Transcript

[Joseph Kunkel:] Hello all and welcome back to our webinar series for the Indigenous Housing Innovation Initiative . I’m Joseph Kunkel, a member of the northern Cheyenne Nation in southeastern Montana. Today we're going to be talking a little bit about the purpose, impact and innovation around projects that have been built to date, and looking at ways housing development can lead to significant positive changes within your own community. I'm really excited to have today Dr. Patrick Stewart, Luugigyoo, a member of the Nisga'a Nation in northwestern British Columbia, an architect and Adjunct Professor at the McEwan School of Architecture at Laurentian University. Welcome Patrick. And we have Dr. David Fortin, a member of the Métis Nation of Ontario, and Associate Professor and Director of the McEwen School of Architecture in Sudbury, Ontario. If there is anything I missed, Patrick, would you like to introduce yourself or talk a little bit more about your background? [Patrick Stewart:] Sure, and thank you, Joseph. Good morning, everybody. As Joseph said my Nisga'a name is Luugigyoo, which means Calm Waters of the killer whale house of Daxaan, and Nisga'a village of angooskw”. I'm an architect who has 25 years’ experience operating my own firm and I’m glad to be here. [Joseph Kunkel:] Excellent. David, is there anything you want to add? [David Fortin:] Not much. I would just like to say good morning to everybody, or hello. I'm a Red River Métis, who grew up in Saskatchewan, born in Calgary and my dad's family are actually Whitfords so my last name is adopted. But yeah, my home region is in the prairies of Canada and I've been out here for six years teaching at the McEwan School of Architecture and that's where we stand. I also practice as an architect, but it’s pretty minimal these days given my administrative responsibilities. [Joseph Kunkel:] That's great. I'm really excited for our conversation today and really excited to dive into it. I think between the two of you, we’ve got a lot to share in a short amount of time. So I guess we'll jump right into it and talk a little bit about past experiences and the work that you have been doing both professionally and within academia and how we can really think about how we can progress tribal housing around this initiative. And so with your years’ of experience, if we could maybe chat a little bit about a project that you've worked on in the past, and maybe just use that as an example for how we might think about this initiative. David, I'll allow you to dive in. [David Fortin:] Sure. So I'm not going to speak about my own work in this part, but what I thought I would start with is just talking about the studio I ran last year, which Patrick participated in a little bit. The theme of that graduate studio was architectural listening. And this idea of what it means to be a designer who is able to sit in a group of people and contain their own ideas of their own approaches to design, and withhold that until you really listen to the members of the community. For Indigenous housing, each community is so unique and they have a lot of knowledge and wisdom within themselves. And that's a really difficult thing. It's something that I think a lot about in terms of architects these days. There's a bit of a misconception, I think, that a good designer can just land in any context and respond effectively. And to some degree that may be true. But for me it's always a question of what kind of feedback are you getting for people? How long do you spend with people? How much of that cultural impact are you bringing into your designs and how willing are you to adjust your entire approach to thinking about what design is in response to what those community values are? So it's maybe a bit obvious, but I do think Douglas Cardinal is a great example for this Because he's well known for his iconic buildings, but it's actually been the community work that I think is the strongest, in some ways, when he talks about the Oujé-Bougoumou Village that he worked on in Quebec. Whenever he presents that - housing is included, but it's not included as a separate entity. We like to think, we like to categorize houses as this thing. And that's really a western idea of those property lines. You design this object that's in that space or itself. But what I like when Douglas talks about housing, it's integrated. What's the use of design and a really great house if down the street your administration building is a prefab steel, the standard shed building beside it is your ice rink, which is falling apart? For me, this idea that housing is not a series of objects but it's a collective activity. That requires a broader idea of what housing is in terms of jobs and economy and community building, all of that is integrated. And then more specifically, an example from Douglas’ that I really appreciate, David, when he shows it, is the Kamloops Indian band where he talked about the cul-de-sac. They had designed its cul-de-sac and then the grandmothers and women looked at that and they talked about how it doesn't work because all of the yards were facing radially outwards and the houses were on the inside. And so what I thought was really powerful is Douglas just inverted that. So the houses were on the outside of a circle. The backyards were all forming a common space in the middle and so therefore they can all kind of share each other’s space and watch over each other's children as they play in the backyard. I mean, that's a direct result. You can see it in the drawing of somebody who's listening to people and meeting their needs and not putting their own preconceptions in place. For me, housing really comes down to how well you're listening and how well you can change your design path. [Joseph Kunkel:] That's brilliant. I love that kind of notion housing is complex, community developments are complex and it's all interrelated. I think you said it really well and thank you for those examples. Patrick, what are your thoughts? [Patrick Stewart:] What David was talking about, it gives me a lot to think about. So whether it's like David talking about Douglas’ project, Oujé-Bougoumou, I think that was a very special kind of project because he had the latitude to design so much of the community. I'm finding on the flip side, working in an urban context, for example, in Vancouver we're bounded on all four sides by streets and no property lines, those kinds of things. And it is very much a challenge to try to bring all your client needs, all of the cultural needs into a project in the city. I find that there's a lack of understanding by people in the city, by city staff, by planning. One of my projects was the Dave Pranteau Aboriginal Children’s Village. We took, I think it was in excess of two years or three years to get it through City Hall, just because of the design, massing, colours, all those kinds of things. We were trying to express the west coast village and City Hall and got exasperated. I think they said, you know, that condo building across the street, it's just a grey three-story condo. They said, just make it look like that. And then ‘everything will be good.’ We didn't do that, but that was where their thinking was. So that's something we run into time and again. With so few of us Indigenous architects in the country, the impact is a challenge. Canada is a big country and we have 15 or 16 registered architects across the country. It's not like we have dozens that we can rely on. So I think that makes it difficult. We're practicing in isolation, in a sense, in whatever we do. So that's got to change. And I think what's happening at the McEwen School of Architecture is helping that for sure. The work at McEwen is really bringing students along and that's what we need. [Joseph Kunkel:] Yeah. Building on some of the comments you made, David, and the work that you've been doing, Patrick, I'd like to kind of maybe dive a little deeper in this conversation around listening and the importance of living spaces. How would an applicant or a community - what is the importance of them voicing or elevating that conversation into their application? I want to make sure that we're thinking critically about the culture of the community and the place and the tangent to listening and that ability to kind of understand that it's about these spaces that we're creating that relate to our culture and context. And maybe if we can unpack that idea a little bit and move away from the house as a building and the ‘this as a home or a place’ and how it interconnects with the community itself. [Patrick Stewart:] Sure. I could take a quick crack at that. One of the things that I've found is participation at the community level is very important. Where, the more broad-based we have in the project, I mean in terms of community engagement, it strengthens the project. So it just depends on the community. So going into the community, not every community is the same. We have to, as we go in to working in a community, understand and acknowledge the structure of the community, the protocols, so that we are working with the system as opposed to against it. One community I worked in had a governance system that was by family. So there were seven main family groups in the community and each family had a representative at council and when we were doing some planning in the community, they chose representatives from their family groups to form these planning committees. That was very successful. We've got a lot of participation. So, each family group would forward their ideas and the representatives to bring it together. That ended up being a very strong community plan that had support throughout. We worked on it. I think it took a couple of years. By the end, everybody was buying into this community plan and because it was community based, the representatives at the planning committee, they all ran for council. And they all got in and they became sort of the new governance structure in the village. And to me that was a very strong example of what can happen in the community having that broad support. [Joseph Kunkel:] Excellent. Okay. David – is there anything you'd like to add? [David Fortin:] Yeah, so one of the things that I am working on right now, Patrick is going to be part of this project as well. So, in a good way, the National Research Council approached me about northern/remote Indigenous housing in Canada. The initial ask there was in an open way, you know, how can we get five houses designed that could go in the book, that could be built across northern Canada? Well, I mean, he was uncomfortable with that proposal as well, but asking me, you know, what's the advice on that? And I said, I'm not interested in working on providing five houses to be replicated across the north. That's the same story that's been happening. So what I said is I would be happy to work on five model processes, whereby communities are meaningfully engaged and the house is specific, or the housing strategy is specific, to that community only. And then we put those in the back of the book and we show what can be done when you engage with communities in meaningful ways. So out of that, I formed an advisory board, which various colleagues sat on and I'm working now. Alfred Waugh is is doing one. And what I tried to do is kind of match Indigenous architects who regionally have lived experience. You know, they may not be from that community, but they're relatively close. So Alfred grew up in Yellowknife and so he's working with a community in the Northwest Territories, a fly-in community. Patrick and Kelly Bapts will be working for a community near their home communities. Kelly is from that community. Eladia Smoke is working in a northern Manitoba community. And then Brian Porter from Two Row is working with a northern Ontario community. I'm sort of trying to make a statement with a project that I'm not the authority voice for those communities, and so try to match people that have lived experience. I can go into a community and do extensive engagement, what I would propose in recommendations, like my proposal, which ended up tripling their initial budget. As I said, architects can't fly in for an afternoon, for an hour and then go back home and design a house and then bring it back to the community and expect that to work. So I said from day one, the first visit should be four to five days a community and the next visit, after a month or two of working on the plan, go back to community. Check, did you hear right? Go back, spend another few days. In the course of those two visits, there's feasting as much as possible. Like Patrick said, making sure there's a budget for a community liaison person who knows which elders to talk to, who are the political people that need to be involved. Someone that from community helps coordinate the visit. Where should the food come from? How do we involve the community? How do we involve children? You know, intergenerational. So it really becomes a community process of feeling engaged in it. And in the end, I mean, of course