Just What is In­dige­nous Ar­chi­tec­ture?


Azure - - CONTENTS - By Tim Querengesser

Canada’s con­tri­bu­tion to the Venice Ar­chi­tec­ture Bi­en­nale of­fers some an­swers

Back in 1995, Pa­trick Ste­wart be­came the first-ever In­dige­nous ar­chi­tect in Bri­tish Columbia. It was a hard road. The Cana­dian gov­ern­ment had stolen his mother from her Nisga’a Na­tion, putting her into a res­i­den­tial school. Then they stole Ste­wart, as part of the Six­ties Scoop, when In­dige­nous chil­dren were placed in foster care and given to white fam­i­lies across North Amer­ica. Ste­wart plans to tell the world this story in a new way as a co-cre­ator of Unceded, the Cana­dian con­tri­bu­tion to the 2018 Venice Ar­chi­tec­ture Bi­en­nale. Ar­chi­tec­ture has been a tool of colo­nial­ism in Canada. Set­tlers ar­rived and knocked down the wig­wams, teepees, long­houses, sloped-roof sheds and other ar­chi­tec­ture of peo­ple in­dige­nous to what be­came Canada. In their place now stands a 150-year legacy of built era­sure: aban­doned res­i­den­tial school build­ings, shut­tered In­dian hos­pi­tals that func­tioned as de facto pris­ons, black mould that to this day climbs the walls of on-re­serve school­houses best de­scribed as re­pur­posed ATCO trail­ers. The tim­ing of Unceded, the bold re­sponse that Ste­wart is co-cu­rat­ing with leader Dou­glas Car­di­nal and 17 other In­dige­nous ar­chi­tects, is un­prece­dented. Canada’s gov­ern­ment is ex­am­in­ing its legacy of colo­nial de­struc­tion through a process known as Truth and Rec­on­cil­i­a­tion. But in ac­tual truth, Unceded is fu­elled ex­clu­sively from within In­dige­nous com­mu­ni­ties. A crit­i­cal mass of In­dige­nous ar­chi­tects has es­tab­lished a foothold within a pro­fes­sion that once si­lenced them. Unceded is their com­ing out party. For David Fortin, a Métis co-cu­ra­tor of Unceded, the ex­hibit is about voices speak­ing out at the right time. “In our cul­tural con­text in Canada right now, there’s a lot of dis­cus­sion around In­dige­nous is­sues,” says Fortin, who is a pro­fes­sor of ar­chi­tec­ture at Lau­ren­tian Uni­ver­sity, in Sud­bury, On­tario. “The school I teach at has had that as part of its cur­ricu­lum since it started, and many schools are en­gaged in this con­ver­sa­tion, too. And it’s a bit of a – I don’t want to call it a re­sis­tance, but a re­minder that the In­dige­nous voice should be lead­ing that con­ver­sa­tion.” There are now 16 In­dige­nous peo­ple with ar­chi­tec­tural qual­i­fi­ca­tions prac­tic­ing in Canada, he says, and many are now build­ing not only out­side but also within their own or other na­tive com­mu­ni­ties. This is in sharp con­trast to a gen­er­a­tion be­fore, when the Cana­dian gov­ern­ment still con­structed build­ings for – many would say forced build­ings upon – In­dige­nous re­gions with lit­tle thought to de­sign, dura­bil­ity or any­thing other than a dis­tant bu­reau­crat’s worry about price. Or­ga­nized into four rooms that cor­re­spond to themes of in­di­gene­ity, re­silience, sovereignty and colo­nial­iza­tion, Unceded is an ex­pe­ri­en­tial jour­ney through “ter­ri­to­ries” for spec­ta­tors in Venice. The as­tute eye will no­tice that the fash­ion­able but eva­sive term “rec­on­cil­i­a­tion” does not ap­pear in any of the ex­hibit’s lit­er­a­ture. Speak­ing about the work, Car­di­nal makes clear that this omis­sion is in­ten­tional, though many have nonethe­less de­scribed the ex­hibit us­ing this term. “How can there be rec­on­cil­i­a­tion when you

