EPISODE SUMMARY: On this episode of Indigenous Urbanism, we speak with Dr Patrick Stewart, a citizen of the Nisga'a Nation in north-western British Columbia who has been operating his architectural practice in Sto:lo territory in Chilliwack B.C. since 1995.
GUESTS: Patrick Stewart
Jade Kake v/o: Tēnā koutou katoa
Nau mai haere mai ki te Indigenous Urbanism, Aotearoa Edition, Episode 20.
I’m your host Jade Kake and this is Indigenous Urbanism, stories about the spaces we inhabit, and the community drivers and practitioners who are shaping those environments and decolonising through design.
On this episode of Indigenous Urbanism we speak with Dr Patrick Stewart, a citizen of the Nisga'a Nation in northwestern B.C. from the community of Gingolx, and a member of the Killerwhale House of Daxaan. His Nisga’a name is Luugigyoo, which means calm waters.
Patrick is the founding principal of Patrick R. Stewart Architect, an architectural firm with a First Nations community development focus which has been operating in Sto:lo territory in Chilliwack B.C. since 1995.
JK: Kia ora Patrick, thank you for sitting down with me. So my first question is, who are you, where are you from, and what do you do?
Patrick Stewart: My name is Patrick Stewart. My Nisga'a name is Luugigyoo. I'm an architect, from Canada. I'm from North-Western British Columbia.
JK: I met you, actually, two years ago, when you came over with a group of other Canadian First Nations Indigenous architects, and that was really exciting, because that was definitely a first for me. And since then, we came to visit you last year, and that was really wonderful, you showed us around some of your projects, and we spent time together also in Ottawa at the symposium. And now here we are again. And there's been some really cool stuff that's come out of that. So I'm just wondering if you could talk a little bit more about some of the collaboration that's emerged in this dialogue between Indigenous architects.
PS: Well it has started in the last maybe three years, four years, where us as practitioners have started to find others. I mean it's sort of an organic thing in a sense. It's like, hey, you see some project designed by somebody, and you think, well, I should talk to them. And it just sort of grows like that. You find out names of people who have had a ten year long collaboration with Australia, so I've known those guys, and Rewi Thompson has been collaborating there, had been collaborating there as well, and he was the first Māori architect I met. We were at conferences together, we were on a speaking tour together in Australia, and so, yeah, it was good. And Kevin O'Brien, and Dillon Kombumerri, the two of them were our sort of anchor point there. Michael Mossman has come on since, over there. And that country being closer to here, than I am, they knew more people. So they knew Rau. So that's how that sort of happened, and then finding out about Ngā Aho, and thought, well, that's really big. We don't have an organisation like Ngā Aho, in a sense. I chair the Indigenous Task Force for RAIC, but that's the national architectural organisation. But they do, or did, see their way to having something Indigenous, and that's been a good rallying point for all of us. But we're not our own organisation, and you know, just leaving Tammy's presentation, on the AICAE. I'm a member of that, and I was in Albuquerque last year when they had their meeting, and Michael Laverdure, who's the president, we were talking about, we need to do something. So, we were talking about - and I've got to talk to the RAIC about that - if we can have some kind of link between organisations. It would be good if we had something like Ngā Aho as well.
JK: Building our networks, we're getting strength in numbers.
PS: We are. And when I was, last time in 2011, in Australia, we formed a loose organisation, and it actually had funding. I don't know if the funding's still there. But it was called the International Network of Indigenous Architects. That was just something we put up, and the University of Sydney funded it, and we had some money and we did a few things though that. But, everybody has a busy life, and everybody goes back to their own country, and it's like, time flies.
JK: Especially for Indigenous architects, they're often wearing a million hats, and doing many projects, and network building. You feel like you have to carry the weight of a movement on your shoulders, but I think when you come somewhere like this, you kind of realise, actually, we are all really busy, but it's important to be able to come together and support one another.
PS: It's true, we are busy, and we're always, I think, very positive despite the context we all work in. But we have to be positive because we have to look to the future, and I think that's one aspect that we all have. Because we're all looking to change how the countries we live in accept our cultures.
JK: And having that very long range vision. I mean we're always thinking very far back but also very far forward.
