Indigenous Advisory Committees - Centering Indigenous Approaches

Indigenous Advisory Committees - Centering Indigenous Approaches

Indigenous Advisory Committees - Centering Indigenous Approaches

As consultants for Indigenous community organizations, we work with clients who want to better support their Indigenous Advisory Committee.  In the last post of our series on supporting Indigenous Advisory Committees, we are highlighting Indigenous practices and approaches you can apply.

The ideas we share in this post are broad strokes.  There will be differences in engaging in these approaches depending on whether the Advisory Committee is for a community, for a non-Indigenous business or organization, or whether the organization is local, regional or Canada-wide.  The level of trust that you have built with communities and community members should also guide you.


The language and terminology used can make an impact on the tone and setting for the table.  We’ve worked with and served on committees that have used Indigenous languages in their documents and meetings.   Vision and Mission statements might be created in Anishinaabemowin, for example, and translated to English.  Some committees use terminology that is more inclusive, less western or business oriented.  We worked on a committee who decided on having a First Speaker instead of a Chair to align better with Indigenous leadership concepts.  Some committees have renamed their committee in an Indigenous language to better connect their committee’s mission or vision to Indigenous knowledges.


Typically, committees reach decisions by a majority-vote or by consensus.  But how do these concepts work from an Indigenous worldview.   What does consensus mean for different Indigenous nations? We recently worked with an Advisory Committee that is going to begin practicing Indigenous ways of decision-making, understanding that it requires time and room for reflection and discussion.  Though this may be a challenge when faced with specific timelines or deadlines, it is a sign to think critically at who is setting the deadlines and who is being prioritized.


Step out of the conventional committee model.  If your advisory committee mandate is not tied to specific regulatory, government or legal requirement, then you have flexibility to take a different approach to your terms of reference documents.

It’s crucial for a committee to have a clear purpose, be consistent in its practices, ensure clarity in roles and expectations.  But that doesn’t mean it has to follow western business practices.  There are many ways to achieve this by following Indigenous practices under the guidance of knowledge or wisdom keepers.

Critical Reflection

It’s always good to reflect on the role of the Advisory Committee and whether your committee needs an Advisory Committee or something different.   For Indigenous community organizations it might make sense to have an advisory committee for specific programs and initiatives.

For non-Indigenous organizations, particularly ones with a long history in Canada, there might be a better mechanism for advancing relationships and making systemic change.   Maybe your organization needs a more formal relationship or partnership agreement with Nations and urban Indigenous organizations.  In these cases, having an advisory committee with a weak mandate may perpetuate a feeling of lip-service.


We hope this series provides insights that can help your work with Advisory Committees.   As consultants for Indigenous community organizations, we love to explore ways to enhance committees that are effective and meaningful to all involved.  Please contact us if you have any questions.