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Danielle Desjarlais and Kateri Lucier-Laboucan, Indigenous Design Studio at Brook McIlroy Inc.

Indigenous Planning Perspectives Task Force Report

Establishing Context

By: Calvin Brook, Daniel Millette, and Susan Robertson

To Task Force Members:

The following is a start — and a rough draft only — to provide context for any recommendations the Task Force may provide to OPPI Council. This is based on the approach that the desire to address reconciliation requires, as a starting point, substantive knowledge of the “Truth” within the “Truth and Reconciliation” paradigm.

The following text is very incomplete and welcomes input. We have tried to balance research with the direct voices of Indigenous leaders — those most qualified to speak to an Indigenous perspective. In developing this draft further, more direct voices from Indigenous leaders would be beneficial.

A)   Key Elements of an Historical Perspective

  • Indigenous Peoples have been present on the lands we know as Canada for 15,000-plus years.
  • When the Europeans arrived, Indigenous Peoples had been governing their lands with planning, architecture, and environmental design tenets that had been established for millennia.
  • As a result of the British North America Act of 1867, control and ownership of the lands and resources previously owned by Indigenous Peoples were given to the Crown.
  • The Indian Act was established, virtually controlling every aspect of Indigenous life, including taking lands through surveying and a vast colonial apparatus.
  • The history and impacts of colonization, including the cultural genocide the Truth and Reconciliation Commission references.
  • The dispossession of Indigenous Peoples from their lands resulted in the loss of cultural and traditional practice.
  • Potlatch and other traditional practices were outlawed without considering the broader impacts.
  • The importance of the treaties as agreements between sovereign nations and the history of broken treaties.
  • The reserve system and the poverty it has imposed.
  • The impacts of the residential schools.
  • The continued practice of taking Indigenous, Inuit, and Métis children from their families and communities and placing them in foster homes, referred to as the Sixties scoop and the Millennium or Millennial scoop.
  • Today, of Canada’s 998.5 million hectare land mass, only 3.5 million hectares are considered First Nations Lands. However, even these largely “reserve” lands are owned by the Crown and governed by provisions of the Indian Act.
  • The barriers to building wealth that result from reserve land possession/transfer restrictions.

The impacts of this dispossession of Indigenous lands has been, and remains, at the core of the devastation that has been experienced by Indigenous Peoples in Canada. The following statistics begin to tell the story:

  • The Community Well-Being Index for First Nations communities reveals the disparity between Indigenous and non-Indigenous communities across indicators of income, education, and housing. The quality and quantity of housing for First Nations communities continues to be a crisis for many reserve communities and for those living in urban areas.
  • Life expectancy for Indigenous people is nine years less than for non-Indigenous Canadians.
  • Young Indigenous individuals are six times more likely to die from suicide than non-Indigenous youth. At the same time, roughly one-third of Canada’s 1.5 million Indigenous Peoples are under the age of 14.
  • Ontario has the highest Indigenous population of any province and an on-reserve child poverty rate of 48 per cent.
  • More than 23 per cent of the inmate population in federal institutions are Aboriginal people, an incarceration rate 10 times higher than among non-Aboriginal people, and two-thirds of the inmates in Western Canada are Aboriginal people.
  • 60 per cent of Indigenous Peoples in Canada now live in urban areas, and off-reserve Aboriginal people constitute the fastest growing segment of Canadian society.

Potential implications for Task Force recommendations to OPPI Council:

Awareness of these histories and current realities provide the necessary context and are a prerequisite for developing planning initiatives or policies that impact Indigenous communities. Being able to acknowledge the injustices of the past and present and how they continue to challenge Indigenous communities is, in itself, key to a planner’s capacity to develop a working relationship with Indigenous Peoples.

B)   Indigenous Planning Perspectives: Land

  • “Land. If you understand nothing else about the history of Indians in North America, you need to understand that the question that really matters is the question of land.” Thomas King
  • “....Do not tell me that you can solve this with a new program or new services administered from Ottawa or by Ottawa’s agents in our communities.....There is only one program to solve this dependency and despair, and that is to get rid of the deadening weight of colonialism that causes it. For us to once again have access to our land and for the settlers to recognize at last our Creator-given title to it.” Arthur Manuel
  • Millenarian experience: Indigenous Peoples have inhabited the territory now called Ontario for approximately 15,000 years. Contact with settlers was approximately 500 years ago.
  • The existence of Canada as a nation, established in 1867, represents a mere one per cent of the timeline of Indigenous civilizations having full rights to these lands.
  • From an Indigenous perspective, Indigenous nations have a deep civilizational claim to the land. They governed over the lands that are now known as Canada prior to European arrival. The presence (some would say occupation) by European settlers is a recent phenomenon that has caused dispossession of Indigenous Peoples from their Traditional Territories and devastation to their livelihood and way of life.
  • “This massive land dispossession and resultant dependency is not only a humiliation and an instant impoverishment, it has devastated our social, political, economic, cultural and spiritual life. We continue to pay for it every day in grinding poverty, broken social relations and too often in life-ending despair.” -Arthur Manuel
  • “We occupied this territory before the newcomers came. The border between the United States and Canada is an arbitrary one and it was only recently established.....many of our nations straddle this border and live on both sides.” -Lee Maracle
  • “Canadians have a myth about themselves, and it seems this myth is inviolable. They are innocent. They gave us things: they were kind to us. The reality is that Canada has seized vast tracts of land, leaving only small patches of land specifically for us, as though they indeed owned everything and we had nothing, not even a tablespoon of dirt. Canada says it gave us these lands, and Canadians actually believe that Canada “gave us” these reserves. In fact Canada took all the land but the reserves it set aside for us. You cannot give someone something that already belongs to them.” -Lee Maracle
  • “Indigenous Peoples from enjoying 100 per cent of the landmass, were reduced by the settlers to a tiny patchwork of reserves that consisted of only 0.2 per cent of the landmass of Canada — the territory of our existing reserves — with the settlers claiming 99.8 per cent for themselves. Looking at it another way, while Indigenous Peoples are around 5 per cent of the population, we have been left with just two-tenths of one per cent of the 100 per cent lands that were originally given to us by our Creator. This is, in simple acreage, the biggest land theft in the history of mankind.” -Arthur Manuel

