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Rethinking planning for indigenous justice in the professional schools: Models from Canada

Sandercock 2018
Leonie Sandercock (center) with graduate students at screening of her film Finding Our Way.

May 8, 2018

Indigenous planning has emerged as one of the most dynamic sites for the negotiation of Indigenous and settler relations. Today a number of Canadian universities offer specialized courses and areas of concentration in First Nations planning. At UW’s Department of Urban and Design and Planning PhD symposium in early May, Leonie Sandercock screened her film Finding Our Way (with Giovanni Attili, 2010), which challenges the audience to consider how planning practices can be decolonized.

Finding Our Way tells the story of two First Nations communities in the Burns Lake area of central British Columbia and the still unresolved conflicts between those communities, governments, and industry. The film has three parts: the first part outlines the historic context critical to understanding contemporary tensions. Part II covers the history of relations between the settlers in Burns Lake and local First Nations communities; and Part III deals with the legacy of the force relocation of the Cheslatta Carrier Nation as a result of the development of dams in the region. It took Sandercock, School of Community and Regional Planning at University of British Columbia, a number of visits to the communities to develop relationships, conduct interviews, and screen the film, a process she describes as “life transforming.” For over a decade, Sandercock has been exploring the use of film to inspire social change and as a catalyst for community development and capacity building in Indigenous communities.

Indigenous planning emerged as a formalized field in the 1990s, distinguished by the incorporation of traditional knowledge, culture, customary law, and Indigenous worldviews in conventional planning. The first book that brought together Indigenous and non-Indigenous authors from the four settler nations (Canada, the United States, Australia, and New Zealand) was the 2013 edited volume Reclaiming Indigenous Planning. The articles in this collection address how communities around the world are reformulating planning practices to include Indigenous planning. In 2016 Planning for Coexistence? Recognizing Indigenous Rights through Land Use Planning in Canada and Australia, authors Libby Porter and Janice Barry argue that planning has been used as a colonial tool to possess Indigenous lands for development and profit.

Increasingly, Indigenous scholars and practitioners and non-Indigenous planners in Canada are seeking to decolonize the field. For example, Sandercock recently designed and is now teaching a new foundation course in UBC’s School of Community and Regional Planning called “Indigenous Community Planning: Ways of Being, Knowing, and Doing.” The course was developed and is co-taught with Leona Sparrow, Director of Treaty, Lands and Resources, Musqueam Indian Band, and is part of the Indigenous Community Planning Concentration in the master’s in Community and Regional Planning. The University of Manitoba also offers an Indigenous Planning Studio. At the UW there are increased efforts to include Indigenous planning in research and in the curriculum. Dan Abramson, Associate Professor in Urban Design and Planning and Affiliated Faculty in Canadian Studies, is incorporating Indigenous knowledge into his research project on earthquake and tsunami preparedness and community planning in the Salish Sea region.

Finding our Way Film CoverUW faculty, staff, and students can check out Sandercock’s film Finding Our Way from the UW Libraries Canada collections. The film would be a valuable addition to the curriculum of many UW courses.

Leonie Sandercock’s visit to the University of Washington was hosted by UW’s Department of Urban Design and Planning, and co-sponsored by the Canadian Studies Center.

For more information on Sandercock’s film and work see visit her website: