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Consensus & Participation In Native American Design: Workshops, Visioning Sessions & Pens To Paper

Consensus & Participation in Native American Design: Workshops, Visioning Sessions & Pens to Paper

Is there a formula for success? Not entirely. But there are common threads to a successful outcome. How do you know if you are headed down the right track? Start by asking the client group – the users, stakeholders and client representatives – how they see the process unfolding and most important, how they define success?

Bob Weisenbach’s approach on the Potawot Health Village was to engage the tribal clients in a discussion of ‘what the centre had to have to be successful in their eyes. From an initial list of 25 items – cultural values really – he derived ten criteria the centre absolutely needed to embody. He learned several things: the centre could not occupy one large, impersonal structure; light and natural air were imperative; and materials had to be familiar (and) the presence of water was critical.

Malnar J. and F. Vodvarka (2013). New Architecture on Indigenous Lands, p 36. Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press.

Refer to three case studies to see what they did to invite participation:

  1. Case Study 1: Native American Cultural Centre (AZ)
  2. Case Study 2: Wakpa Sica Reconciliation Place (SD)
  3. Case Study 3: Huhugam Heritage Center (AZ)

Local advisors who know the community and how the community functions will be your best guide. Success may be measured by cultural values as seen in the Potawot Health Village, but it can also be influenced by social, organizational, economic or environmental values.

Architect Marie-Odile Marceau relies on a “lengthy period of needs analysis, discussions and gaming sessions” (Ibid, p218). She has worked on scenarios where the whole community is involved, with pieces of paper in hand and moving pieces on a board. She notes that while the exercise will foster thinking about the building and how it works, facilitation and guidance of the outcome is still required. Commonalities and patterns need to be identified, the wishes need to be articulated into built form, and the community will need to be invited back to approve the design direction.

Alfred Waugh (Chipewyan) cites the importance of the appointed steering committee and states that while his job as the architect is to listen and try to balance the needs of all stakeholders, it is the steering committee or community representatives that will inevitably be tasked with bringing everyone together when there is a standstill in the decision making process (Ibid, p. 218).

Tammy Eagle Bull (Ogala Lakota) sees consensus as follows:

Overall we’ve found that if we take the time early on to gain consensus, it will save us time in the end. … Our ability to identify the process and who needs to be involved and when is a good time to get community input has helped us. Sometimes our clients are reluctant to involve the overall community because they think that it’ll slow things down. My thought is that in the absence of information, people will assume the worst. So I try to get the clients to disseminate as much information as early as possible in the project. That way the community will at least feel they have knowledge of what’s happening and have opportunities to give input. …While some of these meetings are tough and there are strong feelings for and against the projects sometimes, its always worked out in the end if the project has consensus.

 Malnar J. and F. Vodvarka (2013). New Architecture on Indigenous Lands, pp. 217-8. Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press

Big thanks to Joy and Frank for compiling a remarkable resource: Malnar J. and F. Vodvarka (2013). New Architecture on Indigenous Lands. Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press.  Grateful. I’hi.

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