PS: Right. But, far forward is out there, but we still have to get through tomorrow, so.
JK: It's a tension.
PS: It is.
JK: I heard you mention recently that a group of architects from Turtle Island are sending a delegation over to Venice and developing a pavilion for the Biennale. Could you talk a little bit more about how that came about?
PS: Our Indigenous Task Force has been working on projects. Our mandate is to assist First Nations communities in their built environment - whatever that means, whatever a First Nation needs. And, they will pose problems. And we've been doing that, and I think that's how the symposium came about, because it's like, everybody's bursting with ideas, and we just thought, we have enough knowledge here we can share. So, hence our symposium. We invited a contingent from over here, and you guys came, and that was great. I mean, people are still raving about the symposium. And want to know when the next one is going to be.
JK: It was life changing for us, that's for sure.
PS: It was great. It was very good. And I think that why we have such a good response of people coming here, again, right. So, this is the next sort of event. But after the symposium was done, we just looked at each other and thought, what do we do now?
JK: What next? We're ready.
PS: So, Canada Council issued a call for proposals for representing Canada in the 2018 architecture biennale in Venice. So we thought, well, what the heck. We don't expect to win, but let's put in a proposal. And we put in a proposal, and heck, we won. So -
JK: Oh hell, now we have to do it.
PS: And now we have to do it. That's a big problem. When we put in the proposal, it was a couple of us, three of us I think, that were really putting the ideas in, and I thought, well we should honour Douglas, cause Douglas Cardinal is our elder architect in the country. He's going to be 84 this year, and we thought, well, we should hold him up as our leader. We thought it was a great idea. But it's turned out to be a bit of a responsibility, because all of a sudden the government says, okay, you're the leader you've got to sign the contract, and you've got to be responsible fiscally.
JK: Oh no. So it's become the burden on him.
PS: Oh yeah. So we didn't realise that, but we've all told Douglas that we didn't want this to be a burden on him. So, anything we can do, then let us know and we'll do it. We just pitch in, and do that. But it has been a challenge, I mean this, we haven't done this before, it's the first Indigenous entry into the architecture biennale, and from Canada.
JK: Cause normally you come in under the colonial government's. I know that we have had involvement, Rau and Rewi had been involved in previous New Zealand pavilions. But, again, it wasn't entirely an Indigenous group, or entirely Indigenous concept.
PS: But we've been at this now, to say that, you know, that's not good enough, to do it for us anymore, you know. So, we thought well, we'll do it. We'll put an all-Indigenous team in, and we did. And then, compromises and complexities set in, and it turns out to be what it is, and it's a big challenge. Canada's a big country, and we have people very scattered across the country. And that always increases the cost. We have a film team that has to travel across the country to film everybody and their work, and all that stuff, and that's expensive.
JK: So how many architects involved, and what's the concept?
PS: We have about 18 members on our team, and the idea is to showcase each architect's work. So, I think we call ourselves exhibiting architects, as part of the team. I don't know if that's our title. But we have formed research teams. We have four research teams.
And we just divided us all up into those teams. We put a woman architect as the head of each team. That was important to honour the women on the teams. So, they've been charged with bringing us together, and we've had teleconferences trying to figure out within that area what we want to present, how we want to present that. The idea is that each territory that we're researching will be presented. Each architect, registered architect, will be presented, and then their work will be presented. We want to talk about the history of Canada and colonisation, and that's one of the territories. And, what that's done, and territories of Indigeneity, we'll talk about how we're trying to get out from under that colonising regime and be our own.
JK: So it sounds like a really challenging project, but when you pull it off, which you will, what is that going to mean for Indigenous peoples in Canada, and for the architecture profession.
PS: Well, already, the architectural profession has had to sit up and notice. It's like, that we'd won the right to represent Canada. Never happened before, nobody expected it, but, here we are. So, one thing we've found - and this has sort of fallen back to on our Indigenous Task Force - that people are finding out about it, and they're phoning us, you know. We'll get Minister, government Ministers, both provincial and federal, phoning us and saying, we want to find out more about the Indigenous Task Force, how can you help us? Which is kind of bizarre.
JK: Word is travelling, they know you're here.
