Indigenizing city planning processes in Saskatoon, Canada.

Author:Fawcett, R. Ben


The article examines how the City of Saskatoon's strategies for working with Indigenous communities in high-level planning processes leading to its Strategic Plan 20132023 relate to three concepts framing the academic literature on how to re-calibrate state-indigenous society relations at the urban municipal level: Indigenization, co-production, and coexistence. We argue that indigenizing mainstream city planning processes through authentic forms of partnership will increase Indigenous density within our shared cities. Qualitative interviews with leaders from City Hall and Aboriginal communities revealed a disconnection between municipal and Indigenous participants' ideas about inclusion. The City's mechanisms of consultation engaged Indigenous communities as stakeholder interest groups, but not as autonomous political communities wanting to share control as full partners. A civic culture and institutional structures that affirm and operationalize indigeneity would have improved the outcome of Saskatoon's planning processes.

Keywords: Indigenous, Aboriginal, urban, planning


Cet article examine comment les strategies de la ville de Saskatoon afin de travailler avec les communautes indigenes dans les processus d'amenagement de haut niveau menant a son Plan strategique 2013-2023 sont reliees aux trois concepts qui encadrent la litterature academique au sujet de la re-calibration des relations entre l'Etat et les societes indigenes au niveau municipal: l'indigenisation, la co-production et la coexistence. Notre argumentation est que l'integration d'un courant indigene dominant dans l'amenagement municipal, a travers des formes de partenariats authentiques, augmentera la densite indigene a l'interieur de nos villes partagees. Des entrevues qualitatives avec les dirigeants de la ville de Saskatoon et les communautes aborigenes ont revele une deconnection entre les idees d'inclusion de la municipalite et les participants indigenes. Les mecanismes de consultation de la ville de Saskatoon ont engage les communautes indigenes comme etant des groupes aux parties prenantes, mais pas comme des communautes politiques autonomes voulant partager le controle et comme des partenaires entiers. Une culture civique et des structures institutionnelles qui affirment et operationnalisent l'indigeneite auraient ameliore les resultats des processus d'amenagement de Saskatoon.

Mots cles: indigenes, aborigene, urbain, amenagement


The Prairie city of Saskatoon is located in Treaty Six and Metis Nation territory and is the largest city in Saskatchewan. Between 2009 and 2011 the City of Saskatoon carried out the largest community dialogue and visioning exercise in its history, called Saskatoon Speaks: Shape Our Future. The purpose of Saskatoon Speaks was to develop a comprehensive and shared Community Vision to guide civic practitioners as they prepare for the city's growth and development to 2030, including a projected doubling of the population to 500,000 (City of Saskatoon 2011a). During this time Saskatoon also developed a municipal Culture Plan to "guide the City's policy and decision making as it identifies priorities to harmonize cultural endeavours, strengthen cultural development, and support the arts" (City of Saskatoon 2011b, 4). Municipal administrators of Saskatoon Speaks and the Culture Plan implemented strategies for community engagement with the help of two separate consulting agencies. The resulting Community Vision and Culture Plan documents directly informed the content of Saskatoon's Strategic Plan 2013-2023, which is now being used as the basis for all policy, planning, and programming directives, implementation, and funding out of City Hall (City of Saskatoon 2013). Our interest in this paper is the extent to which the City of Saskatoon undertook these major citywide planning initiatives in partnership with Indigenous communities and leaders. (1) By examining these two large-scale planning processes, recently completed and under implementation, important insight can be gained into the state of practice in planning with Indigenous communities.

Through this case study we examine how the City of Saskatoon's strategies for working with Indigenous communities in high-level planning processes relate to three concepts framing the academic literature on how to re-calibrate state-indigenous society relations at the urban municipal level. These concepts are indigenization, co-production, and coexistence. We argue that indigenizing mainstream city planning processes through authentic forms of partnership will be vital to the political, cultural, social, and economic integrity of Canadian cities, Indigenous peoples, and their traditional territories. The next section develops our conceptual framework centred on indigenizing planning processes as a powerful means of strengthening Indigenous and non-Indigenous coexistence in cities. This is followed by a discussion of the research methods. The results of the research are then presented and discussed within our conceptual context before concluding.

