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Responding to Reconciliation


The Truth and Reconciliation Commission released its final report three years ago with 94 Calls to Action outlining steps all Canadians can take to create meaningful, positive change. Because landscape architects are intimately involved in the shaping of land as a vector of culture, Ground sent the following questions to OALA members, associates, and students:

1. How should the landscape architecture profession move forward—collectively— with reconciliation?

2. What steps are you taking, or do you see as priorities, in your own practice, to advance the goals of reconciliation?

3. What resources do you need to further advance the goals of reconciliation in your own practice and within the profession as a whole?

Many thanks to those who responded.

From Aaron Hernandez, MLA student, University of Toronto
I feel the first step is educating oneself on the histories of Indigenous-settler relations over the past 400 years, as a way of structuring and informing thought about how those relations might evolve in the future. Additionally, it is important to recognize that Western settler notions of land, ecology, and nature are founded on deep-seated assumptions about what is true and that there can be only one truth sought through a supposedly objective scientific method. I think we need to not only question those assumptions, but also to open ourselves, as individuals and professionals, to the myriad of ways of understanding the land and all of the beings inhabiting it.

From Alissa North, OALA
1. Landscape architects should seek to consult with Elders on relevant projects to gain insights into Traditional Knowledge and build networks with Indigenous groups.

2. Connecting with First Nations in my studio projects.

3. Forums with equal participation between Indigenous peoples and landscape architects would be useful—in a manner that shows we are very interested in their perspectives and generations’ worth of land- and culture-based knowledge. This connection can sometimes be difficult to find, so this form of respectful networking could be valuable for everyone.

From Amy Turner, OALA
I have so much to learn before having a valid opinion but I think that, as a white person, I need to listen for a long while; legitimate listening seems to be a significant challenge for a lot of us. I worked with Indigenous consultants on a community garden project a few years ago, and have realized, in retrospect, that I was unconsciously dismissive. I couldn’t switch off the voice telling me to assert what I’d already decided was right. This impulse was partially due to my own bullheaded attitude but also due to fear. I felt the ideas presented to me weren’t mine to communicate, which is true in many ways, but I wish I could’ve acted as a simple conduit for the community input to be realized rather than trying to act as an interpreter.

I think a Ground Round Table could be valuable. It seems that, too often, non-Indigenous landscape architects simply apply perceived Indigenous themes and elements superficially into our work.

From Andrea Mantin, OALA
1. As landscape architects, we need to look for opportunities to restore Indigenous presence in Canadian cities as well as in rural communities. We, as practitioners, have the opportunity and responsibility to create sustainable environments that are inclusive and culturally appropriate. Sometimes this also involves educating our clients about opportunities to make initial steps towards reconciliation.

2. Indigenous placemaking makes up a significant part of our practice [at Brook McIlroy]. These projects evolve out of meaningful engagement and relationship-building with Indigenous communities and are often led by Indigenous designers and architects who form an integral part of our studio.

3. Educational opportunities for Indigenous youth to be trained as landscape architects would provide us with more opportunities to work directly with Indigenous designers in creating inclusive spaces in communities across Canada. To achieve this, we may need to embrace unconventional education models, including online education, distance learning, and heavily subsidized tuition and living expenses, etc., as these methods allow Indigenous youth to remain in their communities, and/or provide financial relief while attending universities and colleges away from home.

From John d. Collver, OALA
1. By acknowledging that there is a need for reconciliation in the first place and by adopting the steps towards reconciliation outlined in the report.

2. By recognizing the steps and applying them, where possible, in all of our new projects, especially when it comes to land use.

3. A useful resource would be a land data base in which affected areas, developments, and properties can be easily identified and inventoried so updates can be tracked etc.

From John McMullen, OALA
1. Questions concerning land are central to the reconciliation process; thus, the land- scape architecture profession should work to identify its strengths in conceptualizing and solving complex matters related to the land and the landscape and share this information with the Indigenous community. Collectively identifying the skills and strengths of landscape architects in a manner that differentiates us from complementary professions would be beneficial in general and would help to identify where our work can help advance the goals of reconciliation.

