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June 01, 2020

Planning's Relationship with Indigenous Communities: Planning Policy and Slow Progress in Changing Times

We do not want to be seen as speaking on behalf of Indigenous Peoples, but want to share our thoughts and experiences with the goal of encouraging planners to have more conversations, ask more questions and promote more action around engaging and building relationships with Indigenous Peoples and Communities.

The planning profession is meant to respond to growth, change and adaptation to the issues, opportunities and challenges of the times. Planning is a powerful tool that is used to support decision making about land use and access to land and is deeply driven by legislation and policy. Planning decisions have the power to control use and access to land, and planners are mandated through our Professional Code of Practice to consider the public interest including the impacts of growth and development on the environment, cultures, and the health and wellbeing of society. However, the power structure of western planning has excluded Indigenous communities, either explicitly through the reserve system, or implicitly through policy and legislation. Western planning has generally ignored Indigenous land use practices and autonomy to make way for the growth and development of settler-Canadian society. 

This dynamic is not in the past. The evolution of discussions about how to include Indigenous perspectives in western planning is rooted in discussions of Truth and Reconciliation, the Duty to Consult and most recently, the United Nations Declaration of Rights of Indigenous Peoples (UNDRIP), with the intention to acknowledge past wrongs, repair damage, and mend the relationship with Indigenous Peoples. This has led to some confusion by some Planners (particularly consultants and Municipal Planners) as to their role in Duty to Consult, and engaging with Indigenous Peoples, which has been further confused by the positions put forward by some municipalities that the Duty to Consult purely resides with the Crown (Federal and Provincial). See the Path Matters November 2019 issue for more detail.
20200602.jpgPrior to the 2014 Provincial Policy Statement (PPS) update, there was no mention or acknowledgement of Indigenous rights and interests to the land. Regardless of various court decisions over the past three decades, movements and government reports that have highlighted the inequalities suffered by Indigenous Peoples; Ontario planning policy has only recently made considerations to open dialogue with Indigenous communities regarding land use decisions. The PPS is a central document for professional planners (and others) that guides decisions for land use planning in Ontario. It has been instrumental in the shift in planning considerations as our world of understanding and community needs evolve. Indigenous Rights and planning in Ontario were first explicitly brought together in the PPS changes in 2014 which encourages consultation and coordination of Indigenous rights and interests, specifically in relation to cultural heritage and archaeology. These policy changes were effective in highlighting a gap within the planning process that ignited conversations on how to consult with a largely marginalized population that has a deep rooted relationship with the land. This was a step. However, the soft language of the PPS 2014 left many with the impression that this was a “nice to do,” not something that we MUST do.

Since this time, the planning profession, with the support of the hard work of many planners, took a progressive step in acknowledging the role planning has played in the dark history of Canada with Indigenous Peoples. The discussion around engaging and building relationships with Indigenous Communities and Peoples has been part of the last eight-plus years of presentations at the OPPI conferences and symposiums. The Canadian Institute of Planners developed their Policy on Planning Practice and Reconciliation and OPPI Council received the Indigenous Planning Perspectives Task Force Report and approved its recommendations in full in June 2019. These documents call for significant changes within the planning profession to decolonize, educate and support various changes needed within planning to meet the needs of Indigenous Peoples and reconciliation. These highlight that planners want to understand and do better, but they need support. Many can see the benefit of building relationships - but may not be sure how to do so, especially given the frameworks within planning in which decisions are made.  

The 2020 PPS update provides stronger language that reinforces the Duty to Consult and the type of relationship that planning in Ontario shall create with Indigenous Peoples. These changes include Ontario’s recognition of Indigenous Peoples unique relationship to land and resources, their role in land use planning and the contribution Indigenous Peoples knowledge has on land use planning decisions. The 2020 PPS also clearly acknowledges the Duty to Consult on matters that may impact Aboriginal (Indigenous) rights  as protected by Section 35 of the Canadian Constitution and encourages meaningful relationships that promote knowledge-sharing and inform decision-making on land use decisions. The 2020 PPS states that Planning authorities shall engage and coordinate with Indigenous Peoples on matters of land use planning and cultural heritage; and clearly acknowledges the potential benefits a healthy relationship with Indigenous communities could have on the growth and development within Ontario. This shift in policy demonstrates clear intent on strengthening the relationship between western planning and Indigenous Communities and appears to be moving in the right direction for the future of Ontario - but has it gone far enough in the direction needed for recognition of Indigenous planning decisions?  

