Does Planning have a role in Truth and Reconciliation?

On the 2nd of June 2015, Archbishop Fred Hiltz read an ecumenical response on behalf of Anglican, Presbyterian, Roman Catholic and United church leaders “Acknowledging that their apologies for harms done at Indian residential schools “are not enough,”… [and] welcomed the recommendations of the Truth and Reconciliation Commission (TRC), which they say will offer direction to their “continuing commitment to reconciliation” with Indigenous peoples.” (André Forget, 2 June 2015). 

Church Signatories with Archbishop Fred Hiltz

While many Canadians are sympathetic, a recent survey suggests that only one out of five think that Truth and Reconciliation directly affects them (The Current. CBC One, 4 January 2016).  None-the-less, Charlene Bearhead of the National Centre for Truth and Reconciliation says that they receive daily requests from groups representing parents, churches, communities, social workers, nurses, physicians, crown prosecutors, judges, etc. wishing to participate in some meaningful way towards reconciliation.

What is missing from that list are planners. Odd, given that one of the fundamental issues we deal with is land.  “The Land”, which in some way, shape, or form always belongs to someone else, namely the first peoples of this land.

Recommendation #52 of the TRCs “Call to Action” asks governments (federal, provincial, and territorial) and the courts to accept Aboriginal title over land once a “claimant has established occupation over a particular territory at a particular point in time” and that the burden of proving any limitations on these rights shifts to those who assert that such limitations exist.

The implementation of this recommendation would have a profound affect.  Not only would it be a step in healing the wounded relationship between our larger society and its Indigenous peoples, it would profoundly change Planning across every jurisdiction in the country, including both Ontario and its municipalities. The “Duty to Consult” might shift from an occasional politeness to a core skill.  As such, it cannot be standardised or mandated. But like any nascent skill, it can be learned, and then practised, practised, and practised again until mastery is attained. Even in its current embryonic form adequate consultation might have prevented the   Native occupation of a municipally-approved housing development, as occurred in Caledonia. A similar outcome was avoided in Simcoe County, for sundry reasons.  It might have been because the planning staff simply took the time to visit the First Nation whose traditional territory was affected or maybe it was because the OMB simply took the time to listen.

If Aboriginal title were to be taken seriously, it might also mean that, not just their interests but, their perspectives about land would have to be taken seriously as well.  What might our society learn about our deep connection to land?  What might our profession learn about the “orderly disposition of land”?   Perhaps planners can join the growing list of those seeking practical ways to participate in reconciliation.

David J. Stinson (RPP, MCIP, P.Ag.) is a Partner with Incite Planning, which works with First Nation communities, municipalities, and the public sector.  He also sits on CIP’s Indigenous Peoples Planning Sub-committee.


In your opinion:

  • Should Ontario’s planners be involved in reconciliation? And if so, how?
  • If the TRC recommendations were to be adopted, would this change the practice of planning in Ontario’s municipalities?
  • Does the professional commitment Ontario’s planners have to “act in the public interest” fulfilled or violated by recognising the jurisdictional distinctions and respecting the cultural differences with Ontario’s First Peoples?
  • Does the practice of Planning in Ontario have the potential to resolve land-use conflicts with Ontario’s Indigenous Peoples?

Photo: Art Babych

This article was originally published by the Ontario Professional Planners Institute.


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