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In an era of constant flux, where the historical and ongoing harms against Indigenous people are slowly being recognized and pursuits of reconciliation are at least being spoken of, we find ourselves - Indigenous and non-Indigenous people - pretty urban. Before the hustle and bustle of cities like Saskatoon, Edmonton, Vancouver, and Toronto, these places were, and continue to be, important sites for gathering, berry picking, fishing and hunting, practicing ceremony, and burying the dead. For Indigenous people, Black people, and many other communities of colour, cities often represent opportunity and connection, while simultaneously being sites of exclusivity, displacement, and destruction. We must collectively remember this.

City-building in what is currently called Canada is intimately connected to colonialism. Urban planning was and continues to be a tool - here and around the world - of colonization. The building of cities was critical for Canada to displace Indigenous peoples and assert its sover- eignty over lands. Cities, at least western “planned” ones, were viewed as enlightened and civilized spaces. Which of course, to the planners and elected leaders, was in direct opposi- tion to the “savage Indian.” As a result, many attempts have been made to force Indigenous peoples off our lands and out of the cities onto reserves or road allowances. Despite these attempts, Indigenous peoples have never left our territories and today over 50% of Indigenous people live in urban centres.¹ Despite the emergence of more community-minded approaches to planning, those divisive and colonial mindsets can still be found in planning today, but the future of cities doesn’t have to look this way.

We must start by learning and recognizing the histories ― human and non–human ― of the lands the city is built on. Meaningful relationships with the Indigenous Nations whose territory the city is built on and the Indigenous people who have made the city home are critical. City-builders, planners, and urbanites must work to ensure Indigenous Nations and people are engaged from the beginning, where our perspectives are not only heard but foundational to the development, design, and vision for the future of the city

The Indigenous Planning and Design Principles² offer a useful framework for working differently. First, we must recognize the interdependence and interconnectedness of everything and from there:

  • Commit to Relationship and Listening
  • Demonstrate Culturally Relevant Design
  • Respect Mother Earth
  • Foster a Sense of Belonging and Community
  • Embrace a ‘Seven Generations’ View³

We can also utilize tools like Whose.Land, Native Land, First Story Toronto, and others to gain deeper insights into the histories, treaties and agreements, and languages that cover the territories the city is built on. Rethinking the ways we build and plan for cities is critical to all people’s well-being. If we can find meaningful ways to integrate different knowledge systems, and in particular those Indigenous knowledge systems that have been developed over generations in relationship with the lands and waters here, our cities will be vibrant, inclusive, and prosperous for all.