still have the In­dian Act,” he asks, in­sis­tently, from his home of­fice in Ot­tawa. Car­di­nal him­self – who over a 40-year ca­reer has shat­tered stereo­types and made a path for oth­ers with his world-renowned work at the Cana­dian Mu­seum of His­tory in Ot­tawa and the Smith­so­nian Na­tional Mu­seum of the Amer­i­can In­dian in Wash­ing­ton, D.C. – is a big part of the rea­son Unceded ex­ists. He is one of the ex­hibit’s co-cu­ra­tors, but he also serves as an el­der and in­spir­ing fig­ure to the sev­eral other gen­er­a­tions rep­re­sented in the project, all the way down to par­tic­i­pat­ing uni­ver­sity stu­dents. Still, the ques­tion many will have be­fore en­ter­ing Unceded is en­tirely ex­pected: Just what is In­dige­nous ar­chi­tec­ture? For Fortin, the idea that a built cre­ation can be part of cul­tural in­ter­con­nect­ed­ness and sa­cred­ness starts to “get at the core.” But, he says, the dis­cus­sion is also about the in­sti­tu­tions and the think­ing that have cre­ated bar­ri­ers to that con­cept. Ste­wart will an­swer the ques­tion through his work with the Stó:lō Na­tion in B.C., which in­cludes a re­source cen­tre and a cul­tural in­ter­pre­tive cen­tre he de­signed on a site that’s been in­hab­ited for more than 9,000 years. On the out­side, Ste­wart’s build­ings might ap­pear less unique than ex­pected. But, echo­ing Fortin’s con­cep­tions, he says it’s the de­tails and process that set them apart. Dis­cus­sions on the build­ings – which drew from a tra­di­tional Stó:lō form, the sin­gle-slope long­house – took years, he says, and in­volved el­ders. “I priv­i­lege the tra­di­tional form and In­dige­nous knowl­edge that goes into and around it,” Ste­wart says. “When you in­vest the cul­ture into built form, many peo­ple don’t un­der­stand what you’re do­ing. To me there is so much still to do; there still isn’t a wide ac­cep­tance of it. Some think, ‘that’s not re­ally ar­chi­tec­ture.’” Car­di­nal an­swers the ques­tion by not­ing that he de­signs for seven gen­er­a­tions from now, but also by flag­ging the rot within colo­nial think­ing, ex­am­ples of which range from Don­ald Trump to en­vi­ron­men­tal de­cay to throw-away, big-box ar­chi­tec­ture. “I think Unceded is an op­por­tu­nity for peo­ple to see that we have a voice, and that as na­tions we have a lot to of­fer other na­tions with our world­view,” he says. “We lived on this land for thou­sands of years; we learned a lot of what to do and what not to do. You learn a lot about what not to do by ob­serv­ing.” unceded.ca

In­stalled in Colum­bus, In­di­ana, Wi­iki­aami (above) was in­spired by wig­wam con­struc­tion. It is the work of Chris Cor­nelius, who runs stu­dio:in­dige­nous, a de­sign and con­sult­ing firm serv­ing In­dige­nous clients in the U.S.

The in­te­rior of the Meno Ya Win Health Cen­tre, de­signed by Dou­glas Car­di­nal, in north­ern On­tario’s Sioux Look­out. The cen­tre, which serves some 30,000 pa­tients, com­bines tra­di­tional heal­ing prac­tices with mod­ern med­i­cal fa­cil­i­ties.

The Uni­ver­sity of Saskatchewan’s Na­tive Stud­ies build­ing (be­low), by Dou­glas Car­di­nal. The cir­cu­lar build­ing is cen­tred around this skylit open­ing.

The Gath­er­ing Cir­cle in Thun­der Bay, On­tario (be­low) has gar­nered over 20 awards since open­ing in 2013. Made of bent spruce trees, the wa­ter­front pav­il­ion is a col­lab­o­ra­tion be­tween Anishi­naabe ar­chi­tect and artist Ryan Gorrie and Toronto firm Brook...

The un­du­lat­ing wooden roof of the O’siyam Pav­il­ion. Form­line Ar­chi­tec­ture built the out­door struc­ture as a multi-pur­pose hub and gath­er­ing point in Squamish, B.C.

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