General Issues
Planning & Development
Governance & Political Institutions
Specific Topics
Indigenous Planning
Housing Planning
Land Use
British Columbia
Scope of Influence


Musqueam First Nation Comprehensive Community Plan

December 13, 2023 brettmglover94
General Issues
Planning & Development
Governance & Political Institutions
Specific Topics
Indigenous Planning
Housing Planning
Land Use
British Columbia
Scope of Influence

For our final project in PLAN 500 at the University of British Columbia, we analyzed the public participation process in the Musqueam Comprehensive Community Plan, 2018. This is a great example of Indigenous community planning and collective decision making in practice.


As many years as the Western world has had the professional field of planning, there have been disagreements between planners at both ends of the political spectrum about the usefulness of public participation. Planners on the left debate about its usefulness because it tends to perpetuate the status quo, since the ‘public’ that is most likely to participate are those with the most privilege. Planners on the right tend to debate about it because it can slow down development, and is seen as another box to tick off the list. 

The Musqueam people–along with several other First Nations within Canada–have made quite a clear stance: public participation is absolutely integral to their planning. The instance of participatory planning that we've analyzed for this project is the 2018 Musqueam Comprehensive Community Plan. The plan itself would not have existed without public participation, because it is the community that decided together on the process of creating the plan, the various engagement activities, and in the end, the calls to action for Musqueam.

Background History and Context

Musqueam has been engaging in planning activities for over 9,000 years. In the past few decades, their approach to planning has evolved, eventually culminating in the 2011 and 2018 Comprehensive Community Plans (CCP). Three major planning projects created by Musqueam between 1993 and 2005 informed Musqueam's 2011 plan. These include the Community Development Plan (1993), the Physical Development Plan (1999), and the Strategic Infrastructure Management Plan (2005). Work on the first CCP began in 2007. The plan was approved in 2011 and updated in 2018. 

Musqueam's Comprehensive Community Plan is built upon the community's vision called nə́c̓əmat tə šxʷqʷeləwən ct, meaning "we are of one heart and mind." To achieve this vision, the community developed two core objectives: to become a self-sufficient, self-governing Musqueam nation and to become a complete, healthy Musqueam community. These core objectives informed the development of the following eleven community objectives:

  1. Address community's educational needs
  2. Housing needs
  3. Improve health and well-being
  4. Support elders
  5. Take pride in our culture
  6. Achieve financial self-sufficiency
  7. Protect the environment and conserve natural resources
  8. Advance better governance of the nation
  9. Support youth involvement 
  10. Help members get the jobs they want
  11. Address community's recreational needs

In addition to the core objectives and community objectives, Musqueam developed the following council objectives: Improve financial capacity, promote good governance, and support community health and well-being. These objectives were created based on the core and community objectives and offer guidance to councils for how they can support the implementation and success of the CCP. 

To achieve the core and community objectives, the community has laid out 21 actions that will help support its growth in these sectors. For example, to achieve financial self-sufficiency, Musqueam's actions aim to protect traditional rights and territory and improve government accountability. Additionally, Musqueam analyzed community needs through census data and engagement to determine the priority level of each action.   

A key element to the success of the CCP was the use of the 2016 community census. The census was divided into household and personal data. The household census survey collected information about each home and the people living there. The personal census survey collected individual community members' opinions about the community, their interests, administration, and council. It collected their health, employment, culture, and other demographic information. The census was an essential element in creating the CCP since it helped the community better understand who makes up their community and what their needs are.

Following the reprioritization of the community objectives through the Census, the engagement process commenced to identify the precise actions that will drive the Nation toward achieving their goals. For Musqueam, the community’s trust and engagement in the process was vital for ensuring the outcomes align with the community's distinct needs and aspirations. Enabling the involvement of Musqueam Nation members was crucial, prompting the organization of events tailored for both on and off-reserve members, youth, Elders, and Musqueam Administration members. These diverse options allowed individuals to choose how they engage with the planning process, with the process beginning with an open house style introduction into the CCP revision process in June of 2017. 

