Respect All Altars

Nov 2, 2015 5:15 PM ET

A personal essay by Calvin Harlan, Tribal engagement lead, Indigenous Relations U.S., TransCanada

As TransCanada moves ahead in implementing its Indigenous Relations Strategy with the many Tribes it interacts with, various aspects of developing positive respectful relationships must be considered.

The cultural/spiritual side of relationship building is one such aspect. Each Tribe the company engages has a unique spiritual background, which shares core principles with other Tribes in Native America. In my journey, I have strived to follow a rule taught to me by my grandfathers, that of “respect all altars.” Let me explain.

As we move through life, so does each Tribe. Growth occurs in different ways and directions, through ceremonial traditions, language and spirituality are constants for each Tribe we work with.

Striving to understand the cultural/spiritual dimension of Tribes we work with is an integral part of engagement. It informs the way meetings are conducted with Tribes. Many meetings begin with prayer. It is through this prayer that we come together to form our working relationship. This forms a part of how we develop respect and honor one another.

Often times the company allows for gifts to be presented to the Tribe – a gift of tobacco, sage, sweet grass or some other medicine that the Tribe or members can use in ceremony. The ceremonies represent healing with Mother Earth, with themselves and with individuals’ relationships with others. From these acts, we develop a respectful relationship.

Each Tribe’s beliefs, spiritual traditions and views of its homeland differ. They have a bond with the land that surpasses personal feelings and reservation boundaries. It is through this bond and understanding by the company that people can identify that the company’s interests are positive for all involved.

Indigenous Relations practitioners use various methods when engaging with a Tribe on a project. I have seen Tribal monitors burn sage before going to work on a project. This is done as protection from any negative elements they may encounter while working. Some Tribes hold a ceremonial sweat lodge before and after working on a project with the company. The reason being they may find something culturally significant on the right of way. This ceremony is performed as a protection and a bond that the find will be handled in a culturally appropriate manner pleasing the ancestors and spirits of those that have gone before.

When TransCanada initiates engagement with a Tribe regarding a project, we try to meet in their homeland. We ensure we show respect for their cultural diversity and meet their people with an open handshake and mind.

Through our efforts and those of the Tribes in maintaining open lines of communication, we establish the foundation for building mutual understanding, which is fundamental to identifying opportunities and resolving potential issues that may arise. Recognizing the cultural/spiritual aspect in communicating with Tribes assists with achieving respectful results and outcomes for both the Tribe and the company. We strive to maintain this level of interaction with Tribes.

It is through these types of interactions that we achieve positive respectful trust-based relationships, which allows us to work with the Tribes at a higher level of understanding, while fostering a deeper respect between both the Tribes and the Company.

November is Native American Heritage Month, which is a good time to reflect upon our engagement with Tribes in the United States. Native American Heritage Month is a national platform to highlight Native American cultures and traditions.

You can learn more about our commitment to engaging with Tribes and other Indigenous Communities in our 2014 Corporate Social Responsibility Report.