PS: So, it's kind of bizarre, because we're not sure of their sincerity, or, because it's a bureaucracy. Government. What impact are we going to be able to do, right? They have ideas, like creating a national Indigenous centre in Ottawa by giving us a former embassy. Right across the street from parliament hill. And, that happened last summer, and I came out against it in the media, and that was a bit of a challenge. And so now they're trying to get around me by going to other people, and saying, isn't this still a good idea? We want to give you this building. And we said, well, it's a historic building, for one thing, it was the former American Embassy, and, you know, some of us are feeling like you're just giving us your old handoffs. Because, the building's been vacant for 20 years, and they built a brand new American Embassy, and those guys moved out and went somewhere else. And so it sat empty. And they tried to turn it into other buildings and nobody really wanted it. So they said, well let's give it to the Indians.
JK: Surely they'll be grateful.
PS: Yeah. Yeah, of course. So, you know, I said well, we didn't want it, but if we had to take that site because that was all the game was, I said, let's demolish it and start again. That wasn't -
JK: That wasn't received well?
PS: No. I got in heck for that. Even the RAIC got after me, saying, it's a heritage building, you can't demolish it.
JK: Who's heritage?
PS: Yeah, really. That's what we said.
JK: And sometimes it's a funny tension when there's this real insistence on preserving heritage architecture that sometimes actually has a lot of pain associated with it for Indigenous peoples. And it's also something that nobody really loves or wants anymore, but because we're bound by legislation to celebrate anything that has that kind of colonial heritage, you're not allowed to do anything with it.
PS: Well, Canadian government has a, I don't know what you want to call it, it's more than a programme but it's some kind of mandate they have on reconciliation. So, which to me is just a bogus concept. It's like, we don't have anything to reconcile. We didn't do anything. We're the victims. It was our land that was stolen. We didn't steal anybody's, any settlers lands or anything like that. They came over here. We didn't ask them to come. But it, all the settlers are trying to reconcile, and they're pushing it on us and making it our responsibility. Saying, how would you handle reconciliation of such and such a topic? And it's like, I wouldn't. It's an issue. But then they tie dollars to it. If you want dollars, then you have to submit a proposal, and it has to include an element of reconciliation. And it's like, well -
JK: Held to ransom.
PS: They do. And it's a complex thing, it makes it difficult. And so, that's why I say, nothing is ever as it seems, right. A gift is a trojan horse. It's like, wow. Once you unpack that, there's so many issues you have to deal with. And if you start accepting those gifts, what does that make you, or what does that say, right? So, we'll have to see what happens.
JK: Challenging landscape that you're navigating.
JK: So another thing I did want to talk about is your work back at home. So, I understand you live a little way out of Vancouver, but your traditional territories are quite far from there. And you spoke a little bit about it yesterday, I guess the challenges of being somewhere very remote. So something I'm really interested in is that tension between working in remote haukāinga home communities, versus being in an urban environment where a lot of our Indigenous people now live. And also the experience of being a visitor in another Nation, and the way you kind of work with the home peoples there. So I'm just wondering if you could maybe reflect a little on your practice, in relation to your tribal affiliations and identity, and then working and being, like, out of place.
PS: I'll always acknowledge who I am, and my culture, so it is the lens through which I work. And that carries with me. It doesn't matter what community I live in, or work in sorry. And, it is a calling card, in a sense. It opens doors, because people understand where I'm from, and so, from one First Nations to another there are some commonalities. And it depends which community you're going to, or which Nation you're going to, they want to know who your grandparents are, who your parents are, and all that stuff. And, that's been valuable. Your question about remote versus urban, we have a growing issue in Canada where more and more people are moving to urban areas, and that probably isn't isolated to Canada. Australia, New Zealand, probably have similar issues. Where people are leaving their home communities and reasons of lack of housing, lack of education, lack of medical services, lots of reasons. Lack of work. So, people go where the work is or where the housing is, where the school opportunities are. Or people will move for the kids, for school. Like for example, in my community there's no high school. So, kids have to leave. Where do they go? Since our Treaty in 2000 there's been a road put through to our community, but the high school's a drive. It's 2 hours. So the kids have to get on the bus at like seven in the morning to get to school by nine, and then they get home at suppertime. That's a long day. For kids.
