Until recently, Jessica Pickett worked as a Lands Management Coordinator for the Aamjiwnaang First Nation, a band government in southwestern Ontario, Canada. The community lies directly across the border from Port Huron, Michigan, and some members of the reserve reside in the United States and beyond.
The distributed nature of an on- and off-reserve membership can make it challenging to conduct voting events. Here, Pickett explains how OneFeather's technology and voting helped Aamjiwnaang First Nation engage more effectively with their community.
Q: Can you tell us a little bit about the Aamjiwnaang First Nation?
Jessica Pickett (JP): Aamjiwnaang First Nation is located in southwestern Ontario on the St Clair River and just south of Lake Huron, about three hours from Toronto, and west of London.
With a membership of approximately 2400, roughly 900 people live in around 240 households on the reserve itself, the balance of membership live off reserve. Some of these people live in the United States, other provinces and every member is entitled to provide input on issues that affect the Aamjiwnaang First Nation.
Q: How do you use the OneFeather app?
JP: OneFeather was originally introduced to the membership to conduct surveys. We wanted to reach off-reserve members, including our members in other provinces and abroad about matrimonial real property surveys, governance surveys and surveys about specific claims.
As you know, land is communal according to First Nations governance, so it's for all members to provide input to help Chief & Council make a decision.
Q: How do First Nations typically perform community engagement? In the past we would have used mailouts or put out announcements in a community newsletter mailed to all members. The problem if we didn't have their address, we had no way of reaching them.
We never knew if it was being delivered to our members, and had no way of knowing whether we were actually engaging with our audience.
So, it wasn't uncommon at all to receive some feedback, such as "We weren't consulted, this is the first we've heard about it."
On top of that, paper-based mailout costs money, take a considerable amount of time and resources to organize. At the end of the day you don't know if your efforts have had the desired effect.
Q: How is OneFeather different than traditional engagement methods? As you know, besides offering electoral services, OneFeather also provides an online voting platform. Since OneFeather conducts surveys and other voting events online, we were able to receive instantaneous reports and updates about what was happening.
We were able to see when people opened email notifications, if they had completed the surveys, and if they had experienced any problems (how people voted was, of course, hidden from us and was completely confidential).
If anyone did seem to be having problems, we were able to proactively contact them to see if they needed help.
Q: How did you persuade members to use the OneFeather online voting app? The Aamjiwnaang First Nation lies within the city limits of a major urban area, so there were no issues with connectivity. To encourage members to the sign up for OneFeather, we launched a targeted signup and had students and volunteers out at a variety of events. We also held sessions with elders and helped them sign up. We also sent out mail outs to off-reserve members, emailed the information, used social media, and the Aamjiwnaang web page as sources to educate members about onefeather.
People who don't have computers or iPads may have issues with voting and filling out surveys online. So, we still provided paper surveys to our members as well with a partial mailout to American members for one survey due to the Canada Post strike. We continue to deliver paper surveys to our on-reserve members in about 240 households.
However, the paper mailouts still had a low participation rates, especially when compared with online engagement.
Q: What are the benefits of working with OneFeather?
JP: The OneFeather team took the time to communicate with Aamjiwnaang First Nation to listen to our needs and develop a plan that worked for us. Since working with OneFeather, the community has become more engaged (and is becoming more familiar/comfortable with onefeather application?), while the amount of effort it takes to facilitate surveys has gone down.
It also helps us track our membership information, such as changes to contact information. The member is in charge of doing this through the app.
OneFeather is a voting registration and vote management tool that makes it easier for organizations to engage and communicate with membership, conduct mission critical voting events, carry out legitimate decision-making and reduce the costs and strain of administrative management.