2024 RAIC Gold Medal: Justice Murray Sinclair

Justice Murray Sinclair is the winner of this year’s RAIC Gold Medal. Photo courtesy Sinclair Family

Born and raised on the former St. Peters Indian Reserve North of Selkirk, Manitoba, Justice Murray Sinclair has become a leader for human rights and reconciliation in Canada. 

In 1980, Justice Sinclair was called to the Manitoba Bar and focused primarily on civil and criminal litigation, Indigenous Law, and Human Rights. Justice Sinclair was well-known for his passionate and thorough representation of his clients, Indigenous governments, Indigenous child welfare agencies, Friendship Centres, Métis organizations, and Indigenous corporations.

In 1988, Justice Sinclair was called to the bench, becoming Manitoba’s first—and Canada’s second—Indigenous judge. In the same year, he served alongside the Associate Chief Justice as Co-commissioner of the Public Inquiry into the Administration of Justice and Aboriginal Peoples of Manitoba. In 1995, Justice Sinclair was appointed to the Court of Queen’s Bench, where he continued to lead high-profile court proceedings and the institution of restorative justice processes throughout the province.

Honorable Justice Murray Sinclair at TRC March. Photo by Paula Kirman

Alongside his involvement in law, Justice Sinclair has taught courses at the University of Manitoba and served as an adjunct professor in the Faculty of Graduate Studies. He has been invited to share legal expertise across Canada and at prestigious academic institutions including Cambridge University, Yale University, and Harvard Law School, as well as with numerous professional organizations, including the Canadian Association of Provincial Court Judges and the National Judicial Institute. He has received 14 honorary degrees, as well as been presented with honorary diplomas from multiple Colleges and dozens of Indigenous and non-Indigenous organizations.

Justice Sinclair has spent years serving on numerous boards, including The Boy Scouts, The Royal Canadian Air Cadets, The Canadian Native Law Students Association, and the Ma Mawi Wi Chi Itata Centre. In 1994, Justice Sinclair was honoured with one of the first National Aboriginal Achievement Awards (now known as the Indspire Awards) in the field of justice, and received a second Indspire Award for Lifetime Achievement in 2017. In 2016, Justice Sinclair was appointed to the Senate of Canada as an Independent Senator.

Senator Murray Sinclair, who was conferred the degree of Doctor of Laws, honoris causa, speaks to the graduating class. Photo by Lisa Sakulensky

Justice Sinclair was appointed to chair the Truth and Reconciliation Commission of Canada (TRC) in 2009, charged with creating a historical record of the policies and operations of the former residential schools. The TRC traveled to cities across Canada, hearing from some 7,000 witnesses, and in 2015 issued 94 Calls to Action to “redress the legacy of residential schools and advance the process of Canadian reconciliation,” urging all levels of government—federal, provincial, territorial, and Indigenous—to work to change policies and programs in a concerted effort to repair the harm caused by residential schools and move forward with reconciliation.

Justice Sinclair’s work as the Chair of the TRC marked a turning point in Canadian cultural policy, one that encouraged a collective rethinking of what the 1951 Massey Report referred to as the “spiritual foundations of our national life.” The recommendations brought forth by Justice Sinclair and the TRC have permanently altered the political landscape of Canada, and have had direct impact on the cultural expression of Canada’s many identities and cultures.

We see the effect of Justice Sinclair’s work throughout Canada’s physical and cultural environments. In 2016, the RAIC created the Indigenous Task Force and in 2020, the Truth and Reconciliation Task Force, while the Canadian Architectural Certification Board (CACB) and the RAIC have moved to support the United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples. The majority of Canada’s schools of architecture have made Indigenous topics central to their pedagogy, and a number of them have established full-time teaching positions focused on Indigenous scholarship in architecture. 

RAIC Gold Medalist Justice Murray Sinclair. Photo courtesy Sinclair Family

At the broader public level, many universities and municipalities welcome and celebrate Indigenous cultures throughout the built environment. The federal government has committed to ambitious Indigenous Benefit Plans in their procurement processes, which will improve the economic prosperity of communities for future generations. At the same time, Indigenous architects are being acknowledged in Requests for Proposals for a range of public and community projects, pointing to the value of their lived experience and insights. In 2018, UNCEDED: Voices of the Land was the first Canadian representation of Indigenous Peoples from Turtle Island at the Venice Architecture Biennale.

These profound shifts in our collective awareness and priorities will have lasting impact on the future of the built environment in Canada. They will shape how Canadian architecture is considered, who is at the table, who designs it, and how it represents Indigenous Nations to the global community. Justice Sinclair’s work will continue to impact the profession of architecture—and arts and culture in Canada—for generations to come.

In his remarks during the final event of the TRC, Justice Sinclair stated: “It is my hope that the TRC’s Calls to Action will help bring about a new era for Canada—for Indigenous and non-Indigenous alike. I stand before you hopeful that we are on the threshold of a new era—a point of fundamental change in Canada’s story… a period of change that, if sustained by the will of the people, will forever realign the shared history of Indigenous and non-Indigenous people in Canada. Change of course, will not be immediate. It will take generations, so it is important that Canadians call on the federal government to create tools of reconciliation that will live beyond today.”


RAIC Board Comments

The Royal Architectural Institute of Canada (RAIC), with its century-long legacy representing architects, grapples with a profound connection to Canada’s colonial history. 

The complex dynamic between the Crown and First Nations dates back to the Royal Proclamation of 1763. The rights of First Nations were further impacted through subsequent legislation, including the Gradual Civilization Act and the Indian Act. The enduring consequences—including the dark legacy of residential schools and the imposition of colonial ideologies by design—permeate both Canadian and Canadian architectural histories.

Recognizing this historical context and the imperative for reconciliation, the RAIC instituted the Indigenous Task Force in 2016 and the Truth and Reconciliation Task Force in 2020. Aligned with values such as integrity, climate action, reconciliation, social justice, and innovation in the 2022-2024 Strategic Plan, this transformative journey signifies a departure from historical norms toward a more comprehensive understanding of architectural responsibility. 

In parallel to historical shifts, the RAIC’s acknowledgment of The Honorable Justice Murray Sinclair echoes the pivotal moment catalyzed by the Truth and Reconciliation Commission (TRC) in 2015. Sinclair’s role as the Chair of Canada’s Indian Residential Schools Truth and Reconciliation Commission is particularly noteworthy. His leadership exposed historical injustices and systemic structures that treated Indigenous people as less than human. 

Sinclair’s unwavering commitment to truth and reconciliation, as exemplified in his role with the TRC, signifies a commitment to dismantling colonial relationships, fostering spatial justice, and advocating for the rights of Canada’s founding Peoples. His legal career, which witnessed the dismantling of residential schools and envisioned a better future, epitomizes qualities of empathy, forgiveness, and communication, which align with the RAIC’s evolving values. Honoring Murray Sinclair with the 2024 RAIC Gold Medal reflects not just individual achievements, but also the profession’s recognition of architecture’s transformative power in promoting reconciliation, social justice, and a more inclusive built environment. 

It’s an incredible privilege for the board to select Justice Murray Sinclair to receive the RAIC’s highest honour.

As appeared in the May 2024 issue of Canadian Architect magazine