Indigenous

Architects from around the world gather in Ottawa for 1st-ever Indigenous design symposium

For the first time in Canada, Indigenous architects from around the globe will gather this weekend to discuss design and "place-making" at the International Indigenous Architecture and Design Symposium in Ottawa.

Architects, designers and students to discuss ‘place-making’ in Canada

Patrick Stewart is a Nisga'a architect and chair of the Royal Architectural Institute of Canada's Indigenous task force. (www.patrickstewartarchitect.com/)

For the first time in Canada, Indigenous architects from around the globe will gather this weekend to discuss design and "place-making" at the International Indigenous Architecture and Design Symposium in Ottawa.

Saturday's one-day symposium brings together Indigenous architects, professionals, students, business representatives, academia and media at the Wabano Centre, a downtown Ottawa building designed by renowned architect Douglas Cardinal, who will also be delivering opening remarks at the event.

So far, 120 people are registered to attend the symposium, including 15 Indigenous architects from Canada.

"We're small numbers but it's starting to grow," said Patrick Stewart, a Nisga'a architect who chairs the Indigenous task force of the Royal Architectural Institute of Canada, which is organizing the symposium.

Created in 2015, the task force is made up of architects, urban designers, interior designers and students.

Symposium to celebrate Indigenous design

The symposium will feature and celebrate Indigenous architecture, design, and "place-making'' in Canada, including best practices and processes.

Place-making is described as creating a space or place that is culturally appropriate and relevant to Indigenous people.

A roster of Indigenous speakers will be presenting at the symposium, including eight members of Nga Aho, a national network of Maori design professionals from New Zealand.

Stewart said there are many Maori architects in New Zealand, and the Maori people are making inroads in the profession.

For instance, the Maori now have their own guidelines that city planners from Auckland have to meet, working alongside Maori people on the city's urban design panel.

'It's a growing younger generation of architects'

An architect for 22 years and the first Indigenous person to own and operate his own firm in the province of British Columbia, Stewart remembers what it was like attending architecture school in his early days in the profession.

"You're alone and you're doing what your gut tells you to do and what is culturally appropriate, and it fits when you're working in Aboriginal communities," Stewart said.

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      He recalls being told that his method "wasn't architecture."

      "I focused a lot on process, a lot on culture and it was very foreign to them," he said of his colleagues.

      Today, however, Stewart is seeing Indigenous students getting the opportunity to study side-by-side with other Indigenous students — something that didn't happen when he was a student.

      Stewart is now an associate professor at the Laurentian University McEwen School of Architecture in Sudbury, Ont.

      "It's a growing younger generation of architects, it's coming along [and] we're hoping to nurture the students as they come along," he said.

      Currently, there are 12 Indigenous students in the Laurentian architecture program — "the biggest number of [Indigenous] students in the country right now" in an architecture program, Stewart said.

      More than tipis and circles

      K. Jake Chakasim, 44, a Cree architect from the Mushkegowuk territory around the James Bay region and a PhD student at the University of British Columbia's School of Community and Regional Planning, will speak at the symposium.

      Jake Chakasim is a Cree architect from the Mushkegowuk territory around the James Bay region. (Courtesy of Jake Chakasim)

      Chakasim's talk will focus on reconciliation, place-making and identity.

      Currently, he is working toward creating a new form of expressionism while acknowledging the work of Douglas Cardinal, including the teachings passed down from his grandfather, who taught Chakasim how to hunt and trap when he was young and how to construct using local materials.

      "I feel there's a need for a newer typology that represents contemporary Cree identity," Chakasim said.

      "Many firms, and not just Indigenous ones, get caught up in the cliché of the circle, the tipi. That's the immediate response and I always say that we're more than that."

      About the Author

      Originally from Obishikokaang (Lac Seul First Nation) located in northwestern Ontario, Martha Troian is an investigative journalist who frequently contributes to CBC News, including work on the multiple award-winning and ongoing Missing & Murdered: The Unsolved Cases of Indigenous Women and Girls. Follow her @ozhibiiige