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Indigenous Placekeeping Framework (IPKF): Lessons From Practice To Teaching

Indigenous Placekeeping Framework (IPKF): Lessons from practice to teaching

This is part of a conference paper submitted by Wanda Dalla Costa, AIA, LEED A.P. for the Scholarship of Social Engagement, University of Kansas (Oct 20-21, 2016). The paper is entitled: “Contextualized Metrics in the Built Environment; Critical Engagement in Indigenous North America.”

Indigenous [1] people have an interrupted history in North America. The non-Indigenous settlers arrived and bypassed local normative and organizational systems. Indigenous socio-cultural, governance and physical structures were overlooked, as was the connection between culture and built form. Nowhere is this more evident than in the reservations planned by the settler society for the Indigenous people. The grid patterning of the town centers, inspired by economic efficiency and urban typologies, stands in stark contrast to traditional Indigenous environments that embodied lifeways and belief systems.

While Indigenous design is becoming an increasingly popular subject of exploration by academic institutions, there are a lack of resources available. A literature review highlights only three book publications in the last 30 years: Native American Architecture (1989), Contemporary Native American Architecture (1996), New Architecture on Indigenous Lands (2013). While these works serve to highlight historic precedents and the contemporary interpretations of precedents, Indigenous authorship in this field is lacking. There is a shortage of Indigenous practitioners, scholars and writers, while much of the built work is designed by people outside of the community who lack an understanding of tribal traditions (Marshall & Lawrason, 2008:77).

The process of engaging community remains a mystery to most design or planning graduates. How do we teach students to work alongside community, and provide an environment whereby students are positioned to engage Indigenous knowledge structures (epistemology), ways of being (ontology) and Indigenous methodologies? How do we engage community at the level where we are co-creating solutions? Indigenous architecture is a new subject, and it deserves to be unpacked, analyzed and reassembled. The subject deserves transparency, in product and process, to allow the community to be involved in its co-creation. The Indigenous Place-keeping Framework (IPKF) is aimed at unpacking process and fostering a slow methodology which can be utilized in academia and in practice.

The framework is intended as a talking tool, to bring discussions to and around this subject. We understand that there are limitations with Indigenous frameworks, or more specifically, with compartmentalizing components of holistic knowledge, however indigenous frameworks serve a larger purpose. As Kovach reminds us the intent of indigenous research frameworks is “not to be deductive, declaratory or exhaustive. Rather the aim is to offer a portal so as to study characteristics that the Indigenous research community has cited as being specific to Indigenous inquiry” (Kovach, 2009: 16).

Within this work, we introduce perspectives and methodologies from non-architectural disciplines that parallel process in indigenous architecture. We look to community based research, community engaged scholarship, place-based learning, indigenous pedagogy, indigenous planning and indigenous methodology. A recent publication, entitled, Learning and Teaching Community-Based Research: Linking Pedagogy to Practice, was insightful as it provided a number of essays focusing on Indigenous-led and Indigenous focused approaches in community based research.

The IPKF is presented here as a synopsis:

Part 1: Community-led (or tribal-led)

  1. Dissolution of research hierarchy
  2. Indigenous knowledge as complementary to western knowledge
  3. Inviting Indigenous knowledge structures
  4. Transformative

Part 2: Reciprocal

  1. Utility (‘Giving Back’)
  2. Collective value
  3. Accountability & accessibility

Part 3: Process-based

  1. Slow engagement
  2. Building trust
  3. Uncertainty with another way of knowing
  4. Watchful listening
  5. Responsive methodologies
  6. Repeat exposure
  7. Moderating researcher expectations
  8. Advocacy

Part 4: Context-specific

  1. Place-based
  2. Urban
  3. Local actors (‘knowledge brokers’)

[1] We use the United Nations definition of indigenous, to refer to those who “resolve to maintain and reproduce their ancestral environments and systems as distinctive people and communities” (UN Permanent Forum on Indigenous Peoples 2008).

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