The Engagement Process

This process went beyond the summer of 2017, as an additional 16 in-person events were held until the fall of 2018. This extensive process was aimed at empowering the community to express their desired outcomes from the CCP. Among these events included more conventional engagement methods, such as formal meetings, engagement booths, and one-on-one interviews. Musqueam, though, went beyond the ordinary: the revision process was introduced at family meetings and an Elders’ luncheon, and the core of the community was captured through the youth’s perspective via a youth photo scavenger hunt. These events continued over time to include an Elders’ tea to discuss action ideas and a youth-focused event to prioritize their objectives. Moreover, specific events were designed to accommodate for the community’s desired form of input, as they encouraged writing, drawing, online surveys, and anonymous online contributions throughout the process. 

As the development of the CCP changed, the engagement process changed with it. At the start of 2018, sessions involving all departments within the Musqueam Administration were held to understand the feasibility, scope, and importance of the community-developed actions. Through this process, the Administration was not asked to provide additional action ideas, but rather assess the ones the community had already identified. This approach aimed to preserve the community-driven nature of the plan. Following this event, more sessions with the community were scheduled to introduce the updated list of actions and secure their confirmation. 

The engagement process brought responses from 360 participants, along with the prior 214 Census respondents, and garnered 1600 pieces of feedback on how the community can best accomplish the 11 CCP objectives going forward. Rather than imposing preconceived ideas of community improvement, trends in the data were allowed to emerge, and similar actions were grouped together. This organization refined the original 96 actions into 21. Priority was then given to the new actions that aid in accomplishing the high-ranking community objectives over actions that support the lower ranking objectives. Further, weight was assigned to actions based on the number of comments made in support of these items. This process bolstered the final product: a complete list of actions, entirely formulated and ranked based on community input, to fulfill their community objectives. Ultimately, the CCP was completed in October of 2018, soon followed by a community-wide celebration to commemorate the finalization – the last engagement event related to this specific CCP. 

Analysis and Lessons Learned

When drawing parallels between the Musqueam Community Comprehensive Plan (CCP) and various quantifiable measures of participation, three key dimensions come to the forefront:

1. Ladder of Empowerment

2. Ladder of Participation

3. Fung’s Cube


1. Elizabeth Rocha’s Ladder of Empowerment introduces a structured continuum, wherein the lower tiers signify lesser empowerment, and the higher tiers denote increased empowerment. Notably, the model charts a progression from individual empowerment, represented at the lower levels, to community empowerment, emphasized at the upper echelons. Empowerment, within this framework, is elucidated as a dynamic interplay between individual and collective agency. Actions focused on individual empowerment reflect the least potential power within a community, whereas endeavours catalyzing structural, political, and institutional transformations throughout a system embody the pinnacle of potential power.

To gain a comprehensive understanding of this empowerment ladder, it is imperative to delve into the administrative structure and historical context of the Musqueam community. Traditionally, decision-making among the Musqueam people was a collective and consensus-driven process. Initial discussions transpired within family groups, with family heads subsequently convening to make decisions that impacted the broader community. However, this traditional governance underwent a significant shift over five decades ago when Indian Affairs mandated the adoption of the Chief and Council system across all First Nations. Presently, the Musqueam government operates under an elected Band Council system, mandated to manage community affairs in accordance with the Indian Act and the Musqueam community's objectives. The Council serves as the representative body entrusted by community members to articulate their political perspectives and aspirations, akin to elected representatives in a democratic constituency.


The Musqueam community serves as an exemplar of a legal framework safeguarding their right to self-governance. Through collective mobilization and negotiations, the community has secured legal rights that empower individuals and groups across the entire population, community, or system. Consequently, this case exemplifies the highest rung on Rocha's Empowerment Ladder—Political empowerment—where legislative measures are enacted to shield groups from discrimination and safeguard rights that may have been infringed upon.

2. Sherry Arnstein’s Ladder of Citizen Participation 

reflects gradations of decision-making authority vested in community members across diverse institutions. The hierarchical structure of Arnstein's model illustrates a progression from a stage where participants wield minimal decision-making power to a stage characterized by a notable and substantial increase in the same type of power.

The Musqueam CCP has given the community the liberty of choosing their objectives and the decisions of ranking the actions to be taken to achieve these objectives. The weightage given to each action is also based on results from participation, indicating the attainment of a level of Citizen Control. In Arnstein’s words, citizen control is when “participants or residents can govern a program or an institution, be in full charge of policy and managerial aspects, and be able to negotiate the conditions under which ‘outsiders’ may change them” and Musqueam is a great example of this. Here, the public funding flows directly to the Musqueam community organization, and they have full control over how that funding is allocated. 

