Book Review: Voices of the Land—Indigenous Design and Planning from the Prairies

A compilation of work by Indigenous students from the University of Manitoba's Faculty of Architecture provides glimpses of what Indigenous knowledge can bring to design education.

Voices of the Land: Indigenous Design and Planning from the Prairies

Edited by Reanna Merasty, Naomi Ratte, Danielle Desjarlais and Desiree Theriault (Indigenous Design and Planning Students’ Association, 2021)

In 2019, Ininew (Woodlands Cree) architecture student Reanna Merasty and Peguis First Nation landscape architecture student Naomi Ratte met at the University of Manitoba. To bring their cultures more strongly into the school’s design teaching, they founded the Indigenous Design and Planning Students’ Association (IDPSA). The group now includes 16 First Nations, Inuit, and Métis students of architecture, landscape architecture, interior design and city planning.

The book Voices of the Land documents the group’s work in the school, and the design visions of its members. It features interviews with Indigenous alumni, including Ryan Gorrie and Rachelle Lemieux, who co-edited a similar publication, Aboriginal Architecture, in 2009. Voices of the Land provides inspirational glimpses of some of Canada’s future Indigenous design leaders, as well as a snapshot of what the integration of Indigenous knowledge can bring to architectural education. Within the faculty of architecture, first-year undergraduates take part in a traditional tipi-building workshop. The school has hosted several panel discussions focused on enacting reconciliation within the design professions. Its educators are incorporating Indigenous ways of knowing into their teaching, and several studios work with Indigenous communities.

The featured student work addresses issues from justice for Indigenous women, to intergenerational trauma, to the cultivation of sacred spaces. But it also reflects a common principle of honouring the land through design and architecture. Indigenous Scholar and Assistant Professor Sean Bailey defines Indigenous architecture as a “mindset”: “It comes from a way of seeing and connecting to the land. It comes from exploring our reciprocal relationship with nature, the realization that we are not separate from the natural world, we are in it. It’s about honouring place and acknowledging what we can give back.”

The publication brings home the impact of design education for empowering Indigenous communities. “Design school has given me a path, a purpose, and a voice, “ writes Ininew (Cree) architecture student Danielle Desjarlais. “It has given me the skills and the ambition to help voice what Indigenous communities want to see in their architecture.”