By creating a relaxing atmosphere, with snacks, coffee, and calming music, the Mi’gmawei Mawiomi Secretariat (MMS) hoped to get a sense of what is most important to the three communities it serves – Gesgapegiaq, Gespeg, and Listuguj.
The concept was developed by Donald Jeannotte-Englehart, the Community Engagement Officer with the MMS.
“MMS has not been involved in the … three communities for a couple of years,” he said. “We wanted to reconnect with the people.”
The key was to have the sessions in an easy-going and informal way.
People are use to meetings where a speaker stands in front of a crowd to relay information. Unfortunately, some people can find these scenarios intimidating, especially when it involves asking potentially embarrassing questions. The MMS is trying to find a way around this.
Over the course of six weeks, nine Mawiomi Cafes have been held – three in each community.
People were invited to come out to sit and talk over coffee.
“There’s no agenda,” Jeannotte-Englehart said.
The Executive Director, Tanya Barnaby, found that conversations often flowed naturally.
“You start by having one discussion, and it leads to something else, and then another question pops into someone’s head,” she said. “You started talking about wind, and you ended up talking about moose. And that’s really what I like to see.”
Like everything the MMS does, there’s a citizen engagement component.
“Top [priority] is definitely citizen engagement,” Barnaby said. “For us, it’s number one, no matter what you’re doing.”
At the end of the cafes, people were asked to fill out surveys, to help the MMS organize feedback.
“The most popular [topics] are the negotiation process, the land claim and Ango’tmeq Nm’tginen which is the GMP, (Gespegewagi Management Plan),” Jeannote-Englehart said.
With the first round now finished, the MMS plans to use the findings to help inform people where it counts.
“We need to have the people know about this stuff, and it’s difficult because people have their own lives,” said Jeannotte-Englehart. “The goal – it’s to get the message to them, so they give us what they want for the future, for their kids.”