RAIC Journal: 2021 RAIC International Indigenous Architecture and Design Symposium Report

The Symposium focused on Indigenous representation, narratives, and collaborations, with sessions related to two themes: Making Room for New Indigenous Voices on the Leading Edge of Architecture, and Practice and Collaborations: Indigenous / Non-Indigenous Co-Design and Building with First Nations, Métis, and Inuit Communities.

A full report on the Symposium was published in September. The summaries below derive from the report, offering a snapshot of some of the Symposium’s presentations and discussions.

Architect Wanda Dalla Costa of Tawaw Architecture Collective presented the concept of “placekeeping” as a way to connect Indigenous cultures to locality. She is part of a group
of Indigenous designers who worked on this conceptual design for the Indigenous Peoples Space in Ottawa, facing Parliament Hill. Rendering courtesy Tawaw Architecture Collective

Indigenous Placekeeping Pedagogy 7-4-4-7: Re-Imagining Architecture 

The opening presentation in the 2021 Symposium addressed the idea that architectural education can shift the current paradigm of our built environment to become more inclusive, diverse, just, and equitable. This would mean moving away from culturally inappropriate architecture, and moving towards the foundation of “placekeeping” in the profession. This method of “placekeeping,” introduced by Wanda Dalla Costa, focuses on Indigenous cultures in relation to locality, their history/story, and the importance of preservation.

Following research on the detrimental aspects of the current process of architectural education, Dalla Costa presented a set of tools to assist in what she described as “a re-imagining of architectural education.” Dalla Costa emphasized how education must be based on accurate history, rather than false histories and narratives. Designers need to connect to human beings and communities to create successful projects. The power should return to the community; dialogue should be continuous and done with compassion.

Block 10 is a new Indigenous Hub combining social and educational services in Toronto. The design is by Stantec, BDP Quadrangle, 
and Two Row Architects. Rendering courtesy BDP Quadrangle

Indigenous and Community Hubs: Their Design and Organizational Structure

Brian Porter’s presentation on Indigenous Hubs discussed the importance of collaboration in creating a sense of community and spaces for sharing knowledge and resources. Indigenous Hubs serve as purpose-built facilities that connect amenities for Indigenous People, providing harmonized access to services for families, and facilitating balance and well-being. 

Porter presented two case studies of Indigenous Hub projects that have involved Two Row Architect. In Block 10, the fluidity of water inspires the ground plan, and is representative of the land. The underlying design strategy references the earth and the values represented by the ground. The building aligns with natural forces through ventilation and airflow, is integrated into the earth, and considers the diversity of all beings in Creation.

The second case study, located in Hamilton, is called Biindigen–meaning “welcome” or “come in.” It includes a variety of programs and services for the community. By bringing these together in one building, the facility allows every need to be met in a comfortable, safe environment for the community. The building considers the natural species in its biodiverse surroundings, and is part of the earth, seeping into the landscape.   

There has been a growing number of Indigenous Hubs and spaces of celebration and representation being built, as places that align with the autonomy and the needs of Indigenous People. In urban centres, these places represent an act of reclamation, and are particularly important for Indigenous people who feel alienated or disconnected from their community. 

As part of the process of creating Nokom’s House, community members gathered on the land in the University of Guelph Arboretum for a preliminary workshop 
in July 2019. Photo Skylar Sookpaiboon

Nokom’s House: Creating Space for Research in Good Relation

Nokom’s House is a land-based research lab that brings together three community-engaged Indigenous scholars at the University of Guelph: Dr. Kim Anderson (Métis), Dr. Sheri Longboat (Haudenosaunee), and Dr. Brittany Luby (Anishinaabe). The construction of a sustainable research facility on the University of Guelph campus will provide a hub for the researchers, their students, and community partners to explore community development and the decolonization of learning.

The design for Nokom’s House is centred on the concept of the lodge, as a place where a community might sit around a kitchen table, sipping tea, and feeling the warmth of the land. Such a setting is envisaged as being appropriate for conversations on decolonizing spaces and developing Indigenous pedagogies. The “kitchen table” analogy also aims to create a female-centred space to conduct research. The design for such a facility aligns with notions of Indigenous planning and Indigenous health and well-being.

Supporting Indigenous-Initiated Architecture in Canada through the Architectural Curriculum

Alain Fournier and Kawennanóron Lisa Phillips spoke about how Indigenous communities must be included in the design process to create meaningful spaces for their own communities. Working with diverse groups on various projects, Fournier and his firm, EVOQ Architecture, have seen an increase in Indigenous communities beginning to take charge of what is being developed on their land, and advocating for built environments that reflect their own culture and values. Designers and architects can develop cooperative relationships with these communities by letting them speak while practitioners listen, and including them in the early stages of design work.

This important connection between Indigenous communities and designers was recently introduced to Université de Montréal architecture students through an Indigenous-initiated project. The project taught the students how to connect with the community, understand the uniqueness of their culture, and go through the design process with the involvement of community members.

David Fortin and Adrian Blackwell’s presentation discussed issues of Indienous and non-Indigenous land ownership, the subject of an upcoming issue 
of the Canadian architecture, landscape, and political economy journal Scapegoat.

Lines in the Land

David Fortin and Adrian Blackwell are working together to investigate the current relationships that we have with the Land, and to understand the historical roots of the colonial view of “owning the Land.” As Elder Winnie Pitawanakwat asked, “How can someone own the Land?” While there is no real owner of the Land, the colonial worldview differs from that of Indigenous culture, where interconnectivity and respect for the Land are taught. These topics are being explored further within an upcoming issue of Scapegoat Journal, where Indigenous and non-Indigenous creators discuss how the division of Land into property affects communities, work, and personal relationships with the Land. Further explaining the impact that this has on our current society, Fortin described three historical modes of exchange: nations (reciprocal), states (hierarchical and repressive), and capitalist (abstract and violent).

Funding Sovereignty: Lessons from the IHII Accelerator Funding Pilot Project

The majority of Indigenous architecture is federally funded, and tends to emphasize outside expertise. The Indigenous Homes Innovation Initiative (IHII) takes a different approach, aiming to better serve the needs of Indigenous communities by involving Indigenous leadership using a pilot funding structure. This experimental approach to funding is based on the Truth and Reconciliation Commission’s Calls to Action, and supports reciprocal rather than hierarchical relationships, connecting the designers with local leadership to find project champions. The creation of this model was in itself led by a team of Indigenous mentors from the start, including Wanda Dalla Costa and Eladia Smoke. From 342 respondents, a committee of Indigenous housing experts selected 24 projects that were then given funding from the Council for the Advancement of Native Development Officers (CANDO). Having a strong Indigenous presence throughout the process of funding is vital in supporting Indigenous agency, as well as in preserving placekeeping in communities.

Bringing The ‘United Nations Declaration on The Rights of Indigenous Peoples’ to the RAIC

Following an initial presentation on April 29, 2021, the RAIC Truth and Reconciliation Task Force hosted a live session about a proposal requesting that the RAIC membership adopt the United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples (‘The Declaration’). The adoption of The Declaration serves as an important step for the RAIC on its path of reconciliation with Indigenous Peoples, and addresses the Truth and Reconciliation Commission’s Calls to Action 43 and 44. The session was hosted by Task Force co-chairs Dr. Patrick Stewart, MRAIC, Architect AIBC and Alfred Waugh, MRAIC, Architect AIBC. Subsequently, the Declaration passed unanimously at the RAIC’s 2021 Annual General Meeting on June 30, 2021.