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Indigenous Planning: Six Examples of Creative Engagement that Work

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“Our 3-D map was put together, painted and decorated by our community members. It is a teaching tool for our members, from community history to future planning.” – Samantha Noganosh, Head Councilor and Lands Clerk, Magnetawan First Nation

We know that having as many people from your Indigenous nation engaged in your land use planning process as possible is a powerful way to ground the plan in your nation’s values, visions and priorities. But people are busy. Your planning process is competing with the demands of family, health, school, and work commitments. How many of us would like to be involved but end up feeling disconnected from what’s going on in our communities, convinced we don’t have anything to contribute?  


In our travels, we’ve encountered some innovative approaches Indigenous nations are using to meaningfully engage people in the planning processes that will have an impact on their lives.

Here is a selection of six examples of creative approaches to get your own ideas flowing.


Six examples of creative approaches to community engagement

Share project information farther and wider: Mulitmedia, multiplatform communication

Example #1: Shawanaga First Nation Videos – Land Use Planning and Environmental Management Planning

It sounds simple, but if you want people involved in a project, they need to know about it. You know where your audience likes to get its information: put your message where they’ll see it. Online, Facebook is a good bet, but distributing across many social channels will likely hit more of your audience.


Shawanaga First Nation chose video to get the message about their land use and environmental planning out to their citizens and beyond. “Anishnabe people are visual and hands on learners,” says Tobias. “So these videos really hit home. Thousands of views in less than a few hours.” Read our blog about Shawanaga’s story and how to use video for maximum impact here.


Or watch the video here:




Providing people with clear and accessible information about a project is key! Make sure your message is delivered in a format and in language people will easily understand. If they have to figure out what you’re on about, you’ve already lost them. Test out any communication before you send it – ask an Elder, ask a child if your message is clear.


To reach the widest audience possible (from youth members to elders), share information through as many different media as possible. Here are some examples:

  • Hang information posters around the community
  • Mail out community flyers – and no, paper mailouts are not dead. Stats show people do look at things that arrive by mail.
  • Send emails and post on your website and Facebook page
  • Host a community meeting and provide lunch
  • Get your community champion (more about that below) to visit people’s homes and talk about the project

Not only does the community need access to information, but people need to be ignited with a reason and incentive to participate in community planning. Project content should be impactful! It should speak to what matters most to people. It should make people see themselves and their concerns reflected in what’s happening.

Tip: Don’t forget to include contact information for the community champion to make it easy for people to respond and get involved – a phone number and an email, for example.


Go to where the people are: Community feasts, pow wows, school presentations, Elder’s homes for tea

Example #2: Wasauksing First Nation Youth Pizza Lunch

Don’t assume that people will just show up to an information or engagement session (especially if there’s no food). Get creative and go to where the people are!


When Wasuksing First Nation wanted the youth perspective on their land use planning, they brought pizza to the local highschool and had an enlightening chat with the students about where young people play, hang out, and use the land. The visit was a chance for an unscripted conversation that added valuable information to the planning process. At the same time, it created the opportunity for the voice of the nation’s youth to be heard – and for those young people to know their voices matter.


Example #3: Magnetawan Land Use Study - Participatory video

When it comes to youth engagement, follow their lead. Sometimes this means letting them show you their world, their way.


A few years ago, when we were assisting Magnetawan First Nation with a Land Use and Occupancy study, we put video cameras into the hands of the youth, and asked them to document the places they loved the most. The footage that came back gave a unique and powerful perspective on what mattered to the youth – a glimpse into a world us adults seldom get to see.


Watch a clip of that video here.


Tip: Make sure whoever is filming understands the power of picking a scene and STAYING STILL for at least five to ten seconds at a time. Otherwise whoever is reviewing the footage better have a strong stomach and like rollercoasters.


Tip: Make usre you capture good quality audio, especially of people’s voices. Use headphones and listen back to your recording, to make sure it sounds good. If people have a hard time understanding what someone is saying they won’t watch the video.

Engaging Elders

Another valuable perspective that you might miss at bigger meetings is that of your Elders. If you want to engage elders, particularly those with mobility or hearing challenges, try stopping by their homes for a cup of tea. For those visits, consider bringing a voice recorder to document the conversation.


Piggy back on what’s already happening

Another idea is to piggyback on other community events or meetings where you know members will already be in attendance. For instance, set up a land use planning information booth at your nation’s pow wow and get people to share some of their visions and hopes on a visioning board.


