Editorial: Indigenous Design
Guest editor Tiffany Shaw on how designers—and design—can support Indigenous communities.
There has been a major shift since the release of the Truth and Reconciliation Commission’s 2015 report, with its 94 calls to action. While we are still in the thick of understanding terms related to reconciliation, conciliation and generational trauma, there are events now in place to help bring greater awareness to the many ways Indigenous people and their communities have been continually dismantled. Orange Shirt Day, the Missing and Murdered Indigenous Women and Girls movement, Starlight tour awareness campaigns, Indigenous Peoples Day, the Sixties Scoop settlement, the First Nations Child Welfare agreement, Day School and Residential School testimonials and the continual horror of unmarked gravesites being discovered around Residential School sites reveal the many attempts to erase Indigenous language, kinships, sovereignty, and access to land and resources. These events remind us about the importance of reshifting our collective mindset on the inequities Indigenous people face daily in rural and urban spaces, and how we can be seeking solutions, rather than maintaining the status quo that perpetuates bureaucratic colonial structures.
Indigenous communities—whether in cities or towns, on-reserve, in settlements, within treaties, on unceded land, or in Métis or Inuit Nunangat regions—often lack healthy spaces that encourage growth, healing and prosperity. The built environment and sustainability are key realms of reparations.
In my work as a Métis architect and public art artist, I have seen a staggering under-representation at the decision-making table. Luckily, working alongside my generous colleagues at Reimagine Architects, a firm that has been working with Indigenous communities for over 30 years, has been insightful to the many ways we can always make the circle bigger in regards to community engagement for the betterment of innovative decision making surrounding design, sustainability and procurement. But there is always more work to do—and it has to be explored by more than just a handful in order to make impactful changes to the privileged and protected systems we navigate within. While I have seen Indigenous communities lead strong conversations regarding autonomy, key decisions are still often made by non-Indigenous participants with little to no contextual knowledge of the Indigenous environments they work within, and the impact their decisions have on the communities and the land itself. But I see this situation changing as our networks grow and awareness broadens. I am feeling more hopeful each year.
It feels like it would have been impossible to publish this issue of Canadian Architect five years ago. But here we are, with profiles of ten strong, engaging and visionary Indigenous design professionals, whose work represents fresh perspectives on the many ways to achieve successful built projects that focus on supporting Indigenous communities.
As Indigenous and non-Indigenous designers, it is our task to create buildings and places that weave in the complexities and deep reflective history of the past with new hopes for the future. This issue touches on many facets of this task. How can methods of procurement be positioned to create wealth in local economies? How can community engagement allow for direct links to the stewardship of both cultural practices and land-based teachings? With so many voices involved, how can a constellation of good ideas and storytelling hold strong and carry itself to the end-conclusion of a built project? The following pages also look at how Indigenous and non-Indigenous academics are bringing collaborative techniques to the classroom, igniting new ways of engaging with Indigenous methodologies that are universal, open and exciting.
I believe that these ways of operating can not only help in working with Indigenous communities. The same principles extend to design work with myriad equity-deserving groups. With the stories in this issue, you are invited to share in learning that will be helpful for design work—but moreover, that I hope will benefit all who are affected by the innovative and provocative work that we collectively seek to create.