Indigenous planners brainstorm at P.E.I. conference

Before a new form of community planning came to Jesse Hemphill's First Nation on Vancouver Island in 2008, the area had no hotel.

They didn't need one — they had no businesses.

But constructive community plans are long range, she said, so they included a hotel in the plan anyway and thought "maybe in 50 years." 

"Well, in five years we created an economic development strategy, an economic corporation and bought and renovated not one, but two, hotels filled with our community members working there, and our art, and a real sense of pride," she said.

Hemphill was one of several Indigenous community builders attending the national Constructive Community Planning (CCP) conference this week in Charlottetown.

She hopes the gathering will lead to more success stories.

"Several First Nations communities in the mid-2000s were frustrated with the imposed planning that the federal government was asking them to do," she said. "So the First Nations came up with a more holistic model that allowed us to look at all the facets of the community at the same time."  

Working with P.E.I. First Nations

Jenene Woolridge of Lennox Island is the CCP adviser for the  Atlantic region. She said a community-led process would work best for Indigenous communities in Atlantic Canada.

"Our communities know what they need," she said.

Woolridge and a colleague are working with three First Nations in Atlantic Canada, including Lennox Island and Abegweit on P.E.I.

Change isn't easy or quick — and that's the beauty of the planning, according to Hemphill.

"The comprehensive part covers everything in the community, the economy, governance, safety and recreation, lands and resources, natural environment. It is a high-level vision that informs the council and on-the-ground planning."

Woolridge and Hemphill agree that constructive community planning has been positive for all the First Nations participating.

"When we started the planning process it was a challenge to even sit in a room and have a respectful conversation without getting sidetracked about all the issues in the community," Hemphill said.  "We learned some good techniques for having good dialogue and facilitated conversations." 

Both women say they and their communities are energized by the engagement process. There are more than 500 people on the CCP Facebook page. The group is also working on getting people certified as CCP planners.

'It's a living document'

T'Sou-ke First Nation, which has 250 occupants on the southern tip of Vancouver Island, has benefited from CCP by focusing on long-range sustainability. In the last decade, the T'Sou-ke have been operating a solar micro-grid, wasabi and oyster farms and an eco-tourism enterprise. They have also launched a large-scale wind project.

Woolridge said the First Nations in Atlantic Canada have gathered their data but it will be awhile before their constructive community plans are ready to present.

"It's a continual process," she said. "It's a living document."  

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