Connecting Communities: Principles for Musqueam and UBC Collaboration

“We all have a role to play in building a strong relationship between UBC and Musqueam, if not by direct collaboration, by education and awareness,” says Aaron Lao, a Master of Arts (School of Community and Regional Planning) candidate.

As a UBC Sustainability Scholar, Aaron worked with the Musqueam First Nation to identify principles for collaboration and engagement between the University of British Columbia (UBC) and the Musqueam First Nation around sustainability and wellbeing.

UBC’s Vancouver campus is located on the unceded, traditional territory of the Musqueam First Nation. Today, about half of approximately 1,300 Musqueam members live in the main Musqueam village, located adjacent to the southeastern portion of the University Endowment Lands.

Engagement between the university and the Musqueam community has developed over several decades with a long-standing relationship between the Musqueam First Nation and the Museum of Anthropology. In 2006, Musqueam and UBC formalized their relationship by signing a Memorandum of Affiliation to establish principles and processes for development of educational, community, and research programs.

UBC’s Aboriginal Strategic Plan, created in 2009, provides a framework for Aboriginal programming within which the many initiatives underway across the university can be located and better integrated. It also defines critical areas in which further work must be done.

Building on these efforts and through engagement with a range of community stakeholders, Aaron developed a resource guide so that others who wish to get involved can do so in a meaningful and collaborative way.

The report shares that successful working relationships incorporate six core principles: mutual benefit, timeliness, meaningful collaboration, listening & open communication, acknowledgement of history, and awareness of capacity.

“The project is part of our overall effort to advance sustainability and wellbeing in the community,” says Jessica Carson, a Researcher and Planner with the Musqueam First Nation. “Working with Aaron supported our efforts to share our experiences and identify pathways that would facilitate future collaborations with our partners.”

Building on the six core principles, the report provides tips for success, detailing best practices for both UBC and Musqueam community members who are interested in collaborating.

For UBC community members, the report draws attention to designing a proposal effectively, making connections respectfully, and the importance of building meaningful and lasting relationships.

For Musqueam community members, Lao lays out strategies for navigating the university, including advice for how to find the right person for collaboration and how to reach out and make the connection.

“Collaboration can lead to new opportunities for both parties, including a richer educational experience for students at both Musqueam and UBC,” says Matt Dolf, Director of Strategic Support with Wellbeing at UBC.

“Partnership can improve our programs, expand our perspective and foster rewarding relationships conducive to our mutual wellbeing. There is a lot UBC can learn from the understandings Musqueam people hold about how our people can thrive and live in harmony with our planet.”

The report highlights a number of programs demonstrating the power of collaboration. Bridge Through Sport is delineated as a successful case study for cross community collaboration.

Established in 2002, the program emerged after initial meetings held between Musqueam administration and UBC. The program sought to bring UBC to Musqueam, with programming focusing on physical recreation as well as educational support for Musqueam youth. Wellbeing, especially in terms of physical activity and recreation, was identified as a key area for collaboration.

The success of this program grew from the commitment of those involved, and centred on the responsive nature of the activities organized through Bridge Through Sport. 

“Those involved in the program must listen to youth voices. This keeps the program relevant and useful to the community,” says Jessica.

Another notable example is the Indigenous Community planning specialization at SCARP, which emerged in response to concerns surrounding the lack Indigenous voices in planning and leverages the Musqueam award-winning Comprehensive Sustainable Community Development Plan (CCP) as a teaching tool.

Initially designed as a pilot course, the course evolved into the full degree specialization and today incorporates an Indigenous approach to planning.

In 2014, a UBC Sustainability Scholar Megan Herod, collaborated with the Musqueam First Nation on identifying community perceptions of sustainability. Aaron’s work expands on that project with a focus on wellbeing.

“It’s great to have these links between UBC and Musqueam”, says Jessica. “The UBC Sustainability Scholars program, this wellbeing project…it’s really important for the relationship.”