I care, I love architecture, but it doesn't matter to me what the house looks like at the end. As long as it technically responds to what it needs to do and the community feels that they were consulted adequately in that process, then it’s starting a movement. And so for me it again goes back to that complexity thing and encouraging the design process to respond to that complexity. You know? So you've got Alfred out on the ice, doing ice fishing, he's hanging out there eating food together. Yes. There's housing as part of this, but there’s also many more gains to all these people. What are their requirements when they come home from hunting, right? What isn't responding to what they do in their house? And you just simply can't diagram that on a short visit. You need to spend some time there. [Joseph Kunkel:] Yeah, that's exciting. I mean it becomes not necessarily architecture with a capital ‘A’, it’s architecture as a process and I think that is exciting. And to kind of pull the applicant away from the idea of proposing a building or proposing a ‘thing’ like a physical thing is exciting to kind of think conceptually about. And I think that's really innovation and to push the bounds of what we're thinking around innovation and what is Indigenous innovation. I think that's the conversation that we want to get to, as part of these applications and pushing the bounds of what that might mean. Right? [David Fortin:] Totally. Yeah. I actually think it just isn't as a quick example. And then, I had either forgotten or didn't know that you were from the northern Cheyenne, but when I was teaching in Montana, for quite a few years, I guess it was about three years, I worked with Red Feather out near Lame Deer—is that the word? [Joseph Kunkel:] Yeah. [David Fortin:] All right. So, that Straw Bale building really changed my opinions about a lot of this stuff because I thought it was really well organized where at the end of the day you might look at it and say, oh, it's a house, right? It's high performing, but if you piece together everything about that, right, they're using straw from Montana. I mean, it's a good place to get straw. It environmentally performs well. But then it was the process of the family and the community building that thing together. Right? So the Red Feather group, I don't know if you've participated in those builds, but you have volunteers from all over the country, and you're all camping at the site of the house. And then they included high school kids to come build. They had tech students from the community, like college tech students there, building. They had two guys on site for the whole three weeks that we're there, who were freshly out of jail, who are reintegrating back into the community. And then in the evenings, we had sweats. We, they gave cultural lectures. And so that was cultural sharing. You share food with the family. I just think ‘wow.’ The complexity of all those layers that to me helps me understand what housing can be. [Joseph Kunkel:] Yeah. I mean when you think about it and you think about incarceration, you think about community engagement and you think about all the issues that we see on our reserves, on our reservations here in the States and very similar to Canada. The more and more I think about this Initiative, I get a better understanding there. The issues are very, very similar and the potential is very similar and I'm very optimistic how this innovation challenge, this innovation initiative can really kind of push the bounds of what we think about Indigenous housing, Indigenous communities and so on. Oh, that's exciting. Patrick. [Patrick Stewart:] Definitely interesting to see what ideas come in the initiative. [Joseph Kunkel:] Yes. And as we, I mean, our conversation has gone by really quickly where we're coming up on 20 minutes already and I just wanted to kind of thank you both for your time and sharing some of these stories of inspiration and work that has been done in the past. Because I think building on this, if we're able to get these ideas out there and push the bounds of what these communities can potentially do, that will be pushing how we think about our communities. Any kind of last comments, thoughts, that you put out there to the applicants that are putting together proposals for this initiative? [David Fortin:] I would just go back to, again, I'm kind of repeating myself, but you know, after reading, the non-Indigenous world, there's people who produce good stuff. I'm thinking about housing, like Christopher Alexander's The Production of Houses. I mean, that's an old book, but has relevance to this conversation that the house is not an object. You have to think about who’s building it. Where's the material coming from and how is the community involved in all steps of that, including the design process. If any of those things are missing and the community doesn't have their hands in on that, including the profit, I would say. Housing we know is an economic generator and the house model works as an economic generator in us, a kind of consumer society, very well, but on reserves and in remote locations, it doesn't function the same. So you have to rethink about what is the house wired into and what network it serves and make sure Indigenous people are at the core of that and they're the ones benefiting from it at all levels. That's the key to this. I think. [Joseph Kunkel:] That's great. Yeah. Thank you. Thank you. And Patrick, any last thoughts? [Patrick Stewart:] Yeah, I think if the project ideas are truly community based that will sort of flip the conventional procurement process on its head. Typically on reserve, Indigenous Services Canada provides dollars and the community hires a contractor and they build houses out of a catalog kind of a process. And we've seen the results from coast to coast to coast, and they aren’t happy results. And I think we have an opportunity here to really engage the community and challenge the community or the communities can challenge us, to, you know, rethink the process of design and construction. [Joseph Kunkel:] Thanks. And again, thank you both. Thanks to all the viewers for kind of taking on and doing this, this recording and just, as a key takeaway, I'm just remembering that this is one in a four-part series. There are three other webinars that we've been recording to help you all in this process of replying to this RFP. So I'm looking forward to seeing how this innovation initiative moves forward. And David, Patrick, thank you for your time. Thank you.