ULI Toronto, in partnership with Enterprise, opened a thoughtful discussion to an overflowing audience on November 26, 2019 at the Globe and Mail Centre. Joined by Indigenous leaders, city planners, developers, and other city building enthusiasts, the audience heard from speakers and a panel about the required cultural shifts or actions to appropriately bring Indigenous consultation to the forefront of a growing cityscape, while also fostering inclusivity in development processes.
A captivating welcome was given by Dr. Duke Redbird, Indigenous Polymath Wisdom Keeper & Elder, Indigenous Arts & Culture. As an established Indigenous intellectual, Dr. Redbird is also a poet, actor, painter, artist, filmmaker, broadcaster, and has thus become known as a “Path Breaker” in the academic world – someone with great vision to lead into the distance and experience to not stumble. Dr. Redbird emphasized the significance of improving consultation with Indigenous communities when undertaking development projects.
The keynote address by JP Gladu, President & CEO of the Canadian Council for Aboriginal Business, echoed Dr. Redbird, reminding the audience that the Indigenous communities are very much alive and thriving. As Canada’s first economy, the Indigenous economy is estimated at over $30 billion and based on its exponential growth, it is projected to increase to $100 billion by 2024. Gladu encouraged the city builders in the room to consider inviting Indigenous knowledge holders to the forefront of development discussions as they bring a unique multi-generational and long-term perspective. He also noted that including Indigenous communities must go beyond consent and duty to consult for infrastructure projects.
While businesses are changing the way they think and act on investments and business practices when it comes to to environmental, social, and governance (“ESG”) concerns, it must also include Indigenous. However, it not just Indigenous Affairs that must be addressed, but also health and housing, among others. “If you cannot understand us fully, then how will you work with us?” Gladu asked. Advocating for Aboriginal businesses, Gladu stated that while the Indigenous population is approximately 5% of Canada’s population, there is room for improvement with respect to economic reconciliation. Economic reconciliation means recognizing the Indigenous entrepreneur. To foster economic reconciliation, the development community must manage to generate wealth in an equitable fashion that ensures Indigenous community access to the benefits derived from economic activity. This includes, but is not limited to, equitable access to jobs, education, and sustainable community benefits.
The panel that followed included community leaders and industry experts. The panelists were:
Jason Lester, Vice-Chair, Development, Dream
Brian Porter, Principal, Two Row Architect
Rachelle Lemieux, Architect, Brook McIlroy
Selina Young, Manager, Indigenous Affairs Office, City of Toronto
Showcasing Zibi House and the Canary District, Lester from Dream discussed some key elements of how developers can work with Indigenous communities to create sustainable and thriving places, intersecting history and reimagining the development. Zibi House was a former pulp plant that will now serve as a hub for an urban waterfront community in Ottawa for approximately 5,000 residents and create approximately 6,000 jobs. The Canary District in Toronto is a master-planned community designed using sustainable living principles. Block 10 has been transferred to Anishnawbe Health Toronto to become an Indigenous Community Hub that will house a health centre, employment centre, child assessment facility and play therapy centre, and a purpose-built rental building. As non-indigenous, Lester shared his experience and encouraged an open mind – to ask questions and listen. W listening, Lester said that he started to see the impact on urban culture.
With Red River Métis ancestry, Lemieux shared her experience going to school in Manitoba and walking by residential dwellings that she later learned her grandfather built. Leveraging architecture as a vehicle for social change, Lemieux showcased some recent projects that incorporated Indigenous values into its design. At Humber College, the Indigenous Cultural markers provide an experience for people to learn about land and place. The George Street Revitalization in Toronto has recognized the historic and current Indigenous presence in the community and thus has included Indigenous principles into the design of the streetscape. This revitalization project will also create a significant opportunity to celebrate and honour Indigenous culture as well as supporting Indigenous innovation and entrepreneurship.
Young is Métis and introduced her role at City of Toronto by the title of the event – Indigenous collaboration in urban environments. Internally within City of Toronto, she collaborates on Indigenous Affairs and ensures there is a consistent and transparent approach. Externally, Young works with Indigenous partners and leaders to build and better relationships within the city. She urged the development community to think differently and reframe the language around working with Indigenous communities. Indigenous communities tend to be resilient and innovative, bringing a multi-generational view. To create vibrant and diverse communities, Indigenous consultation is critical in building cities. As the original caretakers of Canada’s land, Young recommended thinking of the city as a living organism that connects people. In terms of land use planning, she reframed the notion that it should not be about using the land, but relating to it. This view redefines the relationship with the land. In reframing the language, Young asserted, “It is not building for Indigenous communities, but building with.” Young recommended that in order to have informed and thoughtful working relationships with Indigenous communities, planners and developers must educate themselves. “Do your reading!” Young said. Some of Young’s suggested readings included:
Indigenous Relations: Insights, Tips & Suggestions to Make Reconciliation a reality – by Bob Joseph
Planning for Coexistence? Recognizing Indigenous rights through land-use planning in Canada and Australia – by Libby Porter & Janice Barry
Porter, an Indigenous architect from the Oneida Nation, has worked with over 50 Indigenous communities. Two Row Architect is a solely owned and operated Aboriginal firm. Porter discussed some key projects that exemplified Indigenous design within the architecture. Wilfrid Laurier University’s Lucinda House became a new Indigenous student centre in Waterloo. Block 10 in the West Don Lands, discussed previously by Lester, will become the first purpose-built Indigenous centre in the city. Porter acknowledged that in the time of truth and reconciliation, the Indigenous had maintained their world view for 30,000 years. With values and principles such as LEED and sustainability, it brings the real estate industry closer to the world view that is more values driven.
The panelists shared their perspectives on how conversations surrounding land can be shifted to influence potential outcomes. Land is not just a separate object, it is a being. As most people can understand a sense of place, it is important to bring it back to the land. For an individual to continue their education on improving the relationship with land, Young recommended an openness to different perspectives to connect – connect both with people and with land. “These relational connections will stick with you,” Young said.
A key takeaway from the panel discussion was to think intentionally about the projects we are all working on. This piece was our call to action. Reconciliation is then Reconcili-ACTION. By including Indigenous communities, there will be enhanced learning from more perspectives at the table and this is seen across all disciplines. Within the real estate development industry, it is encouraged to work with the Indigenous community to have dedicated spaces designed in such a way that the Indigenous community feels safe and has a sense of place. While the GTA is one of the fastest growing communities, developers are encouraged to learn and be aware of Indigenous principles to incorporate into their developments. Such principles like medium density, wildlife corridors, spaces for agriculture/harvesting, and nature trails, are all ways in which the development community can continue to “carve a new way forward,” in Gladu’s closing words.