Indigenous Planning: Can Community Planning work?


In their article Toward Indigenous Planning? First Nation Community Planning in Saskatchewan, Canada, Prusak et. al. (2016) discern the possibility of a parallel approach to Indigenous Planning---one that utilizes, adopts and co-develops with Community Planning practices to promote the right to self-determination in contrarily Indigenous communities.[^1] By analyzing the outcomes---which they deem were positive---of a pilot project which took place in Saskatchewan from 2006 to 2011, Prusak. et. al. argue how such an approach is indeed useful.[^2] This quick conclusion is in some ways controversial. An important question to answer in response to their article is the following: [Can Indigenous Planning authentically adopt settler practices without adversely contributing to settler-first urbanism?]{.underline} Prusak et. al. dismiss a slightly similar dispute in their conclusion. When referring to the contradiction of Indigenous Planning using settler practices, they mention the following:

"However, [the pilot project] created the opportunity for First Nation community members to appreciate the value of community visioning ... [and] affirmed the importance of Indigenous authority and leadership in planning" ^3

Contradiction, they argue, was a necessity to achieve outcomes that were evidently pro-Indigenous, such as the affirming sense that their community was being self-led and the ultimate goal of Indigenous self-determination.

I am not convinced that this level of cooperation can be justified from any lone study, and certainly not this one. The essence of settler Planning practice is settler-biased therefore any justifiable modified fruition that would eventualize in serving Indigenous communities should be examined very closely. My central criticism of Prusak et. al.'s article is that it is far too easily in favour of a contradiction that is often argued to be impossible.[^4] That contradiction is centred around an ontological difference in how settler colonialism and any Western planning practice that follows, views land.^5 Prusak et. al.'s effort to market the idea of a paralleled institutional Western-Indigenous Planning paradigm may have good intentions. Yet, with such little evidence and lack of attention to ontologies of land, it is a forced argument.

Indigenous Planning in both concept and practice predates colonization. Prusak et. al. cited Ted Jojola who in his book Reclaiming Indigenous Planning co-authored by Walker and Natcher (2013), explained how Indigenous Planning predates European contact by thousands of years---depicted in both traditional views and utilizations of space, place and community that reflect natural science and philosophy.[^6] Independence from Western influence, then, is a key facet of Indigenous Planning. As Western Planning and Indigenous Planning are two separate ideas, it would be a pragmatic effort to "develop institutional structures"[^7] as per Prusak et. al. (2016) in order to rebalance Indigenous power via Planning. This raises an issue, as pragmatism is not a widely agreed upon strategy---it includes a great deal of sacrifice. One must shake their world view, so to speak, to achieve an outcome. This is historically familiar in previous eras of colonial assimilation.

To be pragmatic, in the case of this parallel planning paradigm, Indigenous communities would need to abandon traditional ontologies of land to engage in land management and notions of private property. Prusak et. al. acknowledge this on page 441 and persist, remarking that this means to an end is still valuable as it progresses said community towards self-determination and stronger government-to-government relations between them and settler-states.^8 I find this troubling when said ubiquitously. At the very most, Prusek et. al.'s study may be used by those Indigenous community who choose to engage in pragmatism---but should not be used as universal factual evidence that a parallel practice is good. Rather, a parallel practice simply is, and should be a choice. Indigenous communities should have the liberty to self-determination with or without sacrificing their ontologies which are fundamental to precontact ways of life, community, space, place, and sovereignty.[^9]

The pilot project in Saskatchewan grew the conversation around parallel practice in First Nations. While the results derived from Prusak et al.'s study on this pilot revealed the utility of adopting settler practices in Indigenous Planning, said results are community and geographic specific. There should be further research into how we can balance governmental power structures and make life better for Indigenous communities, perhaps without imposing settler practices and introducing conflicting ontologies.


Burow, Paul Berne, Samara Brock, and Michael R. Dove. "Unsettling the Land: Indigeneity, Ontology, and Hybridity in Settler Colonialism." Environment and Society 9 (2018): 57--74.Jojola, Ted. "Indigenous Planning---An Emerging Context." Canadian Journal of Urban Research 17, no. 1 (2008): 37--47.Prusak, S. Yvonne, Ryan Walker, and Robert Innes. "Toward Indigenous Planning? First Nation Community Planning in Saskatchewan, Canada." Journal of Planning Education and Research 36, no. 4 (December 1, 2016): 440--50., Ryan, Ted Jojola, and David Natcher. Reclaiming Indigenous Planning. Montreal, CANADA: McGill-Queen's University Press, 2013.

[^1]: Prusak, Walker, and Innes, "Toward Indigenous Planning?"

[^2]: Ibid., 448.

[^4]: Burow, Brock, and Dove, "Unsettling the Land."

[^6]: Jojola, "Indigenous Planning---An Emerging Context"; Walker, Jojola, and Natcher, Reclaiming Indigenous Planning

[^7]: Prusak, Walker, and Innes, "Toward Indigenous Planning?," 442.

[^9]: Burow, Brock, and Dove, "Unsettling the Land."