Strong relationships are built on trust and understanding. Something as simple as a conversation, face-to-face dialogue, is often the most impactful way to begin building trust and understanding. For First Nations and local governments in BC, finding the time and resources to sit down and build a relationship between communities can be challenging.
Since 1999, the Union of BC Municipalities (UBCM) has worked to enable relationship building between First Nations and local governments through their Regional Community to Community Forum program (C2C). The program is designed specifically to help community leaders connect by offering a small grant, used to help cover the costs involved in hosting a forum event. Since the program began, approximately 520 forums have been hosted by First Nations and local governments across BC. The success of the program is due in part to First Nations and local governments recognizing the need to engage across their respective boundaries.Peter Ronald, Programs Officer with UBCM, has been involved in administering the C2C program since 2011. He notes that while the program doesn’t direct the communities involved towards a specific outcome, everyone wants healthier and more economically successful communities.
“Wherever you are is where you should start – which may mean gathering to break the ice with newly elected councils,” Ronald explains. “Other communities have advanced well beyond the ‘let’s get to know you’ stage to establishing MOU’s (Memorandums of Understanding) or protocol agreements and then turning their attention to tourism or economic development strategies”.
Ronald notes that while it is not always easy to bring people together – especially in more remote areas of our Province – it does time take to build a relationship, build the trust and then start working together.City Manager, Ruth Malli, describes their first experience with the C2C Forum program as an opportunity to open the door and begin to build the foundations of a strong relationship.
Since then, the Town and Stz’uminus First Nations have been involved in upwards of seven forums through the UBCM program. As the relationship between these two communities strengthened, they have been more strategic in the topics they select to focus and work together on.
“Probably the most powerful (forum) I would say was the one we did with a facilitator – David Gouthro – that was brought in to talk specifically about building relationships, building capacity, and understanding each other,” recalls Malli.
In order to better understand each community’s perspective, participants from both communities worked through an exercise called ‘We think you think (blank) about us – the truth is (blank)’. Malli describes feeling a bit hesitant going into the exercise, but quickly realized there are just as many myths that they had about Stz’uminus as Stz’uminus had about them.
“We killed ourselves laughing about what each other thought, but didn’t really want to say. It was just so good and to this day we still joke about it.”
Relationships are powerful things, and as Ronald attests “today is the best time to turn a page and start to improve those relationships and build towards a more prosperous future together.”
About the Community to Community Forum
The goal of a Regional Community to Community Forum is increased understanding and improved overall relations between First Nations and local governments. The forum events are intended to provide a time and place for dialogue to build on opportunities, resolve issues of common responsibility or interest and to advance tangible outcomes.
To qualify for funding, a Community to Community Forum must include direct dialogue between elected officials of neighbouring First Nations and local governments, and work to advance specific deliverables, such as agreements, products and tools, related to outcomes from the dialogue.
In addition, events must work toward one or more of the following objectives:
- Educating and informing the participating governments about current issues in relationships between the First Nations and local governments
- Strengthening relationships and fostering future co-operative action by building stronger links between First Nation and local government elected officials and staff
- Advancing local governments and First Nations to more formal relationships through protocols, MOUs, service agreements and/or collaboration on plans or projects
Grants under the Regional C2C Forum program are modest: the maximum grant is $5,000 and the applicant is required to provide fifty percent (50%) of the total eligible costs for the forum in cash or in-kind contributions.
- Events must include direct participation by elected officials from both First Nation(s) and local government(s)
- The date of the event(s) must be set and provided to UBCM
- Willingness of the elected officials of the partnering community to participate in the event must be confirmed and provided in writing to UBCM
- The communities engaging in dialogue must be neighbouring. However, “neighbouring” may mean in the vicinity of, but not necessarily immediately adjacent to.
The Community to Community Forum program is administered over the course of the fiscal year
(April 1 to March 31) and two calls for applications are generally announced each year – in the
spring and fall.
The application deadline for the fall intake of the 2015/16 program is Friday, October 16, 2015. Applicants will be notified of the status of their application by November 6, 2015. Information on subsequent application deadlines will be available on UBCM’s website.