ARCHIVED - Community Engagement takes many forms during T’Sou-ke First Nation’s Comprehensive Community Planning

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For the T'Sou-ke First Nation, putting together a Comprehensive Community Plan (CCP) does not just mean scheduling a series of boardroom meetings. Instead, the small Vancouver Island Aboriginal community 28 kilometres west of Victoria meets under the stars, around campfires and even in health clinics to gather perspectives from its members.

"What we want to focus on is ‘visions' – things that we want to see for our people in the next hundred years," says Willow Dodge, a T'Souke First Nation   artist and public health worker who's been involved in the CCP process for over a year. "There's no limit to what we can do if we put our heads together."

Willow Dodge designed a stylized eye logo for the CCP to represent T'Souke First Nation's visions for the future
Willow Dodge designed a stylized eye logo for the CCP to represent T'Souke First Nation's visions for the future.

Titled "Visions in Progress," T'Sou-ke's CCP program focuses on engaging as many of its 219 community members as possible to incorporate individual, family and community goals.

"The process is a real opportunity to build relationships and do a whole community exercise," says Andrew Moore, T'Sou-ke's community planner.

Since beginning the CCP process in March 2007, some of the most frank, insightful community input has resulted from meeting outside the office, according to both Dodge and Moore.

For example, every Thursday morning, mothers and young children from the T'Sou-ke Aboriginal Child Development Group meet at the local health office. The moms are able to discuss their dreams for the future of their children and how they relate to the community plan (with CCP planners) while the tots play.

T'souke moms'n'tots
T'souke moms'n'tots meet every Thursday for storytime, play and a little community planning.

"The mothers hope that all the problems from the previous generation won't be there for the next generation," explains Moore. "Their idea of the future is what is going to be a safe, healthy community that their kids can grow up in."

T'Sou-ke youth are also encouraged to contribute to the CCP process. Though engaged from the beginning of the process, T'Souke's youth did not always feel comfortable expressing themselves in formal meetings. Taught to be respectful of elders' views, the young people of T'Sou-ke First Nation are not always comfortable sharing their opinions in elders' presence.

In order to hear these young, strong voices, CCP planners organized a "Camp and Council Weekend" in 2007. At the three-day camp, 15 young people from T'Sou-ke's two reserves discussed their role in the community between fun outdoor activities like canoeing, swimming and kayaking.

T'souke First Nation youth
T'souke First Nation youth provide input to their community's CCP.

The CCP team encouraged youth such as 16-year-old Amanda Mobely to talk about community issues in a game where they answered: "What would you do if you were Chief?"

"If I was Chief, I would use some of the education funding to keep kids in school - incentives for attendance and grades," Mobely said. "I would make surveys to get kids' ideas and get them more involved. They need to start young to learn how to be more responsible, so they can succeed when they're older."

Since T'Sou-ke's "Camp and Council Weekend," the group started a youth council that meets once a month. During this forum, the young people of T'Souke talk about issues important to them as well as the comprehensive community plan. Mobely and many other T'Sou-ke youth now attend youth council meetings regularly since the camp weekend last summer.

"Because of the youth council, I get to learn new stuff and I get to learn how to lead the way for other kids," says Mobely.

Regional CCP meetings encourage networking

Sharing successful practices with and learning new strategies from other First Nations communities is important to the CCP process. In June 2008, Indian and Northern Affairs Canada hosted two workshops in Westbank  , B.C. that brought together planners from across the province to improve their plans and to help implement them effectively.

The two-day workshops also provided the opportunity for planners to network and receive encouragement from others involved in CCP.

"I know whenever we bring communities together, one of the greatest benefits is the networking that happens and having that peer-to-peer support," says Colette Anderson, a Strategic Planning Officer with Indian and Northern Affairs Canada who helped organize the workshops.

For more information on CCP please e-mail or contact the Strategic Planning Manager at 604-666-2247.