Ninety-five percent of British Columbia is “unceded,” meaning it was never given up by indigenous communities in treaties. As a result, indigenous communities maintain title and rights over their land, which they can plan and develop however they please, with little interference from non-indigenous government. Seeing an opportunity to improve living conditions for their members and generate income for their members—some of this land is in valuable, opportunity- and transit-rich urban centers—some indigenous communities are making ambitious 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 alongside members of the Squamish Nation to imagine what can be done with this undeveloped reserve land, and identify how it can best reflect the needs, aspirations, and values of the Squamish people.
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?