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Fostering Safe Spaces for Dialogue and Relationship-building Between Newcomers and Indigenous Peoples: Wise practices for the relationship-building process and recommendations for the development of an orientation toolkit

Posted on:
January 26, 2020

Executive Summary

“Winnipeg, Manitoba has one of the largest proportions of urban-dwelling Indigenous Peoples in Canada and a rapidly emerging newcomer population. Both broad communities share much in common including histories of colonization; shared cultural, traditional, and communal values; and experiences of racism and socioeconomic challenges. This makes Winnipeg an important case study on relationship-building processes between the two communities.

In partnership with The Immigration Partnership Winnipeg and The Winnipeg Foundation, this study endeavored to gather diverse voices, perspectives and experiences to understand the importance of relationship-building between newcomer and Indigenous communities. Stories were collected through semi-structured interviews, and various community leaders, knowledge keepers, elders, academics, support workers, and activists with links to newcomer and Indigenous communities were interviewed.

The report focuses on the dynamic relations between the two communities in the present context of Winnipeg. Following insights and stories gathered, we suggest several wise practices for the relationship-building process as recommended by participants. In so doing, the report seeks to inform a framework related to the development of an orientation toolkit for newcomers.

1. Where we currently stand

Relationships between newcomers and Indigenous Peoples are dynamic and ever-changing. There is momentum to bridge relations between the two broad communities in Winnipeg. Important conversations around reconciliation and decolonization have begun to occur, which have increased the level of awareness about Indigenous struggles, rights, and traditions. A core group of community advocates and activists are championing these efforts. In spite of the positive trend toward cross-cultural collaboration at an institutional level, the state of affairs on the ground remains tense and complex. These tensions are expressed in the form of xenophobia and racism, negative perceptions, and misinformation between individuals and segments of the two communities.

2. Path forward: wise practices for relationship-building

A path forward may necessitate that newcomers and Indigenous communities come together and lean on one another based on the historical and cultural dimensions of each community, forming in its essence the relationship nucleus. In terms of history, newcomers have to understand what has happened to Indigenous Peoples in ways they are able to perceive linkages to the present realities of Indigenous communities. In relation to culture, its sharing can be a foundational place to allow newcomers to understand the experiences of Indigenous Peoples considering the fact that both communities highly respect storytelling, ceremonies, and traditions.

In this context, the need for safe spaces where authentic experiences can form is of prime importance. Members of newcomer and Indigenous communities can come together in such spaces to learn about each other. At the present time, spaces supporting cross-cultural dialogue and interaction are for the most part generated by organizations. Even though these are valuable in their own right, these spaces created through programming offer a “controlled experience” rather than an “authentic experience”. Few spaces are organically established at a grassroots level to nurture authentic interactions.

Moreover, based on this report, a range of methods and actions to facilitate processes of relationship-building are suggested through which engagement and interaction between newcomer and Indigenous communities can be initiated and strengthened. They include the following methods and actions:

  • ‘Territorientation’: There is interest from Indigenous community leaders and activists to be part of the welcoming process of their “newly arrived relatives”. This will require increased leadership from the Indigenous community.
  • Land-based learning: Land-based learning requires newcomers to see and understand where and how Indigenous Peoples occupy ancestral homelands and territories both presently and traditionally. It implies leaving urban spaces and visiting places out on the land in natural environments.
  • Storytelling: Storytelling is a powerful method to communicate complex experiences and values across cultural groups. Considering that newcomers and Indigenous communities both have a rich oral history tradition through which values and culture are transmitted, opportunities exist to make connections.
  • Organic relationship-building: Building authentic relationships implies that the principles of trust, respect, and reciprocity should guide cross-cultural connections. Orientations and educational initiatives for newcomers should aim to build long-term and sustainable relationships with Indigenous communities.
  • Activism and allyship: Building relationships through allyship to support each community’s causes as a way to bring newcomer and Indigenous communities together is essential. They allow communities to develop an understanding of each other and enact reciprocity and collective action.
  • Meeting role models: Relationship building by having newcomers meet Indigenous role models is impactful. Intergenerational representation when meeting role models should be considered.
  • Institutionalizing relationship-building: In the settlement sector, building the capacity of organizational leadership and staff is essential. Capacity building may be achieved through training, and ensuring culturally safe policies and practices are in place to support such efforts. Moreover, newcomer-serving agencies should hire Indigenous staff and Indigenous serving agencies should hire newcomer staff to support the institutionalization of relationship-building.
  • Sport: Recreational activities that are easily accessible and not difficult to commit to can be attractive to build relationships between newcomer and Indigenous communities.
  • Life skills: There is a need for cultural exchanges to have a greater purpose beyond understanding difference. Indigenous Peoples may have life skills that newcomers might find valuable and vice-versa. Creating safe spaces and mechanisms to ensure exchanges of life skills is necessary.
  • Faith and spirituality: The sharing of spirituality and spiritual teachings that communities hold is important. These practices can help in healing from historical trauma and spiritual oppression that move beyond physical or material aspects.

3. Orientation toolkit recommendations

An orientation toolkit was recognized as an indispensable resource to support agencies serving newcomers. The development of a toolkit has been championed by community and organizational leadership involved throughout this study and previous discussions. Recommendations were gathered with the aspiration to develop a framework which can inform orientations upon arrival in Canada. Findings suggest that the development of a toolkit should involve the following components: 1) relevant information related to Indigenous history and culture; 2) treaty-related information; 3) discussions on stereotypes; 4) positive stories; and 5) a list of relevant resources.

In addition, Indigenous elders, knowledge keepers, leaders, and activists should lead the delivery of orientations, wherever possible, with the support of representatives from the newcomer community. Furthermore, gendered and intergenerational representation should characterize the delivery of orientations, and settler testimony on the harms of colonization and land dispossession, and strategies on how to repair them should be considered throughout this process. When delivering the orientation toolkit, it is suggested the following aspects should be emphasized, including: employing an anti-oppression approach; explaining the linkages between historical and contemporary issues; centring interactive and experiential methodologies; and ensuring the presentation and language of delivery is accessible and appropriate.

Through these considerations, a platform for the preservation of these tools should be developed to exist in the form of a ‘living document’. Its ownership should be vested with the community at large, and a centralized resource platform must be continuously updated to respond to current topics and trends.

In light of these insights and experiences, this report seeks to enhance our understanding of methods and processes through which relationship-building can be established between newcomers and Indigenous Peoples. Consequently, we hope it will equip newcomers to play an important role in shaping and contributing to the future of Canada; a future that embodies social and environmental justice, healing, and reconciliation.”

Also available in French (PDF).


Research at a Glance is designed to inform the Immigration, Refugees and Citizenship Canada (IRCC) community and other interested parties about recently published, policy-relevant research from government, academic and NGO sources. The views expressed in the documents described do not necessarily reflect those of IRCC.


The report focuses on the dynamic relations between the two communities in the present context of Winnipeg. Following insights and stories gathered, we suggest several wise practices for the relationship-building process as recommended by participants. In so doing, the report seeks to inform a framework related to the development of an orientation toolkit for newcomers.