, Control, Access and Possession; these are reviewed and agreed-upon by Indigenous community members in consultation rather than assumed by the working committee
• Indigenous homelessness is highlighted in the plan, with focus on history of colonization, inter-generational trauma and relation of these to overrepresentation among homeless population
• Research and analysis has an Indigenous lens to discern uneven access issues, overrepresentation, etc.
• Proposed plan direction and goals are considered with an Indigenous lens and specifically designed to meet unique needs
• Ensure Plan is tailored to meet the unique needs of Indigenous youth.
• Increases Indigenous control, ownership, interest and benefits in the youth plan
Ensure no harm to Indigenous communities • Equitable partnerships with local Indigenous communities is a key step in preventing harm
• Key considerations include:
○ Mitigating any risks of harm
○ Consent and confidentiality
○ Providing benefits
○ Returning research to the community
○ Ensuring respect for participants
• Increases Indigenous control, ownership, interest and benefits in the youth plan
Share plan with local Indigenous communities • Work with mainstream and Indigenous media to disseminate the final youth plan
• Youth plan should be sent to all Indigenous organizations, networks and agencies that serve Indigenous people experiencing homelessness
• Translate findings into multiple report formats and languages (e.g. pamphlet, PDF, PowerPoint, video, website) to increase knowledge translation
• Present findings at meetings of Indigenous umbrella organizations, Indigenous CABs, and Indigenous governments
Host a public meeting to share findings and receive feedback
Invite participation of Indigenous communities in activities to implement the Plan
• Improves public knowledge about Indigenous homelessness
• Informs program and policy development
• Findings can be used by organizations, advocates and agencies to advocate for additional funding
Partner with Indigenous communities to improve media coverage • Partner with Indigenous CABs and umbrella organizations to craft media messages
• Ensure Indigenous voices are included in media accounts
• Media coverage will reflect the interests and concerns of Indigenous communities
• Message will reach a broader audience