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January 18, 2021

Ethnocultural Diversity and Planning for Indigenous-settler Reconciliation

The Truth and Reconciliation Commission of Canada has put forth calls to action to advance the process of reconciliation between Indigenous and non-Indigenous peoples. The calls to action address municipal governments in some respects. Municipal jurisdictions are called upon — in addition to federal, provincial, and territorial governments — to fully adopt and implement the United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples (UNDRIP). Reconciliation would require municipal governments to disassemble to a significant extent Eurocentric concepts and procedures that have imposed settler-colonial sovereignty over Indigenous Peoples and their territories.1
IPPTF.pngCredit: Danielle Desjarlais and Kateri Lucier-Laboucan, Indigenous Design Studio at Brook McIlroy Inc.

The graphic is based on the Prophesy of the Seven Fires of the Anishinaabe and the idea that we are currently in the time of the seventh fire, when a choice will be made that will determine the future. This is highly relevant to the issue of planning and climate change. This is why the seventh fire at the top of the graphic is without colour. The outcome is up to us as a collective.
Report of the Indigenous Planning Perspectives Task Force highlights the need for collaboration and dialogue between Indigenous communities and mostly non-Indigenous planning professionals in reconciliation efforts. Two major points are emphasized in this report first, Indigenous Peoples are urbanized. Around 85 per cent of Indigenous Peoples are living in municipalities in Ontario. Second, Indigenous communities are diverse. Each community has its own culture, history, values, law, and traditions.2 However, diversity is not only a characteristic of Indigenous Peoples.

Contemporary discussions about reconciliation in Canada generally relegate non-Indigenous peoples as a homogenous group and predominantly as white settlers, thus ignoring the complexity of demographic nuances, increasing diversity, and racialized dynamics of the settler populations. Canada’s population is projected to be further diversified in the future, and international immigration will be the main factor in its increase in Canada. By 2036, immigrants could represent up to 30 per cent of the population, and nearly one in five people will be a second-generation immigrant. Overall, first and second-generation immigrants would represent one person in two by 2036.3 Ontario is the most favourable destination for immigrants, and its urban spaces will be intensively shared between a mainstream community, Indigenous Peoples, and highly diverse ethnocultural groups. Research findings in Winnipeg show that immigrant newcomers and Indigenous inhabitants have started their coexistence in the inner-city neighbourhoods. Immigrants recognize Indigenous prior occupancy and believe that their specific right-claims should be respected by the mainstream society and institutions. On the other hand, Indigenous Peoples are mostly willing to have peaceful coexistence with new Canadians and welcome the increasing diversity of urban spaces and places due to immigration.4 

Collaboration, building relationships, and engagement with Indigenous Peoples in planning require high levels of social and cultural literacy and competency on behalf of planners in understanding Indigenous perspectives and approaches to planning to effectively mediate communications, resolve conflicts, and negotiate planning priorities. Canadian cities have been built on traditional Indigenous territories, areas where Indigenous Peoples were and are sovereign peoples. Urban planning has played a significant role in facilitating the elimination and invisibility of Indigenous Peoples from cities.

In planning for reconciliation, two major aspects should be taken into consideration. First, the fact of prior occupancy involves the inherent right to self-determination, treaty, and constitutional rights for Indigenous communities. Municipal governments and planning professionals should not try to engage Indigenous Peoples in planning processes in the same framework that they use to reach out to other ethnocultural diversity groups. This approach downgrades Indigenous inhabitants to an ethnocultural minority group and circumscribes their specific rights claims and hinders reconciliation. Augmenting Indigenous socio-cultural representation and the recognition of Indigenous rights claims in planning hinge on transforming the existing understandings of Indigenous Peoples and their influence on cities among planners.5

On the other hand, conventional approaches to multiculturalism and inclusion of ethnocultural communities in society should be transformed as well. Cross-cultural understandings between immigrants and Indigenous Peoples should be enhanced. New immigrants should be informed about settler colonialism and its impact on Indigenous communities and meaningfully engage in discussions about reconciliation.
As the Ontarian society becomes more diverse in the future, the number of planners belonging to ethnocultural community groups will increase, too. Planning pedagogy and approaches to Indigenous engagement in planning activities should enable planners to cope with the complexities of reconciliation in an ethnoculturally hyper-diverse society. The is also a need for normative commitment among professional planners and municipal officials to cross-cultural understanding and increasing their cultural literacy and competency in facilitating negotiations between new settlers/immigrants, Indigenous communities, and other stakeholders involved in planning processes. 

1: Truth and Reconciliation Commission of Canada: Calls to Action. 2015. Retrieved from:
2: Indigenous Perspectives in Planning: Report of the Indigenous Planning Perspectives Task Force. 2019. Retrieved from:
3: Statistics Canada. 2017. Immigration and Diversity: Population Projections for Canada and its Regions, 2011 to 2036. Retrieved from:
4: Nejad, S. 2018. City Planning, Design, and Programming for Indigenous Urbanism and Ethnocultural Diversity in Winnipeg. PhD thesis, University of Saskatchewan. Available at:
5: ibid


The views expressed in this blog post are those of the author(s), and may not reflect the position of the Ontario Professional Planners Institute.

Post by Sarem Nejad, PhD

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