Ninety-five percent of British Columbia is “unceded,” meaning it was never given up by indigenous communities in treaties. As a result, today, many First Nations bands maintain title and rights to their land, which they may develop however they please, with little interference from non-indigenous government. Seeing an opportunity to improve living conditions and generate income for their members—some of this land is in valuable, opportunity- and transit-rich urban centers—some First Nations bands are proceeding with ambitious, game-changing development plans.
One such community is the Squamish Nation, one of three Local First Nations in Vancouver. In the words of Squamish Nation Councillor Khelsilem, the Squamish are “becoming powerful in their territory once more:” under an initiative called “The Squamish are Coming Home,” the Nation is looking to build new indigenous communities on their undeveloped reserve land, which includes large, highly-coveted parcels in some of Vancouver's most prosperous areas. This studio invites students from all disciplines to work with members of the Squamish Nation to imagine what might be done with this undeveloped reserve land, and identify how it can best reflect the needs, aspirations, and values of the Squamish people. As the reserve lands are very varied, student projects are anticipated to be diverse, and could range from small-scale urban infill, to large-scale urban redevelopments, to extra-large landscape restoration projects.
While the immediate goal of the studio is therefore pragmatic, a broader goal is to think about land use in the context of recent nods towards truth and reconciliation, as well as the ongoing struggle for indigenous self-determination. Indeed, how might we help reactivate indigenous ideas about humans' relationship to our natural and built environments? And how can architecture, landscape architecture, urban planning, and urban design be tools of reconciliation? Of liberation?
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