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January 03, 2020

Empowering a Treaty Conversation About Relationships and Planning Policy

Empowering a Treaty Conversation About Relationships and Planning Policy

Image: 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.

“As all parties in the Treaty relationship move forward, we need to find new ways to work together; it is a responsibility held by both First Nations and the rest of Canada
– Loretta Ross, Commissioner, Treaty Commission of Manitoba

“Restoring Indigenous worldviews back onto the land is how we can work towards balance.”
- Kamala Todd, Métis-Cree writer, film-maker and community planner

Discussions on Indigenous rights, recognition, and reconciliation are challenging Canadians to a place of question and Truth. As part of this shift, institutions are taking steps to educate, recognize and reset processes that have marginalized Indigenous Peoples. Planning is one such institution. As a colonial structure, planning has displaced Indigenous Peoples from ancestral territories and overshadowed the original planning guiding documents of the land, Treaties.

Treaty principles were not only relationship principles intended to guide the two parties through an equal relationship; but also planning principles on how to effectively coexist equally on the land, maintain a healthy relationship to the land and natural resources and sustain distinct cultural identities, sovereignty, self-determination and ways of knowing.

Since the development of Canada, western planning approaches, practices and perspectives have intentionally failed to reflect the rights and interests of Indigenous Peoples and have limited Indigenous ability to make decisions and maintain a role of authority over Indigenous territories. However, the very nature of planning as a profession of change is a remedy for a healthy, safe environment to develop mediated frameworks that embody the true spirit of the Indigenous and non-Indigenous relationship to each other and the land moving forward.

Emerging Planning Policy and Actions

In summer 2018, the Canadian Institute of Planners (CIP) launched the first-ever Planning Practice and Reconciliation policy which defines the role planning and planners play in reconciliation. The Ontario Professional Planners Institute (OPPI) launched its Indigenous Planning Perspectives Task Force report in June 2019. The report is an opportunity to begin discussions and open up the planning profession to begin taking steps to work together with Indigenous land rights recognition, assertion and jurisdiction in a way that is meaningful reconciliation. These are steps for the planning profession in Canada, to understanding the Truth within the reconciliation discourse. Now is the time to reimagine the road ahead to map out a better future between Indigenous and Non-Indigenous peoples.

The OPPI report delineates 14 preliminary commitments for action. These actions range from broadening engagement, making a formal statement of commitment, improving capacity of staff and members, ensuring Indigenous education forms a part of core competencies and continuous professional learning requirements, OPPI sharing resources and knowledge to encourage the decolonialization of planning and exploring the formation of an Indigenous Advisory Circle in the future.

With that being said, there is an opportunity to go one step further and recognizing that planning policy needs Indigenous voices. The proposed edits of the Provincial Planning Policy has suggested that Indigenous Peoples roles are persons “to be consulted with” and  “Planning authorities are encouraged to build constructive, cooperative relationships through meaningful engagement with Indigenous communities to facilitate knowledge-sharing in land use planning processes and inform decision-making” Indigenous peoples are more than just knowledge sharers. Indigenous Peoples, communities and Nations are decision makers and leaders in how we wish to plan our territories now and for the future. 

The status quo of planning policy that is not place-based lacks the bigger vision, connection to land and therein reflects assimilative qualities of a colonial worldview. By embracing identity and jurisdiction of place through the inclusive and wholistic teachings of Indigenous Treaty and Crown Land agreements and the intended relationships, Canada as a young nation built on colonization, can develop a sustainable and balanced approach to long-term planning. Indigenous and Crown agreements carry the long-term vision that supersedes the visions of interchangeable governments. They are long standing agreements that reflect the relationship to the land and to each other and provide already established and mutually agreed upon values and principles in which the relationship should move forward. With climate change, this is more important now than ever before.

Talking Truth – a brief history of Planning and the erasure of Indigenous Peoples

Politics is at the heart of planning. Planning in law, policy, decision-making processes and professional practices reflects the culture, identity and relationship to place of those with the privilege and power to decide. It is this nature of planning and its relationship to land that clashes with Indigenous ways planning and relating to land. Therefore, planning policy, processes and practices are not simply neutral nor generic technical tools and rules.

This colonial legacy continues today in modern planning practices by:
  1. Assuming Indigenous timelines and decision-making processes must fit into western- settler practices.
  2. Assuming Indigenous planning is constrained by Indigenous community boundaries and stop at municipal/ provincial boundaries.
  3. Assuming that Indigenous ways of planning are not science based.
  4. Assuming that Indigenous community planning can be contextualized and compartmentalized instead of recognizing that it is a way of daily living in relationship to the earth.
  5. Neglecting to acknowledge and respect the spiritual, spatial and temporal importance of land and sacred spaces.
Combined, this leaves little space for Indigenous planning practices, decision-making processes, both traditional and societal, relating to land in planning decisions and practices that alter the land and therein infringe upon the treaty relationship.

Planning needs to open up. It needs to build ethical space for other ways of relating to the world. It must refrain from forcing Indigenous peoples to function in a worldview that limits Indigenous processes, timelines and ability to plan for future generations. Planning is an opportunity to revisit the roles and responsibilities and respect Indigenous planning jurisdiction. Professionals must step outside of the idea that planning is lines on the map that requires the consultation of specific groups on a project to project basis, and seek to meaningfully engage with, and respect Indigenous planning processes as a way of living and a role of authority.

A Future Together
The Indigenous rights movement is creating the change; a change to align planning with Indigenous led practices, voices and principles. Together, as Planners in Canada we need to move away from business as usual, from an incremental planning and development policy approach, and support professional and institutional decolonization through education, uncomfortable dialogue, deep reflections on policies and practices that limit Indigenous peoples’ decision-making abilities and authority; and create a pathway forward that is based on respect and responsibilities to the future.

OPPI’s Indigenous Planning Perspectives Task Force report is a step to having these conversations openly and begin to deconstruct the colonial nature of planning. To rebuild it based on recognition and meaningful, respectful relationships. It is an initial sign of commitment for a better future together between Indigenous and Non-Indigenous communities. A future where harmony can be restored between Indigenous and Non-Indigenous people through collaborative and just community planning policy and practice.
Achieving the vision of reconciliation is more a Non-Indigenous exercise than an Indigenous one. ReconciliACTION requires taking the honest and difficult actions to decolonize. As planners, let’s lean in to decolonize our relationships, to each other and to the land.

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 Stephanie Burnham and Susan Robertson, RPP

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