Include interactive activities: 3-D mapping, photo voice or participatory video projects

Example #4: Magnetawan First Nation 3-D Mapping

Using interactive activities can be a great way to capture community visions for land use planning. As part of their land use planning process, Magnetawan First Nation invited community members to help build a 3-Dimensional model of their community. It was a great way to engage community members about the land use plan while creating a useful resource for the planning process. As Samantha Noganosh from Magnetawan First Nation says,


Angie Noganosh and Anthony LaForge, MFN

“Our 3-D map was put together, painted and decorate by our community members. It is a teaching tool for our members, from community history to future planning.” – Samantha Noganosh, Magnetawan First Nation Head Councilor and Lands Clerk


Photo: Angie Noganosh and Anthony LaForge working on the 3D map


Everyone who sees this model wants one! Watch this space for a detailed how-to blog on this super impactful planning tool.


Integrate a little incentive through some healthy competition: Photo and logo competitions

Example #5: Shawanaga First Nation logo competitionSHAFN Logo contest winner

Example #6: Driftpile Cree Nation photo contest


Sometimes, people just need incentive to participate in activities and that’s okay! Providing incentive through fun competitions such as photo or logo contests is a great way to get people involved and excited about the project while generating content for your plan.


Shawanaga First Nation’s logo contest generated some beautiful artwork. The first prize winner’s logo was featured on the cover of their Land Use and Environmental Plans, and runners up had their work displayed in the document.


Driftpile Cree Nation’s photo contest yielded an astonishing selection of fantastic imagery. Not only could people celebrate the beauty of the land, their plans became that much more accessible because people could see the land they love reflected in the plans themselves.


Create a fun contest poster and share it far and wide. Announce prizes for a) best landscape photo b) best photo of people out enjoying the land c) best harvesting photo, and so on. Make sure you build prizes into your planning budget!

Tip: Make sure people have the supplies they need to participate. For example, bringing some art supplies to the local school might help your budding artists more easily engage in your contest.

The secret ingredient: Pick the right community champion

Having a dedicated community champion for your planning process is the secret ingredient for ensuring that great community engagement happens. A community champion should be someone that is connected to the community and its members, someone that is enthusiastic about the project, and someone that is organized and able to multi task. The right community champion will get the job done!


Bonus: Create your Community Engagement Checklist

It is important to be prepared and to plan for your various community engagement activities. Creating a community engagement checklist that is specifically designed for your own community is a great strategy for increasing community participation in your planning engagement session.


Here is an example checklist:





Selecting Date & Time        Date:____________  Time: __________




Does the proposed time conflict with other important community events?




Can the community meeting be attached to another event that is already planned and taking place?




Does the proposed date & time conflict with regular trips from the community (i.e. medical centre days)




Selecting Venue                   Venue:_________________




Is the venue centrally located and easily accessible for participants?




Is the venue a location where participants already gather?




Promotion of Event




Can the community meeting be promoted by:




-      Identifying a community champion to invite people?




-      Flyers/posters to be distributed in the community?




-      Posting details on local community boards?




-      E-mail blast?




-      Social media (consider Facebook ads)?




-      Local radio stations, news outlets and/or local newsletters?




-      Local community groups?




-      Personal phone calls




Is there a contingency plan in place if nobody shows up to the meeting? (i.e. local coordinator drives around to pick people up, going around and knocking on doors)








Is a feast required? (If so, select appropriate meal that caters to the audience)




Are snacks (beverages and snacks) required? (If so, who will provide?)








Do you need any equipment for this meeting or activity?




-      Projector & extension cord




-      Laptop, power cord & HDMI/VGA cords




-      Portable microphone & speakers




-      Sign-in sheet




-      Other:

(e.g. aisles, flip charts, markers, pens, note pads, etc.)








Are child care services required for the meeting? (If so, they must be advertised)




Are adequate transportation options available for participants?





Indigenous Planning Blog Series

This is the eighth post in a series that explores ways Indigenous communities have used the planning process to create an exciting vision for their future and a realistic roadmap to get there – and some resources and ideas for you to do the same. We hope you join us for the rest of the ride.  And please get in touch if there’s a topic you’d like us to explore.


Read more posts in this series:


Looking for help with community engagement? Or other planning help?

If you are trying to figure out how to get started, do give us a shout. We’d be happy to discuss your options and help you weigh the pros and cons of your planning options. We’re a team of self-proclaimed planning geeks who love to talk about this stuff, so don’t hesitate to get in touch.


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About Us: Shared Value Solutions

We are a Canadian B Corp, and we assist Indigenous communities with support throughout regulatory processes surrounding major development projects like mines, hydroelectric facilities, transmission lines, highway expansions, oil and gas pipelines, natural resource transport applications and nuclear power. 


We have deep context and experience behind the recommendations we provide, having worked for our clients on almost every major project in Canada over the last 10 years. For us, it’s all about building long-term relationships with our clients. We want to get to know you and what you want to do so we can help you move your plans forward. 




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