JK: That's a lot of time in transit.
PS: It is. Yeah. So it's either that or they move.
JK: And go to boarding school? Or the whole family moves?
PS: Sometimes the whole family moves. And sometimes they won't stay up north. Because they'll think, like a lot people think, go to a big city where there's more opportunity.
JK: And often this becomes intergenerational. So, one generation might go there thinking it's temporary for opportunity, but two generations, that family might still be in the city, and maybe they don't return to their home community, or they start to experience that disconnection.
PS: Well that's true. Once somebody leaves a home community, like my mother left our community and never went back. And, we've never moved there, so, any. Well, she's not alone, all her siblings moved, so there's none of my uncles or aunts are there. Because there's just no opportunities. But, having left, now there's no housing, right. So you can't go back. You can't go back. So it's just a compounding issue.
JK: Acknowledging that architecture is just one part of some of the solutions to these complex social and economic issues, notwithstanding, how do you as an architect respond to working in that context?
PS: Well, different ways, I suppose. Some communities will ask me to come in to fill a specific need. So I've done some elders housing for a couple of communities. So that's a specific housing type. But I've been getting involved lately with some more experimental housing. Both of a modular type and an alternative construction type, that is sort of low tech, very basic, off-the-grid kind of thinking. But it's exciting -
JK: Accessible to those communities.
PS: Yeah. So they're using resources in a different way. I don't know if you know cordwood construction. So, because B.C. has such forest resources, there's a lot of waste.
JK: From the timber industry?
PS: Mmm. So, in one community, well one area of the province in the South-East, when they chop the trees down and take it out, they will clear the land, but they just pile it up. They just make big mountains of all this timber waste, cause it's not the right grade or whatever, but it's got cut down, and they just leave it to rot. Or they'll burn it. But burning's a big issue in the province, ecologically and because we have big forest fire problems. So, what this one community is thinking, is, to go and access that timber that's left, the cuts, and use that in cordwood. And, it's handmade, hand built housing, and it's low tech, but people have been living in those kind of houses for hundreds of years.
JK: But we're really seeing the potential of going back to some of these self-build models, but utilising aspects of technology to allow that to happen.
PS: Yeah. Trying to fit the modern with historical building types.
JK: I think we need to be having those conversations too, and considering those options, because something we have the same problems here, where a lot of our families, particularly in rural areas, are on very low incomes. They haven't got the kind of mindset around having a thing like a mortgage, and probably it would be irresponsible to be given one, given the low employment and low economic opportunities in that area. And we've got a lot of whānau who, they don't have rent - because they live on their own land - but they live in very poor substandard housing. And I think for those families, we need to be thinking, well how can they be supported to respond to their own housing need.
PS: Right. And one idea I suppose is to have the owner, the home owner, participate in the construction. It's low tech, but if they want a house, then they have to put in the effort. The family has to put in the effort. And there's another community in B.C. that has done that, and they've got good results. And, they've taken the whole community off the grid. It's all solar powered.
JK: Wow. Is it a microgrid or individual dwellings?
PS: Individual dwellings. But, they make money, they sell back to the grid, and every homeowner participates. So, that seems to be another option.
JK: For self-sufficiency, but also some economic development.
PS: Yes. Well, and the non-Indigenous community that surrounds them, the city, the capital commission, has started to take notice. That here's a community that's off the grid, and they're making money by selling power back to the grid. And so they're employing the community, and other companies have tried to hire their workers away, cause they see the success, and the community's hanging on to them. And they're now selling services to the non-Indigenous communities, and providing them with solar power. It's great.
JK: Innovation in action.
PS: Yeah. It's good.
JK: Indigenous communities leading the way. This is what we like to hear.
PS: Yeah. And we have other technologies, like wind power is another one. Some communities are really embracing wind, and powering their communities. So, that's a thing on the coast of British Columbia, where we have the winds always constant, and I'm sure you've got winds constant here too. But they're starting to look at wind. And, you know, our Nation has developed a wind power company, I guess, and exploring how they can build these wind farms, provide energy and economic development for poor people.