Potential implications for Task Force recommendations to OPPI Council:

The planning profession is focused on the disposition of land and resources. Planners by profession rely on tools borne out of the colonial era — surveying, land titles, GRDS imposition, and so on. Planners therefore have the opportunity to be at the forefront of the seismic shift in policies governing land and resources that are presently in motion. In particular, the Canadian Government’s stated commitment to:

  • The TRC Calls to Action;
  • The Nation to Nations relationship;
  • The eventual elimination of the Indian Act — and current initiatives, including the Framework Agreement on First Nation Land Management;
  • The adoption of the United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples (UNDRIP), and

..... the constitutional reform and repatriation of Indigenous lands and resource rights and/or compensations which these policies will set in motion.

C)   Indigenous Planning Perspectives: Treaties

  • By definition, a treaty is an agreement between sovereign nations (nation to nation).
  • We are all treaty people (Indigenous and non-Indigenous).
  • From an Indigenous perspective, the intent of the treaties was the sharing of land and its resources in perpetuity.
  • For many Indigenous Nations, treaties are sacred and remain the basis for legal claims and rights over their territories and resources.
  • Generally, most of the intents and specific conditions of the treaties have been broken.

Indigenous Planning Perspectives: Notes

Bill C-262 legislation currently under review in the Senate harmonizes federal laws with the UN Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples. If passed, it will have wide-ranging impacts on the restitution of land and resources for Indigenous Peoples.

Extracts from Bill C-262

Recognizing the urgent need to respect and promote the inherent rights of Indigenous Peoples which derive from their political, economic and social structures and from their cultures, spiritual traditions, histories and philosophies, especially their rights to their lands, territories and resources.

Article 25

Indigenous peoples have the right to maintain and strengthen their distinctive spiritual relationship with their traditionally owned or otherwise occupied and used lands, territories, waters and coastal seas and other resources and to uphold their responsibilities to future generations in this regard.‍

Article 26

1. Indigenous peoples have the right to the lands, territories and resources which they have traditionally owned, occupied or otherwise used or acquired.‍

2. Indigenous peoples have the right to own, use, develop and control the lands, territories and resources that they possess by reason of traditional ownership or other traditional occupation or use, as well as those which they have otherwise acquired.‍

3. States shall give legal recognition and protection to these lands, territories and resources. Such recognition shall be conducted with due respect to the customs, traditions and land tenure systems of the Indigenous peoples concerned.‍

Article 27

States shall establish and implement, in conjunction with Indigenous peoples concerned, a fair, independent, impartial, open and transparent process, giving due recognition to Indigenous peoples’ laws, traditions, customs and land tenure systems, to recognize and adjudicate the rights of Indigenous peoples pertaining to their lands, territories and resources, including those which were traditionally owned or otherwise occupied or used. Indigenous peoples shall have the right to participate in this process.‍

Article 28

1. Indigenous peoples have the right to redress, by means that can include restitution or, when this is not possible, just, fair and equitable compensation, for the lands, territories and resources which they have traditionally owned or otherwise occupied or used, and which have been confiscated, taken, occupied, used or damaged without their free, prior and informed consent.‍

2. Unless otherwise freely agreed upon by the peoples concerned, compensation shall take the form of lands, territories and resources equal in quality, size and legal status or of monetary compensation or other appropriate redress.‍

Article 29

1. Indigenous peoples have the right to the conservation and protection of the environment and the productive capacity of their lands or territories and resources. States shall establish and implement assistance programmes for Indigenous peoples for such conservation and protection, without discrimination.‍

2. States shall take effective measures to ensure that no storage or disposal of hazardous materials shall take place in the lands or territories of Indigenous peoples without their free, prior and informed consent.‍

3. States shall also take effective measures to ensure, as needed, that programmes for monitoring, maintaining and restoring the health of Indigenous peoples, as developed and implemented by the peoples affected by such materials, are duly implemented. ‍

Cover 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.