For my week as guest editor of Price Tags, I intend to view Vancouver from an architectural perspective. To this effect, I will be releasing an interview with an architect, planner, or academic each day. Each person has been selected for his/her unique and timely perspectives on the city. Our discussions will highlight each person’s practice along with their notions of city building and form in Vancouver.
I’m sitting in Prado Café with architect Patrick Reid Stewart. Patrick, whose hereditary name is Luugigyoo (which means Fish Already in the Creek) is a member of Nisga’a Nation and practices as an architect with his office Patrick Stewart Architect situated on Tzeachten First Nation within Stó:lō Traditional Territory. Patrick is an exceptional architect, scholar, and one of a very few licensed First Nations architects in Canada. He was kind enough to join me for a candid interview about his work and opinions on architecture in Vancouver and at large.
Patrick Reid Stewart
JB: What is the work you are doing with the Royal Architecture Institute of Canada (RAIC)?
PS: I chair the Indigenous Communities Sustainable Design Task Force, an initiative of the RAIC. The impetus for this Task Force began with Allan Teramura, President of the RAIC. He recently went north to a First Nations community and the permanent housing he found there reminded him of photos he had seen of the Canadian internment camp his family lived in during World War II. This Task Force is going to advocate for a much better housing stock for First Nations communities. Our first steps include developing a work plan to conduct an analysis of the on-reserve housing stock. We hope to present some preliminary findings at the RAIC June 2016 Festival of Architecture, held in Nanaimo.
JB: Can you tell me about the footwear company, creenisgaa clothing, that you run with your wife Linda Lavallee?
PS: It began very organically; my wife developed the skills of beading and sewing out of necessity. The original footwear Linda made were in the style of a Cree wraparound which her family had made for generations. We experimented with the design and have developed the boot we now make. We have found an appetite for authentically made indigenous footwear that is crafted and sourced locally. Linda makes the boots; our son provides the Cree designs and I provide the Nisga’a artwork for the boots. Many prominent Aboriginal actors and musicians have been wearing our footwear which has been wonderful publicity.
We are heading to fashion shows in Melbourne Australia in March and Saskatoon and Hollywood this Fall. We have also been invited as feature designers to Cambrian College in Sudbury in April. We are also currently finishing a pair of boots that have been acquired by the Royal Alberta Museum in Edmonton for their Grand Opening in 2017. You can view our boots at www.creenisgaa.com
JB: Your recent Dissertation, Indigenous Architecture through Indigenous Knowledge : Together we will build a village investigated how the culture of an Indigenous architect informs their practice of architecture. Further, you identified the need for support for Indigenous knowledge and students in schools of architecture. The work has received a lot of media attention. How has the reception been?
PS: The media attention has been awesome. It has provided me with opportunities to speak to different audiences. I have spoken at the School of Community Planning and the Department of Educational Studies at UBC, the Summer Indian Festival in Vancouver and Laurentian University School of Architecture.
I have now been asked to write chapters for a few books: three chapters on Indigenous Architecture and one on Alternative Dissertations.
I recently participated in a gratitude project which allowed me to reflect on just how many people influenced my life, focusing on my life as a foster child. I am also working with a colleague on a book about our lives as foster children crossing paths in the same house and how startled we were when introduced decades later at university, now in the same room, both working on PhD’s.
JB: Can you describe what the results of your thesis would look like if realized in the practice of today’s firms? What does indigenous knowledge look like in city building?
PS: We operate in a colonial system, in which our ideas themselves are colonized. I begin a project with a conversation about this with my clients, and introduce ideas to investigate what is best for their community at this time. I try to act as a facilitator of a community’s shared history. In a city like Vancouver, people come from all over. I try to recognize that there is a local First Nations culture which hosts those who come from elsewhere and share the history they have salvaged from brutal colonial interventions such as the school system.
Indigenous knowledge involves the acknowledgement of indigenous culture in design. This may seem difficult, especially for practitioners who are not members of a First Nations community. It is important to approach each project with respect. You cannot bulldoze your way in using indigenous knowledge or you will appropriate the culture you wish to support.
A modern city designed and built on Indigenous Knowledges would grow organically respecting the cultural markers that inhabits the relationship with the landscape and the natural environment. It would grow from the millennia of knowledge concerning the reciprocity, responsibility, reflection, relevance and redistribution between the inhabitants and the environment.
JB: Reconciliation in Vancouver has resulted in such change as the use of the statement that we are on the unceded territory of the traditional territories of the Musqueam, Squamish and Tsleil-Waututh First Nations. What does reconciliation look like in city building?
PS: This phrase is a sign of respect, but not reconciliation. The statement establishes western culture as a visitor on these territories, however a visitor must respect their host. It concept recognizes the situation but does not fix Nations that have been wreaked by colonization.
People in my Nisga’a community have roles, which results in a stronger sense of community. Generally, people in Vancouver do not have roles. The whole idea of reconciliation is founded upon a construction of Western Canada to reconcile its own guilt. It is impossible to make up for past wrongs, however we need to get on with our own Nation building despite ongoing colonization. If there can be meaningful reconciliation it will be a process that will require strong attention to what has to happen from now on and more participation from our Indigenous Nations. There are 94 calls to action contained in the final report of the Truth and reconciliation Commission that currently sit on shelves gathering dust. What does that say about the process?
JB: Defining Vancouver’s heritage architecture has been a recent topic of discussion. What does heritage architecture mean to you?
PS: Many people consider Vancouver’s heritage architecture to be limited to the remainder of Neoclassical and Victorian architecture that has survived today. This type of construction reaches barely more than 100 years ago, while human habitation has been documented within Metro Vancouver for example as at Xá:ytem east of the City of Mission as far as 9000 years ago. Most people are unaware of its existence.
Hatzic Rock, found at Xá:ytem, has seen human habitation as far as 9000 years ago
JB: Do you have any particular soapboxes when it comes to architecture in Vancouver?
PS: Vancouver has a lack of affordable housing. We have over 2000 homeless and one of the least affordable housing stocks in the world. This problem has been virtually ignored and has not been dealt with the seriousness it deserves. We need more federal and provincial government political will to build more affordable housing; there has not been subsidized housing since 1993. We need to let our politicians know this is a priority.
JB: If you could make any intervention in Vancouver’s built form what would it be?
PS: I would reconstitute old First Nations village sites. There were villages in Stanley Park and throughout Metro Vancouver and the Fraser Valley. There is no recognition of the destruction and theft that occurred here. Returning place names such as renaming The Juan de Fuca as the Salish Sea is a beginning and something that should continue. Not that names will make up for what has been lost. A recognition and education of what has been lost needs to happen, much like what the holocaust museums signify for Jewish losses, I would introduce a genocide museum for the loss of Indigenous culture. There is no such facility at this time in Vancouver.
JB: Do you have anything exciting in process at your office you can share with us?
PS: Respecting the privacy of my clients, I can say we are currently working on a number of exciting projects for a number of Aboriginal organizations in Metro Vancouver and the Lower Mainland. They range from multi-unit residential to commercial to community-based assets.
Patrick Stewart can be reached at email@example.com and you can view his office website at http://www.patrickstewartarchitect.com/.