According to famed Indigenous architect Douglas Cardinal, western architectural design has traditionally been patriarchal. However, at the Indigenous Design Thinking symposium held at the University of Calgary, he and others discussed incorporating an Indigenous matriarchal view, challenging old ways of thinking.

Cardinal, 84, is an accomplished architect that has touched many lives through his work, giving him a unique perspective on designs that are connected to nature.

“It comes from a base, I feel, is very founded in the idea that people are dominion over the earth.”

The standard view has been based off a patriarchal one that doesn’t necessarily create something unique and interesting, having it lose the ability to be something more than just a square or rectangular block, with nothing defining the building other than it just being a building.

People are a part of what is being created according to Indigenous beliefs, which is opposed by a conventional outlook.

“Indigenous people are not that arrogant. They believe that they are nature, so naturally the people who are dominion over nature have to be dominion over the people of nature, which are the Indigenous people,” explains Cardinal.

“That’s why they have developed a system within Canada of apartheid, and have caused so much hardship for the Indigenous people.”

According to Cardinal, the patriarchal view of the world has persisted because there are lessons to be learned.

“We don’t look at the world as good and evil, right or wrong, good or bad. We don’t have that dualistic way of looking at that world. If anything, there’s just good and a crooked good that needs to be straightened out,” says Cardinal.

Having time to reflect on the past, Canada is now looking for ways to reconcile with First Nations communities.

One way reconciliation is beginning is with new initiatives to promote the preservation of Indigenous culture and traditions. This can be seen with the University of Calgary’s new Indigenous strategy, ii” taa’poh’to’p.

The strategy plans for more inclusivity with the Indigenous community on campus by promoting Indigenous culture and ideas, helping to incorporate their ways of thinking.

This kicked off with the symposium on Jan. 25 at the university. It included Indigenous designers sharing their stories and work, including Cardinal, the event’s keynote speaker.

The event had hundreds of people in attendance, including the mayor, who spoke pridefully about the initiative. It showed just how wide the scope can be and how initiatives like these help both Indigenous and non-Indigenous move forward .

Dr. Suzanne Morrissette is a Cree-Metis artist who was a panel moderator at the event. She sees ii” taa’poh’to’p as being a part of the healing process with Canadians around the country, contributing to the national conversation around reconciliation.

“I think it’s a national, maybe a broader, […] International conversation that’s about honouring and recognizing the First Peoples of these territories,” explains Morrissette.

Including Indigenous people in the conversation is important to making meaningful change, as well as tailoring to their needs, just like any other student.

“I do think that on a student level the effectiveness of creating spaces for Indigenous students is just so important,” says Morrissette. “It was not long ago that I was a student myself, and being able to find spaces for myself within those institutions has been an immensely important part of my education.”

Having spaces to grow and prosper is important, and that perspective while getting an education can be an eye-opening experience, as the Anishinaabe designer and conference speaker, Cheyenne Thomas, learned.

“Being Indigenous in the faculty [of architecture at University of Manitoba], there wasn’t a lot of content that I could relate to that was about the reserves or the inner cities. I just had the perspective that I had growing up, the community was unique because it wasn’t really presented as much, and I knew that was really important to have in the faculty.”

What this initiative represents is something bigger – something that participants say has been a long time coming. The Indigenization of campuses is just a small step in the bigger picture.

“I think that right now is the most exciting time because there’s such a resurgence, there’s like a fire in people,” says Thomas. ”Right now musicians, artists and dancers are doing amazing things that have never been seen before.”

Editor: Deanna Tucker | 

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