This paper explores the ways Aboriginal-led organizations use community engagement
processes to address the issues underlying many of the challenges urban Aboriginals face. Community engagement refers to processes where people come together to collaboratively address issues that affect and are of importance to the community, and to come up with community-based solutions. It is assumed that programs, services, plans or policies developed with community involvement will be more responsive and effective than those developed from the 'top-down.' Community engagement also has a number of other benefits, which includes supporting the development of a cohesive and active community. Engaging the community, however, is not a straightforward process when engaging with the urban Aboriginal community. Urban Aboriginals are one of the fastest growing and youngest populations in Canada. The policies and attitudes that supported colonization and assimilation have worked to break up Aboriginal communities and destroy positive Aboriginal identities, and have also promoted
discrimination against Aboriginals. This has resulted in a number of socio-economic issues affecting urban Aboriginals, and has also presented a number of challenges to engaging the urban Aboriginal community. Mainstream services and programs have not been effective and have resulted in poor outcomes for urban Aboriginals. Given the role of governmental and non-Aboriginal organizations in producing and perpetuating the challenges urban Aboriginals face, Aboriginal-led organizations are at the forefront in involving the urban Aboriginal community in developing community-based solutions. These organizations recognize the impacts colonization and assimilation have had on urban Aboriginals and are utilizing the process of community engagement to not only involve the urban Aboriginal community in finding new and more effective approaches to the issues they face, but to also to help ameliorate these issues through the community engagement process itself. This highlights the importance of the process of community engagement and not only the end result of the engagement, particularly in relation to
marginalized groups. By identifying both the methods used by urban Aboriginal-led organizations to engage the community and the values that guide them, some of the promising practices of community engagement that Aboriginal-led organizations are using to promote a positive and involved urban Aboriginal community needed to resist further marginalization are illuminated. In order to better understand the ways urban Aboriginal-led organizations use the processes of community engagement to address the challenges faced by urban Aboriginal communities, a review of the community engagement strategies currently being used by Aboriginal-led organizations based in
western Canadian cities and towns was conducted. Aboriginal-led agencies utilize the process of community engagement in order to address some of the roots of the issues they work to alleviate with the urban Aboriginal community: lack of a sense of belonging, negative self-identification, lack of skills and confidence, and few supportive opportunities to participate in decision making. Their approaches are guided by the
values that define Aboriginal-led organizations. They address all aspects of a person's life, respect their clients' opinions, are culturally sensitive and use traditional values and knowledge to support positive identities and feelings of community. Most importantly, they work toward the empowerment of individuals and the urban Aboriginal community as a whole. While the government has the material resources to address these issues, the historical relationship and legacy of colonization, combined with the racism that many urban Aboriginals face when accessing mainstream services, highlights the importance of Aboriginal-led organizations in this process. Many of these organizations, however, rely in part on government funding. This funding is often contingent on the evaluated effectiveness of the work the organizations do. Evaluative tools that focus on individual- and family-level impacts of community engagement will be most effective in measuring the change produced by community engagement by Aboriginal-led organizations in the short term. It is important to note that eliminating the systemic discrimination many urban Aboriginals experience is also the responsibility of governments and of other Canadians if wide-spread improvements are to be made.
Green, Breanna. (2012). Urban Aboriginal Community Engagement ( Unpublished master's thesis). University of Calgary, Calgary, AB.