Conceptualizing the Indigenization of City Planning

Although Indigenous peoples across Canada are reclaiming cities as part of their traditional territories (Peters 2005; Wilson and Peters 2005), and the legal duty to consult (2) with Aboriginal peoples may become a requirement of municipalities within the next few years as clarity occurs from legal proceedings (MacCallum Fraser and Viswanathan 2013), the denial of Indigenous rights in urban regions continues to be a problem. Self-determination is an inherent right for Indigenous peoples in Canada, including urban areas, since they comprised sovereign nations with established systems of governance before Canada existed--sovereignty that has never been relinquished (Belanger 2011; Henderson 2002; Maaka and Fieras 2005). This article examines how Indigenous communities' self-determining autonomy might coexist in a relationship with mainstream city planning processes that operate at the very highest strategic levels of a large Prairie urban municipality, Saskatoon.

Canada's responses to Indigenous claims to self-determining autonomy are mostly limited to the development of territorial-based self-government arrangements, mostly in rural areas of the country (e.g., reserves). Such frameworks are generally included in modern treaties or land-claim agreements between First Nations and senior levels of Canadian government, which exclude Metis and many urban Indigenous communities (Laliberte 2013). Much of the academic literature likewise attends to Indigenous self-government at nation-state and reserve-territorial scales, while research exploring possibilities for strengthening localized urban self-determination is limited, but growing (see, for example, Abele and Graham 2011; Andersen and Denis 2003; Newhouse and Peters 2003; Walker 2006). Indigenous urban governance requires actions and networks among local communities and institutions dedicated to meeting the needs, advancing the interests, and facilitating the self-determination of Indigenous people residing in their traditional territories within urban environments (Hanselmann 2003; Silver 2006; Tomiak 2011).

We contend that collaborative governance arrangements between municipal governments and Indigenous leaders and organizations with representative legitimacy --those that Andrews (2003) refers to as "community knowers"--could potentially benefit both urban Indigenous groups and local governments through mutual learning and shared responsibility. Scholars have argued that "co-production" of Indigenous policies and programs between Indigenous communities and City Hall is a way to honour the principle and enact the practice of Indigenous self-determination, while working within the culturally diverse and shared territory of modern cities (Belanger and Walker 2009; Quart and the Saskatoon Indian and Metis Friendship Centre 2013; Walker, Moore, and Linklater 2011). Co-production, generally, is policy or plan formulation where actors outside of the traditional municipal government apparatus are centrally involved in the policymaking process from issue identification and objective setting through to implementation (Belanger and Walker 2009). Co-production implicitly recognizes value in lived knowledge, experiential perspectives, and in sharing policymaking ownership with community 'knowers'. In this research we shift our gaze away from Indigenous-specific policies and programs and toward the co-production of mainstream city planning instruments.

While good Indigenous-specific policies and programs can serve to bolster urban Indigenous people's wellbeing, the impetus of such government directives and subsequent academic attention is often limited to and by an overemphasis on Indigenous difference (Andersen 2009) and what Indigenous communities 'lack' rather than what they offer or aspire for (Newhouse 2011). Co-produced city planning instruments would advance what Andersen (2009; 2013) describes as Indigenous "density"--the notion that Indigenous people in Canada have multidimensional identities and knowledge that include deeply sown insights about Western institutions and ways of knowing and should therefore be empowered to separately influence settler society's assumptions and biases to better represent their own needs, interests and ambitions.

The creation of mechanisms and strategies that forge mainstream space for Indigenous-inclusive governance represents the "indigenization" of traditionally Western-dominated structures and processes (Borrows 2002; Green 2005). Maaka and Fieras (2009) describe indigenization in the context of colonial policymaking frameworks as a fundamental shift from top-down, 'one size fits all' approaches, to bottom-up analysis frameworks grounded in Indigenous models of self-determination. This transition foundationally entails:

(1) recognition of Indigenous peoples as possessing distinctive...

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