Help Bridge Cultural Gaps With A Career In Aboriginal Engagement


Each day, Canadian natural resource companies contend with the challenges of maximizing growth and economic potential from land. And as the fastest growing and youngest segment of Canada’s population, First Nations, Métis and Inuit people are becoming exponentially more active in making their mark, not just culturally, but in the realm of business and industry as well.

Because so much mining and energy potential is sourced on culturally-significant Indigenous lands, establishing mutually beneficial partnerships between these groups is crucial to prevent communication breakdown and deep personal rifts. In order for both sides to be heard equally, they need a single representative voice.

With a career in community affairs or Aboriginal engagement, you can lend them yours.

What does an Aboriginal Liaison Officer do?

With over 4,500 Aboriginal people making up 7.5% of Canada’s mining labour force, it’s expected that First Nations, Métis and Inuit communities will play increasingly relevant roles in mining and energy-related industries in the coming years. Creating and sustaining the natural partnerships that resource companies have with Aboriginal communities is the top priority of ALOs, and it’s their job to ensure an environment of harmony, trust and respect for all parties involved.

Also known as Community Affairs Managers, or Community Liaison or Aboriginal Engagement officers, ALOs are the primary points of communication between groups. Unlike conventional spokespersons, they speak on behalf of everyone involved, with the goal of bridging cultural gaps and establishing common understanding through conflict resolution. Government organizations also sometimes hire ALOs.

ALOs set up meetings with a wide variety of groups, including Aboriginal communities and governments, non-Aboriginal communities, and corporations, local, provincial and federal governments, and non-governmental organizations.

For this very reason, ALOs must be familiar with the cultural protocols unique to each group. Apart from taking the lead in discussions on sensitive issues, ALOs have to adapt their communication strategies to fit cultural nuances and tailor the decision-making process to the specific circumstances of the negotiations.

What qualities does an ALO need to have?

As an ALO, you should have a knack for diplomacy and know how to diffuse tense situations without losing sight of the prize. It also helps to have a keen sense of intuition and fair play, as ALOs must often deal with highly emotional issues and should be level-headed enough to steer a heated discussion back to its relevant points.

Communication and language skills are also crucial to building trust and friendship with Aboriginal communities. While many non-Aboriginal Canadians can—and do—fill these jobs, First Nations, Inuit and Métis people have inside knowledge of the culture they’re representing and the advantage of understanding what works when it comes to facilitating deals and negotiations.

Another skill relevant to an ALO’s job description: a high degree of organization. One of the main duties of an ALO is setting up regular meetings between groups, which could range from simple one-on-one discussions to full-scale forums, complete with panel groups, guest speakers and catered refreshments.

Of course, equally important is the ability to follow through—ALOs must have the discipline to monitor the progress of post-discussion developments, research any additional information needed and create summarized reports on the proceedings, which are then presented and shared with the appropriate parties.

Why become an ALO?

When you consider that the task of sustaining harmony among multiple communities rests largely on your shoulders, it’s clear that the job demands much more than just the average effort.

ALOs find fulfillment in helping others discover how to break cultural boundaries and develop mutual respect. They interact with various personalities and learn to tackle a wide range of issues, from corporate and legal to societal and historical. Conflict is common, but you’ll have the satisfaction of being part of the team that finds its resolution.

Most importantly, you’ll help Aboriginal communities find common ground—and shared success—with industry players working for national economic progress. You may not always be sitting at a desk, but you’ll be part of the reason why people shake their hands on it.

It’s a tall order, for sure. But the rewards are even greater for those who do it well.

ALOs can come from a wide range of educational backgrounds, including business, humanities, environmental science, public administration, engineering and many more, but should have education or experience in First Nations, Métis or Inuit relations.

Visit TalentEgg’s Aboriginal Career Guide to find more career resources for First Nations, Métis and Inuit students and recent graduates.


Photo credit: British Columbia to develop liquefied natural gas industry by Province of British Columbia on Flickr
About the author

Jeleen Yu is a long-time TalentEgg contributor and former assistant editor. She graduated from Ateneo de Manila University (Philippines) in 2007 with a degree in business management. She was all set to start a career in the corporate world, but a sabbatical made her realize that her real passion lay in writing and the publishing industry. After serving as a writer and editor for the newsletter of a non-profit organization in the Philippines, she now resides in Vancouver and is currently working towards an editing certificate at Simon Fraser University.