Thoughts on Indigenous Planning

In certain contexts around the globe, at least for Canada which is what I am concerned with, planning is essentially a very colonialist concept and practice. Settlers settle, take, and configure policy, design, and public goods over top of Native land after extracting and exploiting all the resources it takes to do so. Yuck. When I finally and fully realized that, I felt gross to be a student studying it.

I feel like I always intrinsically understood this about planning, but finally putting the language to it is a slap in the face and a wake-up call. If planning is such a colonialist concept, what are planners across Canada doing to aid in the reconciliation efforts of Indigenous peoples? Yes, planners in some places across Canada are doing their due diligence. But this is not true for everywhere. Another thought: why am I figuring this out on my own instead of having it grilled in me at my program which is arguably the best undergrad for planning studies in the country? I felt betrayed by my own potential future profession and by professors who did and still do not make Indigenous consultation, knowledge, and wisdom a priority. Hell, I’ve only heard the land acknowledgement a couple times in all of the 25 classes I’ve taken thus far.

I want to work in a profession where ‘Indigenous planning’ is a common, meaningful term used to the same extent as, for example, ‘urban design.’

Additionally, I felt frustrated with myself. I had always known I was part Native, but I have only taken an interest in understanding what being “part Native” meant for me recently (as I’m entering my twenties and learning what pretty much everything means to me). Now that I’m undergoing that journey (which is a whole other story), I am regretting that I am only considering Indigenous issues now. Both my self identity exploration and Indigenous planning consideration stemmed from being exposed to urban Indigenous issues at my last job, but it is so internally frustrating that I am only concerning myself with Indigenous issues in planning now that I am understanding what it means to be me. Everyone should be concerned with Indigenous issues. We all play a part on the path to reconciliation. I think I should have known better to pay attention to this before. Thankfully I am so young in my career that I am still able to make a big difference in this dialogue; one that I think needs to be made.

What does ‘Indigenous planning’ even look like, though? To be honest, I can’t answer that. I can not answer that for Indigenous peoples. I feel like this is an answer that is up for them to give. It isn’t right to speak their words. Indigenous planning, as far as I can say, is giving Indigenous peoples themselves priority in the planning dialogue when matters concern their culture, community, and value system. It means giving them back their voices on what they want done to solve problems that concern them. This means letting them teach about the land, the medicines, and lead the dialogue. This, of course, is not only limited to resource allocation and land, but also public safety and public health. It’s their turn to speak on what needs to be done.

We can do better as planners to include the voices that were originally stomped on in order for planning to even exist in our country. It’s our duty as planners to do better, not only for the benefit of advancing reconciliation efforts, but also as decent human beings.


Note: This post will be followed up with a more thoughtfully researched and better articulated post that digs into what is currently being done re: Indigenous planning in Canada. I can see this post being the first of many on the topic.

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