Fig 2: Ladder of Citizen Participation

3. Fung’s Democracy Cube

We analyzed the Musqueam engagement process along the following axes:

Participants (X-Axis):

The Musqueam community employed a strategic combination of open self-selection and targeted recruiting to involve all members actively. The engagement process involved open selection, wherein every community member received an invitation to participate. Also community organizers strategically invented spaces dedicated to elders and youth during meetings, fostering an environment that facilitated their meaningful contribution through targeted recruiting. This inclusive approach aimed to ensure a diverse and representative participation of the entire community.


Communication and Decision Mode (Y-Axis):

The Musqueam community adopted a deliberate and negotiation-oriented communication and decision-making model. This method engaged community members in a meticulous process of deliberation and negotiation to discern individual and collective preferences. Notably, community members played a pivotal role in identifying objectives and prioritizing them in terms of immediate address. This approach empowered the community in shaping the decision-making process and outcomes.


Authority and Power (Z-Axis):

In terms of authority and power, the Musqueam community exhibited a model of direct authority. Community members exercised their agency by selecting council members responsible for planning and implementation based on the community's unique needs. This direct authority bestowed upon the community gave them the ability to decide who would form the council, thereby consolidating power within the community and ensuring alignment with their values and objectives.

Moreover, the Administration in the updated CCP was not asked to provide additional action ideas, but rather assess the ones the community had already identified. This was important to moderate the scope of the Administration’s involvement in the creation of actions so as not to undermine the community-driven quality of this plan

Fig 3: Fung’s Democracy Cube; Source: (Fung, 2006).


This analysis sheds light on the effectiveness of their approach in fostering a sense of ownership and empowerment within the Musqueam community, setting a valuable precedent for future community engagement endeavours.


The answer for why this plan is important is in the name of the plan: nə́c̓aʔmat tə šxʷqʷeləwən ctnə́c̓aʔmat tə šxʷqʷeləwən ct, meaning “we are of one heart and one mind.” Used as both the name of Musqueam’s Comprehensive Community plan and the vision set to guide the plan. The idea of governing as a community in harmony is not necessarily a vision adopted by traditional Municipal Governments and planning practitioners. In a capitalistic society that aims to silo institutions and individuals within a “democratically elected” -- noting increasingly low voter turnout -- Mayor and Council, “community” as a feature of governance is not typically adopted. For this reason, looking to nə́c̓aʔmat tə šxʷqʷeləwən ct as both a pathway to community governance, as well as an example of Indigenous sovereignty makes this plan crucial to conversations about Participatory Planning. 

Often in conversations around Participatory Planning, one has a tendency to be led down a particular pathway–engaging at a Municipal level, often by showing up to Council meetings or Town Halls, usually within work hours, in which a particular demographic -- wealthy, white, male–is granted the floor. While this is certainly one way to engage within a community, it has a tendency to reinforce the same ideals Participatory Planning looks to move the needle on. In addition to this, it’s important to recognize that in conversations about how to improve the practices of Participatory Planning, particularly when it comes to engaging with First Nations and Indigenous community members, there is very little progress within colonial frameworks that aim to do away with traditional Planning practices. In Decolonization is not a metaphor, Eve Tuck discusses that because “settler colonialism is built upon an entangled triad structure of settler-native-slave, the decolonial desires of white, non-white, immigrant, post-colonial, and oppressed people,” efforts driven by this demographic can “similarly be entangled in resettlement, reoccupation, and reinhabitation that actually furthers settler colonialism.” For this reason, looking to examples of Indigenous sovereignty outside of traditional frameworks of Participatory Planning and governance is essential, and nə́c̓aʔmat tə šxʷqʷeləwən ct is just one of many examples. Additionally, this example makes a strong case for First Nations to continue to do their own engagement and planning work. 