2. Our municipality is working locally with the First Nation community to consider reinterpretations of (or additions to) cultural landmarks (memorials, monuments, etc.). Working with the Indigenous community is a good first step and a critical part of this process. Landscape architects as facilitators can assist these communities with everything from understanding the decision-making process related to public spaces; to developing a collaborative, open-ended design process that can be vet- ted in a transparent manner with the public at large to identify opportunities for interpretive landscapes, historic reinterpretation, and celebration of cultural diversity. A fascinating opportunity also exists to explore methods of integrating the Indigenous tradition of passing on cultural and historic knowledge through story-telling (oral traditions) into the design of physical space.

From Katie Strang
When I read the Calls to Action, it stood out to me that there are a number of points that call specifically on professional and educational organizations to create history courses that reflect Indigenous experiences and normalize cultural competency training. As an organization actively engaging in continuing education and guiding curriculum for new landscape architects, the OALA could be a leader among professional organizations and prompt discussion with affiliated schools.

From Le’ Ann Whitehouse Seely, OALA
I don’t feel that I fully understand the issues and the report’s recommendations as they relate to landscape architecture, and, therefore, I struggle with putting thoughts to words on this topic. Notwithstanding this, I find reconciliation to be worthy of a deeper understanding for landscape architects.

From Julianna Nyhof Young, BLA student, University of Guelph
Indigenous approaches to land and landscape need to be taught in the profession’s educational programs in order to move forward—collectively— with reconciliation.

From Ryan James, OALA
1. In the Calls to Action, there are recommendations specific to law schools and journalism schools; the same could apply to the education for our profession as well. Our national and provincial associations could coordinate education and training for our members to learn about cultural competency. The whole concept of unceded territories will be relevant to many, and this could use wider recognition. In recent years, we have all learned about the Accessibility for Ontarians with Disabilities Act; the same could be done with the United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples.

2. With any project, there is inventory and analysis to do for the site. The lens of Indigenous cultures is another aspect that can be added to the standard practice of comparing what the different layers of a site have to say.

3. Learning resources will be the place to start. Guidelines and best practices for consultation with Indigenous peoples would also be helpful.

From Victoria Taylor, OALA
An open session sponsored by the OALA and guided by a knowledgeable person who is well connected to the Indigenous community should be arranged to help OALA members understand how we can bridge our skills and question and critique our role in the reconciliation process. I know that the Native Canadian Centre of Toronto provides cultural competency training. At this point, and beyond my wanting to know more, I have only more questions than answers. As a starting point, I would gladly spend time learning more about the Truth and Reconciliation Commission’s report and the 94 Calls to Action. From there we might develop our own OALA Call to Action as a well-considered response. I’d gladly spend my fees on this process, and I put up my hand to be involved.

From Scott Torrance, OALA
1. As a profession, we can recognize the value of collecting and valuing oral histories and traditional land-use mapping. As individuals and as an organization, we should recognize that there are vast cultural differences that exist between the Indigenous peoples within Canada; and, we can lobby governments to honour existing treaties and reconcile specific claims.

2. Become familiar with the Truth and Reconciliation Commission Calls to Action and the work of the TRC. Undertake cultural sensitivity training. I found the session I attended at Dodem Kanonhsa’, in Toronto, to be very good. Learn more about the various treaties that were made between First Nations and North American governments in the areas where my work and projects are. Participate in First Nation events to learn, meet, enjoy, and celebrate the incredible culture. Attending a pow wow at the Saugeen Ojibway Nation helped me to understand how outdoor spaces support the drumming and dance competitions. Learn about the Residential Schools and be sensitive to their multigenerational impact. Visit the site of what was known as the Mohawk Institute on the Six Nations of the Grand River Reserve to see firsthand the physical remains of a Residential School.

3. It is critical that large municipalities have a dedicated staff member who can liaise with First Nations and organizations and is knowledgeable about protocols, culture, and practices so that meaningful and productive dialogue and outreach can occur on master plans and parks, open spaces, and new development sites. Landscape architectural programs need to attract First Nation students and professors to bring their perspective of the land to our profession. As Call to Action 92 outlines, businesses and professional organizations, such as the OALA, need to establish policies to address reconciliation.