JK: Something I really loved when we came to visit you and you took us to Seabird Island, and we visited the community centre there, and there was this kind of incredible / awful juxtaposition between your building and this very famous work of architecture next door, and just hearing that, actually, this much photographed many awards building, the community didn't really love it. And they had lots of problems with it.
PS: They did. And that was right from the get go, and again it's a government origination I guess, in terms of they had a budget to build a school, and they thought, wouldn't it be cool if we gave the community a nice looking school. And that's what they did. They said we've got a school for you, here it is. And, the school got built, and the community wasn't consulted. That was their first mistake. They had no input into it. So, when I came around to do the community centre, they took me through the school and said, don't do this, don't do that, don't do this, and it was just like, holy cow. A whole long list of things that I shouldn't do, because they're not going to like it if I put them in the new building. And so, I quite often say that our building's, in a sense, in reaction to that, but I see that as a totally colonist kind of construction. Because, the community had no input. Well the process was all wrong. And I think so much of Indigenous architecture is about process. And you can create a really beautiful looking object - and yes it is a beautiful looking object - but if you don't actually work with the community, they're never going to, it's not going to be what they wanted, and they're not going to have ownership of it.
PS: Well they're not going to have a good positive sense about the building. So they have vandalism, they don't maintain the building well. It's 20-some-odd years old now and it doesn't look so nice anymore. And, I don't know what they're intent is, but, it's looking tired. So, I look at our building, where we had total community involvement, we used traditional form, it was a community built project. So, all the timber was sourced from their land, they milled it, they kiln dried it, they built it with their own teams, they stained it, they applied their own artwork or their own cultural symbols to the building, and the building's well taken care of. They maintain it, and they love it. So, to me that is a successful building. Because I can go back and, you know, it's 20-something-odd years old and it still looks very good.
JK: Now something I really enjoyed when we went there, I can't remember what colour it was originally, but you said, oh no, it was originally this colour, and they've painted it a different colour. But what I really liked is that you were very relaxed about it. You're like, oh well, it's their building, whatever they like is fine.
JK: Instead of being very precious, which I think architects sometimes can be, 'that's not what I designed.'
PS: When it comes to colour, this is just something that I've always done, because I see colour as a transitory thing. It isn't permanent. So, it can be changed at any time. So, one thing I don't do, and this is just my own particular whatever, I don't usually pick the colours. Cause to me, again, this is a very visual object in their community. If they want it to be green, or red, then they should be able to have it green or red. And if I want it brown, I shouldn't be allowed to have it brown. So, if they change the colour, that's okay. The form's still there, building's still there, it still operates the way it's supposed to, they're still happy with it. They're probably happier with it now that they change the colour. But it still has a fresh face, and to me that shows that they're maintaining it, as opposed to if they left it that same colour 20 years later, it might look tired. I mean yes, they could have painted it the same colour, but they decided not. And it's like, that's okay. I don't have a problem with it. Yeah. I don't know if you remember Corbusier's project in France in Pessac, where he built these workers houses, back in the twenties I think. And, his idea was that he built the box, the frame. And yes it was a complete house, but he then allowed the inhabitants to change it. And they did. Over 20 years or 30 years, well, it still exists today. They've added on, they've changed the windows, they've just done all kinds of things. And, it's because that's the way they live and that makes them create the environment that they want. So, I don't really see that as an issue.
JK: Well I've got one last question. So, the title of the podcast is Indigenous Urbanism, and we're looking at how Indigenous communities are, in the current political environment, and increasing capacity and capability, how Indigenous communities are increasingly able to shape and influence their physical environments. So I just wanted to know if you had any concluding thoughts on that.
PS: Well it's a good question. And as more and more architects who are Indigenous are getting into practice, and working in urban areas, it's becoming a point of discussion. Different handle it differently. Yesterday, when we did the keynotes, our opening speaker Te Maire, I went up to him after and I just thanked him for his words, because he said, now's the time to end the subtlety. He says, we need to have it in their face, our visual representation.
JK: Smash them with it.