UN-HABITAT is the United Nations agency for human settlements, and promotes socially and environmentally sustainable towns and cities. nə́c̓aʔmat tə šxʷqʷeləwən ct is recognized by UN-HABITAT internationally as a best practice project, providing a glimpse into Musqueam’s past, present, and future. UN-HABITAT explains that through the Plan’s “culmination of years of collaboration, innovation and learning,” this Plan “sets a new standard for effective, responsive and integrated community-based strategic planning,” and a pathway forward for Indigenous communities to become self-sufficient and self-governing, as well as a complete and healthy community. This plan, attributed a success, can now be found listed in UN-HABITAT’s Best Practices database, for future community planning use and guidance.

As mentioned above, nə́c̓aʔmat tə šxʷqʷeləwən ct can be considered a success within the community and beyond. By taking a comprehensive, community-driven approach, Musqueam’s Comprehensive Community Plan exhibits great strength. Published in 2018, nə́c̓aʔmat tə šxʷqʷeləwən ct directly reflects community input. Instead of Planners coming into the community with a preliminary plan or proposal and asking for feedback, the Plan is first created in conversation and consultation with Musqueam community members to determine the best processes and formats to foster engagement, and later built from the ground up using found information. Delineating from traditional Participatory Planning, Musqueam members of all ages and backgrounds are reflected in this plan, fostering community culture and care now and into the future. Additionally, as the next Musqueam Census is coming around the corner, building on lessons and engagement plans of the past, one can expect the next Census to be even more comprehensive. 

When it comes to weaknesses within the plan, there are some pitfalls in engagements. When it comes to collecting data for Musqueam’s own Census, it’s important to note that despite taking measures to engage with as many members of the community as possible, there is a gap in Musqueam’s total population, and the total number of community members that engaged in the Census, as well as the Comprehensive Community Plan. For engagement with the CCP, 360 participants were engaged, both from near and far using a variety of methods. However, there are 1284 known members of Musqueam. Additionally, in some participatory methods used, it is noted that limited members showed up to certain events. For example, only two members showed up to one of the in-person engagement events, which raises questions not only about the method used, but also the ways in which members of Musqueam have the capacity to show up. 


While the participation process for the CCP was impressive, and the plan that was created well reflects the needs of the community, we have a few recommendations to improve the participation. As was previously mentioned, 360 members participated in the engagement out of a total of 1,284 members of Musqueam. In an attempt to engage more people, we suggest increasing advertisements, notices, emails, social media posts, etc. well in advance to make sure that as many people as possible know about the engagement activities, and can attend as many as they can. It’s important that the engagement activities are as accessible to people as possible. Informing people well in advance of activities gives people the ability to plan ahead, and also gives them the opportunity to recognize any accessibility needs that have not been addressed in the advertisements about the engagement activities. 

In addition, we recommend including a section on the census that asks if members were involved in the engagement process for the 2018 CCP. If they were, did they have a positive experience or negative experience? If they didn’t attend, what prevented them from attending? This might offer the opportunity to see gaps that hadn’t been recognized before, and potentially recognizing accessibility needs–like those associated with cognitive disabilities for example–that must be met.

No matter how useful and ingenuitive the Musqueam CCP participation looks from an outsider’s perspective, what matters most are the perspectives of the community members that the CCP plans to serve. Although the plan was written with the help of some non-Musqueam people on the planning team, in large part it was formulated and written by the Musqueam community. On the acknowledgements page they wrote, “this updated plan was created by and for our community…The level of engagement from our community was truly humbling and inspiring.” The community as a collective felt proud of what they had been a part of creating. Also, in speaking to the Musqueam community perspective of the participation, Musqueam member Leona Sparrow (planner and lawyer) said that the participation process well reflected the Musqueam ways of collective decision-making, and that was felt throughout the community. She also pointed out that the youth especially appreciated participating in the creation of the name of the plan, and the traditional spindle whorl art on the cover page. 

We believe that this form of participatory planning is something that the field of planning should hold to a high standard, and planners should aim to support in creating a plan that fits the needs of the community members as well as this one. We believe this example of participatory planning can and should be learned from in the broader world of planning. An especially useful piece of learning is their combination of ‘open self-selected’ and ‘open targeted recruitment’ according to Fung’s Democracy Cube. They used several different engagement activities that were open to the community, and several that invited particular groups. For example, they held several events that were exclusive to the elders, like the elders’ tea, in order to gain insight from the knowledge holders of the community. Not only does targeted recruiting like this offer the most welcoming space for people to share their perspectives freely amongst peers, it also recognizes the incredible value that the elders’ perspectives offer. 

