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February 08, 2021

Understanding the truth: Practical lessons for planners

Understanding the truth: Practical lessons for planners
Photo by James Wheeler from Pexels
An interview with Sheri Longboat, PhD

Note: This post is a supplement to the article “Shared responsibilities: Land, treaties, and the planning profession” in the Winter 2021 issue of OPPI’s Y Magazine.

Understanding the truth is a necessary step before following a path towards reconciliation. That understanding is both professional and personal. We asked Sheri Longboat for some guidance on how planners can inspire change on a personal level.

Here are some suggestions:

Question assumptions within current planning systems.“Planning has been a vehicle for colonization, and treaties were the contractual documents,” says Longboat. “Modern treaties, or treaty land entitlement agreements, are of a different nature but those too need to be understood from Indigenous Peoples’ perspectives, those knowledge systems and laws.

Learn the history of your region. “Indigenous Peoples had well-developed civilizations, social, cultural, political, economic systems before settlers arrived, as well as strong economies and trade and legal orders,” says Longboat. “History did not begin based on settler arrival — this is a fallacy and a basis for misunderstanding.” 

Engage with Indigenous communities to co-develop and learn in times of good relations.

Seek to honour all relations to reconnect with land, including your own positionality and responsibility to land, creation, and all people.

Don’t be afraid of change. “We are in a time of change,” she says, noting that change occurs at different levels, including within professions, organizations, and individuals. “If we focus on the individual level, I’m reminded of Haudenosaunee teachings about the individual gifts each person has been gifted by Creator: when we fulfill our personal responsibilities on an individual level, and with a good mind, we can make change.”
With respect to the larger changes happening all around us — ecological change, the pandemic — she recalls her experiences talking to Elders about water teachings, land teachings, the relationships and, in particular, Scared Water Circles, where Indigenous Peoples from Latin and Central America and Canada shared prophecies and spiritual beliefs.
“The commonality was just amazing,” she says. “When we talked about collective consciousness, all of this energy of people coming together, recognizing that through bringing together all of our willingness to want to see a different future, it is very possible.”
The Anishinaabe Elders speak of the Seven Fires Prophecies. “We are at the time of the Seventh Fire,” she says, explaining “It’s a time where the new people — the non-Indigenous people — will come to a point where they will understand that our current path is not sustainable, and they will come to the Elders, seeking knowledge. The Elders say that it is their responsibility to share that knowledge and that’s also why they’ve had to keep that knowledge alive— because they knew the Seventh Fire was coming and that knowledge would have to be shared.”

According to the prophesy, the new people have to choose between two paths. “They say that if new people follow the light path, a spiritual path, they’ll enter the Eighth Fire, which is the eternal fire of peace,” she says. “And if they choose the dark path, the current path, it’s destruction, because it’s not sustainable —the earth, Mother Earth, our land, will not be able to sustain us.”

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 Sheri Longboat

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