PS: Exactly. And that's been my modus operandi since I started. Because to me, our culture was ended, violently. Our visual representation of our culture ended violently. Our houses were burnt, or smashed down. On our North coast, our totem poles were cut down and floated away to museums, all our regalia, our musical instruments, our clothing, were all bundled up and taken away. And they didn't burn them or throw them away necessarily, because they thought, hey, this rattle could be valuable, and people put it in their private collections. And there are people in B.C. that have collections worth millions of dollars that are now their heirs from the old missionaries. Right. So, because of that violence I think it's only appropriate that we put it back, in a way, violently, by building it. So that we put, I put totem poles in the city in front of my buildings, and I use traditional form, and I put it in the city, and I use the colours, the traditional colours and I put it in the city. And city hall responds, like saying, that's exotic. We can't have that. And it's like, we come back at them and say, is Chinatown exotic? Cause you allow that. And, they say, well no, but that's just like an enclave kind of thing. And it's just like, okay well, we're not an enclave but we're building in the city, and we want to do this. As an architect, one of the things city hall expects, is that A you're a registered architect, you've sworn the oath, you know the laws, and the rules, and the regulations, and you're duty bound to respect them. So city hall says, when we say no we mean no. So, I just turn to my client and I say, they won't let us do this certain aspect of the building. And you need to go talk to the city. Because city hall's afraid of owners. They pay the taxes. They build the things. They're the ones that are sort of creating the built environment, from an ownership perspective, and my clients will go and talk to city hall. And they get their way. So, I don't have to be the bad guy, and I don't have to butt my head against the city.
JK: You don't have to fight them.
PS: No. Because it's a losing battle for me. But for the owner to go, it's a win for him. A win for me. And on we go.
JK: Kind of a really important thing about resisting that blending with the colonial landscape. Because I think only if you put things forward that are quite bold and reassert Indigenous identity, will that landscape start to change. I don't think you can really start from a gradual position, because it's so far away, currently.
PS: Well to me, subtlety is just, people miss it. It's just like, you know, and there are Indigenous architects who are very subtle, and they don't believe using things like traditional form, colours, is the way to go. They want to be modern, and they want to be subtle. And it's like, okay, be subtle, but nobody's going to understand what the heck it is. But, that's okay. That's they're perspective. And to me, that's not a strong position. That's watered down. To me, if we're serving the culture then we have to privilege that culture. And we have to represent that culture.
PS: Unapologetically, and the way that the culture wants to be represented. I don't do this just out of my brain and say, one day I'm going to just draw this and build it. It's like, no, I have a client who's of the culture, and they say, this is what we want. And this is what we agree to. And this is, you know -
JK: And you have that responsibility to facilitate that and bring it to life.
JK: Interpreting things, and putting them into the built environment.
PS: Right. And to me that's a successful partnership between a community and what we do, and that's one thing I've always said, is I do facilitate design. Thanks for bring that up. Because, you know, the building is their legacy, it's not mine. I will help them get it built, but then I'm gone.
JK: And they have to live with that building.
PS: They have to live with it. You just took the words right out of my mouth.
JK v/o: You can find out more about Patrick’s work at patrickstewartarchitect.com.
This episode was recorded on location at Nā Te Kore, the second international indigenous designers hui hosted by Ngā Aho in March 2018.
Indigenous Urbanism Aotearoa Edition is a production of Te Matapihi. Sandy Wakefield does our sound recording, editing, and mixing. Our theme was composed by Thomas Burton. I’m Jade Kake, your host and Executive Producer.
For more information about today’s show and other episodes of Indigenous Urbanism go to indigenousurbanism.net. You can drop us a line at firstname.lastname@example.org. And if you like what you’re hearing, please give us a review or rating on iTunes.
Coming up next on Indigenous Urbanism, we travel to Ōtautahi Christchurch to see how Ngāi Tahu and Ngāi Tūāhuriri are working with the City, designers and developers to reveal and rebuild a world leading, authentic, post-colonial city of the future.
Debbie Tikao: At the core of everything that we do is the environment, is the natural resources. And if we're looking after those natural resources, then everything else will fall into place, you know. And we would have rivers we can swim in, rivers that are full of kai, and much healthier, we would be much healthier as human, and much closer as whānau. Because we'd be doing more things, with the environment and for the environment, so, I think that’s where we’re heading, that must surely be the future.