Engaging Communities in an Indigenous Cultural Heritage Initiative

Community engagement is the backbone of ICH initiatives. Community members bring unique perspectives on cultural heritage that can help inform how it should be managed. Facilitators of ICH stewardship initiatives can strive to be aware of and sensitive to the emotions, responses and complexities that emerge when engaging the community to share and discuss Indigenous traditions and culture.

This section presents information on:

Bringing the community together to think about and plan for an ICH stewardship initiative can be a powerful and impactful process.

How to Engage Communities

Starting important conversations with Indigenous communities around ICH can involve the following approaches:

  • Ground the work in culture and tradition: Consider how to incorporate cultural protocols and practices into the process.
  • Explore the ICH context in the community: Look to the Elders, Knowledge Keepers and other local ICH experts.
  • Focus on the positive: ICH leaders are champions of the planning process, emphasizing community strengths and visions for a good future.
  • Promote kindness, inclusivity and understanding: It is important for ICH leaders to be aware of community dynamics, and to remind people of their shared values.
  • Listen with compassion and provide support: Discussing ICH can bring up many emotions and memories for community members. Project leaders may want to identify support people, such as Elders and/or mental health workers, who can offer extra support throughout the process.
  • Develop group meeting agreements: An effective way to create a safe space is to outline a collective commitment for how participants will treat one another and work together. This could be rooted in the values of respect, compassion and kindness.

Questions to consider when planning for community engagement

  • Are there protocols or preferred processes that the community follows when gathering input from members?
  • Is communicating in person preferred over communicating online?
  • Are there dynamics that need to be considered to ensure the plan belongs to everyone?
  • Are there protocols guiding how information is shared and respected?

The steps described in the table below can help ICH teams plan for successful community engagement. Click here for more resources to support in planning and carrying out community engagement.

Decide on the focus of engagementThe goal of community engagement is to create a space for the community to guide the direction of ICH planning. Determine a focus for engagement and create a plan, but be flexible and follow the guidance of the community.
Determine who to engageThink about who to engage. Make a list of the key people to communicate with, and think about getting different perspectives to inform the initiative. (see the Identifying Key People Worksheet in Sections 5 of this toolkit).
Decide when to engageIt is important to consider the “when” so that everyone is able to participate in the planning process. Consider timing that allows those who are cultural leaders to attend. The best times to engage may reflect important seasonal activities or cycles in the community or Nation.
Choose the types of engagement to useConsider the type of engagement that might work best in the community. Different people respond to different engagement strategies, so it is useful to use multiple forms of engagement. (see Types of Engagement in Section 5 of this tool kit for some ideas.)
Plan for engagementAn agenda is useful when conducting meetings, workshops or sharing circles. The agenda should reflect the purpose of the meeting and the questions the ICH team is seeking input on. For tips on effective meetings, including example agendas, click here.
Turn engagement into actionOnce the ICH team has a clear purpose, method and approach, it is time to put the plan into action. Make sure someone is writing down the ideas shared during community engagement. These notes help document the team’s process, and they can be used to help guide the ICH initiative.

What is the best way to engage your community?

Every community is different. Some strategies for community engagement will work better than others, depending on where you are and who your community is. That’s why it’s powerful to have someone from the community leading this work: you know your community, so take some time to reflect on what kinds of activities and engagement would work best.

Understanding Community Context

Along with community engagement, it is important to learn about and understand the community context and needs as they relates to ICH planning and implementing initiatives. This can be done by asking some key questions during community engagement, and may also require additional research. Questions to consider include:

  • What are the strengths of the community with regards to ICH work?
  • What are some opportunities for ICH initiatives?
  • What are some barriers to implementing an ICH initiative? How can those be overcome?
  • Are there existing community or Nation ICH policies or initiatives? If so, what are the strengths and weaknesses of these existing policies?
  • What level of support is there from the community to engage in ICH work?

Depending on the scope of the findings, it may be useful to develop a summary or report that brings together the information gathered. This can be shared with the community and can help to inform the direction of the initiative.


Giving thanks and being reciprocal are important Indigenous values when engaging with community, especially respected community members such as Elders and Knowledge Keepers. When engaging with community, it is important to incorporate respectful protocols that express reciprocity.

Before the Work• Prepare honoraria, when appropriate.
• Provide childcare to promote inclusivity for families.
• Offer door prizes to show appreciation for the work.
• Explain the roles that participants might play, what they can expect, and find out what they need.
• Be clear about the time commitment being asked of community members.
• Choose a meeting place that is culturally relevant and welcoming.
• Ensure accessibility, including comfortable chairs for Elders.
During the Work• Give participants a chance to get to know each other.
• Offer refreshments and nourishing food such as coffee, tea, snacks and/or a meal.
• Serve Elders first and ensure they always have what they need.
• Create a safe environment.
• Give breaks for self-care, such as time outside and coffee breaks.
• Ensure the meeting ends on time.
After the Work• Provide a small gift to participants.
• Make sure everyone gets their honoraria and/or gift.
• Debrief with participants and create opportunities for them to provide feedback.
• Provide frequent progress updates to participants.

Honoraria and Gifting

Honoraria and gifting are signs of respect for peoples’ time and knowledge and are provided to people who volunteer their time, especially Elders. This offering is an essential component of engaging communities in a positive way. The amount and type of honoraria or gift will depend on the type of engagement involved, and practices around honoraria and gifting are different in each community. Seeking input from the community to determine what is appropriate can be a good strategy. Sometimes it is appropriate to directly ask participants what they would like for their time and knowledge, but this method should only be used after thoughtful consideration.

[insert photo]