Dec. 23, 2019

Design students inspired by Tsuut’ina culture, ancestral practices

School of Architecture, Planning and Landscape students spend semester learning from Nation Elders, members
Students, instructors, Elders and critics
Students, instructors, Elders and critics commemorate their work together. Vita Leung

Situated along the final section of Calgary’s ring road, the TAZA development stands to be the largest First Nation development in North America. In an effort to get students to explore cross-cultural design, School of Architecture, Planning and Landscape (SAPL) faculty members Dr. Graham Livesey, PhD, and Dr. Fabian Neuhaus, PhD, selected TAZA as the project site for their senior Urban Studio course. Thirty-two architecture, urban planning and landscape students spent their fall semester learning from Tsuut’ina Nation members and Elders about their values, ancestral practices and beliefs.

Guided by Livesey and Neuhaus, along with Tsuut’ina member Hal Eagletail, students worked in interdisciplinary teams to create design proposals for the TAZA development site. Eagletail disclosed that the Tsuut’ina had visions of this development even before Calgary was incorporated. He invoked a prophecy from Eagle Rib that there would be “boxes around the land” what will allow “our people [to] benefit, prosper and learn from one another.”

Students took inspiration from the Elbow River, the concentric design of the teepee, and fire as a gathering place in generating design ideas. The studio enabled students to develop their own interpretations that incorporated Tsuut’ina traditional knowledge and Western approaches.

The designs were grounded in ancestral practices of land stewardship and Tsuut’ina culture; the belief that the only thing we own is our body and our experience everything else is a gift, and there is no such thing as waste everything has value. After spending the majority of the semester working in small teams, the 32 students were grouped into three large teams to generate the final proposals that were presented to the public.

One of the primary objectives of this immersive experience was to further “the cultural and social context of the current situation of First Nations Peoples in Canada and beyond by learning about the Tsuut’ina Nation specifically and encouraging the students to connect their work to the treaties and the Truth and Reconciliation Report (TRC) as well as its calls to action,” Fabian Neuhaus explains.

The feedback from the distinguished panel of guests, including Tsuut’ina Elders Harley Crowchild and Gilbert Crowchild, was overwhelmingly positive. Dan van Leeuwen, representing Canderel the developer partnering with Tsuut’ina on the TAZA Development said he was impressed and that the students had managed, in a relatively short amount of time, to identify "themes we are already pursuing."

Kate van Fraassen from the City of Calgary remarked on the cohesiveness of the work presented, and Shawna Cunningham, Ucalgary's director of Indigenous strategy, affirmed the designs for being grounded in Indigenous ways of knowing.

Hal Eagletail described the work as an “overwhelmingly successful evolution” especially given the students’ admittedly limited knowledge of Indigenous culture. “All students have excelled in incorporating Indigenous aspects” to the work, he said.

The TAZA development has the potential to create thousands of job opportunities for the Tsuut’ina people. But, Eagletail, explained, they will need to nurture relationships outside their community to be successful. He thanked the University of Calgary, particularly, for taking on a leadership role in the Truth and Reconciliation process. For the next step, equalization, to take place they will need to have an equal opportunity to become partners in business.