This targeted recruitment could be used outside of Musqueam in many ways. For example, BC Translink could engage the public generally in a new plan, and they could also target specific vulnerable groups that public transit serves. A disabled person that uses public transit daily may not feel welcomed to share their opinion in a general engagement event where non-disabled people and higher-income individuals are sharing their opposition to a new skytrain station. They would likely feel much more comfortable sharing within a group of other disabled people where they know that their perspectives will be valued and appreciated.  

With that being said, there is an important caveat. There is much to be learned from this example of participatory planning, but the origins of this learning must always be credited. Indigenous sovereignty is not only about the land, it also extends to knowledge, data, and ideas. One of the less explicit forms of colonization and dispossession is the process of the Western world appropriating Indigenous knowledge and data without crediting or benefiting the community. If this is an example of participation that can be used to guide the future of participatory planning, the Musqueam people and other First Nations must be given credit. In our class discussion on data sovereignty with Musqueam member Alec Guerin, he emphasized the fact that when you hear stories and knowledge from Musqueam and other Indigenous peoples, giving credit to the person or the people you heard it from with as much specificity as possible is crucial.

An integral piece of knowledge that needs to be mentioned in any reference to this form of participatory planning, is the fact that the Musqueam people have been planning in this way since time immemorial. This plan does not represent a ‘new planning’ or a new way of doing public participation. To consider it as such would be doing an injustice to the longstanding traditions that incorporated community planning within Musqueam. Instead, it is a return to the Musqueam way of holistic planning, of decision-making, and of collective care for the community, which was interrupted by the violence of settler colonialism. Leona Sparrow communicates this clearly in her reflection of Musqueam planning in conversation with Musqueam members Howard Grant and Larissa Grant:

“The western concept of planning, is really foreign to First Nations people. We had our own, and we maintain our own methodology in planning from the communities that existed prior to us and continue to exist now. It’s a different value set. Like, building a city that has a grid pattern, imposed on the land, is not necessarily how we would view building a city. We have located our villages and houses relative to our specific need, not the European concept of what planning is. Community and family are extremely important in terms of our planning. Traditionally, access to the water and resources has been key in where villages were located and also in terms of the protection of the community. With the development of the city around us, we’ve had to be quite adaptive to outside influences, some- times without choice, but other times, we take some of the better aspects of Western planning to be included in our own planning. But it’s a delicate dance in order to protect our own culture, and the lands that have sustained this community for 4,000 years.”

This plan and public participation does not represent a ‘new planning’ or a new way of doing engagement. To consider it as such would be doing an injustice to the longstanding tradition of community planning within Musqueam. Instead, it is a return to the Musqueam way of holistic planning, of decision-making, and of collective care for community.

We thank the Musqueam people for sharing this knowledge with us, and for their continued work for their community.

Thank you,

Brett Glover, Cailin Tyrrell, Kripa Thomas, Kate Moir, Brinnae Cooper


Eco-Plan International. “Musqueam Planning Project Recognized as UN-HABITAT Best Practice.” Eco-Plan International. 2013. 

Musqueam First Nation. “Musqueam First Nation: A Comprehensive Sustainable Community Development Plan Update.” (2018). Musqueam.

Rocha, E. M. (1997). A Ladder of Empowerment. Journal of Planning Education and Research, 17(1), 31-44.

Arnstein, S. R. (1969). A ladder of citizen participation. Journal of the American Institute of Planners, 35(4), 216–224.

Fung, A. (2006). Varieties of participation in complex governance. Public Administration Review, 66(s1), 66–75.

Tuck, Eve and K. Wayne Yang. “Decolonization is not a metaphor.” Decolonization: Indigeneity,Education & Society, 2012, 1(1), p.1-40. 

Guerin, Alec. “Data sovereignty at Musqueam.” Seminar discussion, The University of British Columbia in partnership with the Musqueam IB, Musqueam IR2, November 4, 2023.

Sparrow, Leona. “Musqueam CCP.” Seminar discussion, The University of British Columbia in partnership with the Musqueam IB, Musqueam IR2, October 14, 2023.

Hutton, T. A., & Gurstein, P. (2019). Planning on the edge: Vancouver and the challenges of reconciliation, social justice, and sustainable development. UBC Press.