Team of Indigenous architects represents Canada at 2018 Venice Biennale of Architecture

A group of 18 Indigenous architects from Canada and the U.S. are in Italy for an international architecture exhibition.

18 Indigenous architects bring collaborative project to exhibition in Italy

A rendering by Douglas Cardinal from the Unceded: Voices of the Land project. (Submitted by Douglas Cardinal Architect Inc.)

A group of 18 Indigenous architects from Canada and the U.S. are in Italy for an international architecture exhibition.

The team is representing Canada at the 2018 Venice Biennale of Architecture with their collaborative piece called Unceded: Voices of the Land.

"We felt that the Indigenous voice was important, for us to share our stories and let people know that Indigenous architects are here and practising," said David Fortin.

"We have a different way to think about design and architecture."

Fortin, a co-curator of the project, is Métis and the director of the McEwen School of Architecture at Laurentian University in Sudbury, Ont.

In creating the collaborative piece, the group of architects agreed they wanted to bring in components of their own unique experiences as Indigenous people.

"We wanted each person to tell their story and how their approach of design reflects aspects of their indigeneity," said Fortin.

A conversation of architecture

Gerald McMaster, another co-curator, is Plains Cree and a member of the Siksika First Nation in Alberta. He's also Canada Research Chair in Indigenous visual culture at OCAD University in Toronto.

"It is probably one of the most prestigious art fairs and architectural fairs in the world," he said of the Biennale.

Unceded co-curator Gerald McMaster says the Venice Biennale is a prestigious exhibition. (The Mustard Shop)

Biennale means 'every other year' in Italian and within the art world used to describe large-scale gatherings of art and design.

"It's a way to kind of for all countries to come together and see where the conversation of architecture is at in the present moment," said McMaster.

"You can check out what's going on around the world within our field."

The exhibit itself is an immersive experience beyond a traditional set of model buildings.

"The architecture is laid over with with voices, music, nature," said Fortin.

"The exhibit is trying to weave together all of these things, people, histories, ancestors, the lands ... The core message is that Indigenous architecture needs all of those things."


Rhiannon Johnson is an Anishinaabe journalist from Hiawatha First Nation based in Toronto. She has been with CBC since 2017 focusing on Indigenous life and experiences.