Sign-up for The Talon, our Biweekly Newsletter!

Indigenous Planning: Three Questions to a Clear Vision

snow-covered sumac “Why are we doing this?”

Whether you are building a land use plan, a community energy plan or any other plan that creates a roadmap to a future you want for your nation, this is the basic question to be clear on if your planning process is going to be successful. That’s nice, you say, but how do we get to an answer that resonates for everyone?


Good question! No planning process can be successfully designed in a vacuum. You need a visioning process that enrolls all of your citizens in a way that is real and meaningful. And together, you need to create a vision that lights people up and inspires them to action - a vision that sets the tone for both the planning process and the way the plan is put into action. Here’s an example of a vision that pulls people toward a future they have fully imagined:

“With the wisdom of the past, the community of Leq’á:mel will be a healthy, safe, self-sustaining home where we will live in harmony, creating a better future for all generations.”

- Leq’á:mel First Nation Comprehensive Community Plan, 2014


Check out the careful choice of words in this vision, each of which evokes so much about the spirit of the place and its people: wisdom, healthy, safe, self-sustaining, home, harmony. I’m in! Are you?


Three great questions is all it takes*

Inside of a community-centered process (more on that below), here are the three questions that, in our experience, really get people to dig deep for what matters to them. Answering these questions will help your vision become clear and specific, and will paint a vivid picture of the future: 

  1. Twenty years from now (or ten, or fifty, or seven generations, depending on the planning horizon you choose), what kind of nation, community, and people do you want to be?

    • Get specific: Use adjectives to describe that future community, those future people. How do they relate to each other? What are they doing? Where are they living? What are their values, and what guides them?
  2. What do you hope will be different?
    • Get specific: What about the present will no longer be happening or will no longer exist? What will there be more of, or less of? What will be happening that used to happen that you would like to see restored, renewed, or reimagined?
  3. What do you hope will stay the same?
    • Get specific: What about the present do you love and need to preserve and enhance as you plan for the future? Think about what you need to protect from harm or erosion – be it environmental, social, spiritual, economic or otherwise.

* A shout-out to Dr. Stephen Cornell, whose presentation at the LABRC Economic Development Conference in 2019 helped distill the specific wording for these questions.


Bonus Question #4: How will we know we’ve successfully realized our vision?

Some years ago, we were walking along the air strip of a fly-in community in northern Ontario with one of the visionary leaders we work with. At dusk, the May air was brisk, snow still on the ground. Most striking was the stillness – the only sound, our boots on the gravel. We were talking, as we often do, about the future. Twenty years from now, we asked him, how will you know if you’ve achieved your vision? He thought for a moment. “Referee whistles,” he said into the stillness. “I’ll hear the sound of referee whistles.”


With that simple statement, that simple measure of success, a rich picture of the future he envisions sprang into view: a future with covered hockey rinks, tournaments, and all-season roads. A future full of engaged, healthy youth with adults guiding them and cheering them on.


What do you hear and see in the future for your nation? What lights you up and moves you to action? The vision is the foundation on which you will build your plan. It will inform the guiding principles, values, goals and objectives you develop throughout the planning process. Only when you know where you want to go can you create the map to get you there.


 “Animbiigoo Zaagi’igan Anishinaabek is a strong, healthy and proud nation. We are unified by our connection to the environment, our commitment to our traditional values, and our respect for each other. Our home at Partridge Lake is an environmentally sustainable, self-sufficient community. It is a safe, supportive place where we have the jobs and opportunities that allow our members to thrive and grow together.”

-Animbiigo Zaaq’igan Anishinaabek Land Use Plan, 2012


The nitty gritty: How to develop the vision, step-by-step

Because the best visions are built on the participation and input of the community, we have developed a broad approach to developing a vision that can be adapted and molded to fit your nation’s needs.

  1. Host a number of community meetings, engaging elders, youth, land users, women, and off-reserve members as appropriate. Consider having one or two general meetings in your community, at least one in a nearby urban center, with extra gatherings or workshops for elders and youth.
  2. At each meeting, introduce the idea of land use (or other) planning and then ask citizens to think about answers to the three questions outlined above:
    • Twenty years from now (or ten, or fifty, or seven generations), what kind of nation, community, and people do you want to be?
    • What do you hope will be different?
    • What do you hope will stay the same?
  3. Depending on the size of the meeting you may ask these questions as one big group or break into smaller groups so that everyone has the opportunity to participate and speak to the questions. Have facilitators on hand to make sure everyone who want to contribute has a voice.
  4. Record the answers on large flip chart paper around the room for everyone to see. Hand out stickers to every participant (five to ten each) and ask them to read the answers to themselves and place stickers beside the answers that they agree with most. This activity is often called a “Dotmocracy.”
  5. Alternatively, you can have people draw pictures, submit photos, write poems or otherwise express the input they would like to contribute to the process. Keep your mind open to all kinds of submissions. Some of the best ideas may come over tea at the home of an elder.
  6. After all of the meetings, compile the information and work with your planning team to rank the most popular answers. Incorporate the results into a vision statement that is brief, positive, and forward-thinking.
  7. Publicize and celebrate the draft vision statement. Consider using creative ways to express or expand on the vision statement (a mural, a poem, a song, for example), whatever best communicates. Your goal is to make sure everyone who participated can see the results of their efforts, provide feedback, and - most importantly of all – feel excited to participate in the next steps of your planning process!

Indigenous Planning Blog Series

This is the third 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:

Five Crucial Elements Every Land Use Plan Needs

Three Questions to a Clear Vision

Background Info Check List

Indigenous Planning Cheat Sheet: Five Types, Tips and Resources


Looking for 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.


Looking for a quick overview of some planning options you might be considering?

Download Planning Cheat Sheet


Like what you're reading? Get future posts delivered right to your inbox:


Sign-up for The Talon!


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. 



Recent Posts