Despite the progress that has been made, it is difficult to have faith that this latest change in guidance will have the intended impacts, when the level of engagement of Indigenous Peoples on the 2014 and 2020 PPS update fell short of expectations of meaningful engagement. Planners are challenged with the need to develop more context around their understanding of true inclusion, engagement, and the context in which Indigenous communities assert their rights and responsibilities. It has become clear that Indigenous communities are not ‘stakeholders’ in the common language of planners. They are Nations, governments and Treaty holders with distinct rights and autonomy. Planning needs to truly consider this as part of our processes and as a profession

We are all Treaty People, but many of us do not know or understand the treaties that also govern the land we plan for. Most planners have heard land 20200603.jpgacknowledgements - but do they really understand them?  We all need to take the time to learn about and understand the unique Indigenous heritage and treaties. We need to reach out to Indigenous Communities and Peoples to further the discussion and understanding of how we can work together, and not continue to make decisions on their behalf. Regardless of what Planning Policy requires us to do, we cannot extinguish (and must recognize) the roles, responsibilities and the inherent rights of Indigenous Peoples that are tied to their relationships with the land, which may include title. We believe that many planners want to do more and do better, however many of us entered into this professional world lacking the basic understanding of the history of Canada, and the atrocities that have been inflicted on Indigenous Peoples. 

Planners can do more to find common ground between Indigenous and public interests. We as professional planners must have knowledge on what those interests are and advocate for time and space for Indigenous voices to be heard and speak directly to these interests, but not speak for Indigenous Peoples. To fully understand these interests, planners must take time to listen and comprehend the worldviews amongst Indigenous Nations that have many commonalities, but also many differences. One common view is that of a seven generations approach that entrusts good values of the past in the hands of the present to ensure a healthy future for seven generations. This is something we can learn from to consider how long our planning decisions of today can impact the world. Indigenous interests vary, not all Indigenous communities speak with one voice, and there may be differences in opinion that could slow the process. It is important to acknowledge that, after centuries of being ignored, many Indigenous communities are working towards developing effective engagement processes that work best for their Community, and in some cases, the Nation; and taking the time to reimagine an empowered, self-determined future. This can be a challenging, liberating, and empowering process for Indigenous communities and a confusing time for planners because it includes the reawakening of traditional governance bodies, the reorganizing of current governance structures, and the implementation of Indigenous land use practices (amongst other things). Some communities have prepared very clear ideas, policies and approaches for not only engagement, but also their own processes based on self-determination. The capacity of Indigenous Communities also varies - some have more capacity than municipal governments, while others do not. 

What can we do as individuals and as a profession? 
We can influence our environment that we work within. Support and encourage the conversation. Educate yourself - think about what you know, and where you have information gaps that you need to fill. Create time and space for meaningful engagement. Do not predetermine outcomes - have discussions! Create space within your planning department for an Indigenous planning role. Ask questions and be inquisitive. Advocate for policy changes at the Federal, Provincial and Municipal levels. Go beyond what is mandated. Think about how to create space for Indigenous People at the discussion and decision table. How can we make our processes more fluid?  How can you support building relationships? How can you make space for conversation? Be vocal about having mandatory content for students at our approved planning schools as we cannot have reconciliation without knowledge and highlight the need for this knowledge in job descriptions. Continue to ask OPPI and CIP to support us in working through these questions. Know that answers are not one-size-fits-all and support being equitable. Talk to Indigenous Peoples and attend community events. Stop approaching things on a project-by-project basis and instead work towards a long-term relationship. Acknowledge your relationship with Treaties and how it should be considered and respected in our planning decisions. Push boundaries with purpose. Think about how we can create balance within our own systems to support Indigenous planning efforts that result in healthy self-determination. Be open. Be patient. Progress has been slow, but it is progress. We cannot give up and we need to keep pushing discussions and actions forward.

The images in this post are from project work undertaken by Dillon Consulting Limited for the Ministry of Transportation. This work was designed in conjunction with a First Nation collaboration involving the staff at the Walpole Island Heritage Center and the artist, Teresa Altiman.

For more resources related to the Duty to Consult, Seven Generation Principle and much more, please consult OPPI's Indigenous Planning Perspectives Resource List; it is a curated list of resources that is updated quarterly and is intended to provide access to important and timely learning materials for planners of all levels of experience.

If you have any additional resources you would like to share with OPPI, or have any follow-up questions on this post, please contract OPPI Education Manager Ryan Des Roches.


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 Heather Swan, RPP and Stephanie Burnham

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