Honouring the Lands: An Indigenous Perspective on Real Estate and Development

Posted by Kerri-lyn Holland on Thursday, November 19th, 2020 at 11:21am.

We acknowledge that we live and operate on Treaty 6 territory, a traditional meeting grounds, gathering place, and travelling route to the Cree, Saulteaux, Blackfoot, Métis, Dene and Nakota Sioux. We acknowledge all the many First Nations, Métis, and Inuit whose footsteps have marked these lands for centuries.

In an effort to educate ourselves further on treaty agreements, we wanted to gain a better understanding of how our work, our industry and our community has been impacted by the current state of partnerships with local First Nations and what we can do as realtors, neighbours and allies to move the industry in a more open and progressive direction. We would like to thank all of the individuals who took time to share their stories and their perspectives with us in the interest of education, conversation and partnership.  

Emily Riddle, who is Mahéo on her mother’s side, is from Alexander First Nation and she currently serves as a Senior Advisor for Indigenous Relations with the Edmonton Public Library (EPL). As a writer with a professional background in governance and policy, Riddle has recently been a part of iyiniw iskwewak wihtwawin (the committee of Indigenous matriarchs), who gifted traditional ward names to the City’s naming committee, honouring sacred places in Edmonton and preserving the history.

“Even though these boundaries within the city are colonial and artificial, I think that it was really meaningful to have a group of Indigenous women that are mostly from the territory, delve into what our relationships were to the land in these wards and come up with names that are applicable,” says Riddle. 

For the committee, made up of 17 women from First Nations in Treaty No. 6, 7, 8, as well as Métis and Inuit representatives, it was important that the names represent linguistic diversity, that they were geographically based and were developed in ceremony. 

The City of Edmonton Ward Boundary and Council Composition Bylaw (including the Indigenous Ward Names) will come to Council for 2nd and 3rd reading of the bylaw in December. You can find out more here.

“I encourage people to learn about the Indigenous history of the neighbourhood they’re in and I think that process will be something that’s spurred on by the naming of the wards,” says Riddle. 

It’s an important step towards improving how we as Edmontonians relate to the lands and even speak or write about them in a professional capacity. 

“Having that awareness at the forefront and being willing to do that constant learning. Lifelong learning is something that’s really valued for Indigenous people and choosing not to remain stagnant about our positions is important,” says Riddle. 

Robert Houle is from Swan River First Nation and has lived in the Edmonton area since 2002. He’s also married into Treaty 7 Nations as his wife is from the Stoney Band. Houle has worked in Indigenous relations for both the Province of Alberta, the City of Edmonton as well as treaty organizations throughout the province. Houle shares that a frequent justification for insensitivity towards treaty rights and Indigenous history,  is that these topics aren’t openly taught in school, but he suggests the responsibility falls on us all as individuals. 

“It’s on the ownness of adults now to want to learn some of this information and educate themselves, says Houle. “If people start to do a little bit of research, even just their own armchair research, reading articles that exist online, there are a lot of resources that can be searched very quickly that are a 5-10 minute read, so that people can get a sense of what kinds of Indigenous communities lived or worked in the area.”

From a business perspective, as First Nations become more involved in urban centers, Houle also suggests that companies and land owners explore alternative partnerships and different ways of doing things.

“It all goes back to the very first relationship agreement that was entered into - which was treaty, and how each side interprets it. On the Indigenous side we view it as a resource sharing opportunity and relationship and it’s unfortunate that both sides never viewed it in that way. We have one side that views it as a straight up sale, that everything within the land and resources now belonged to them and that they could do with it what they want.”

It’s a perspective shared by Riddle, who says the evolution of the development sector needs to include more meaningful partnerships between industry and First Nations.

“All of the land within Edmonton, we still claim jurisdiction over it. Treaty 6 is an agricultural treaty and unless it’s below the depth of a plough, underneath the surface, it should involve us, and involve us as full partners and not a rubber stamp to let us know what’s happening.” 

Home ownership and land sales can be a tough topic to navigate. Houle suggests homeowners review the language used in their own land title documents.  

“There’s ownness on everyone to look back at those foundational documents and understand that these are legal documents that have weight and there is a respect that needs to be paid towards it. Not just shrugging it off by saying these are 200 year old documents that don’t matter anymore, because they do and they carry force and meaning even in today’s society.”

Riddle adds she herself is on the fence about purchasing her own home. “I have a down payment for a house that I’ve saved and I’m still kind of waffling on the idea of buying a house because it seems so strange to buy back some of my territory.”

Learning more about treaty agreements, how they should impact current partnerships, land sales and development is a first step. Beyond that, it’s important to ensure we are being good neighbours, lending a hand where we can and being advocates for the deeper understanding of these issues. 

“If people who are open minded have a different perspective than what they’ve been taught in school, there’s opportunity for them to be a voice and to be a beacon of hope for when some of these tough conversations start to happen,” says Houle.

“When other people within our circles start to say ignorant or racist things, it gives those people that know differently a chance to challenge them. When people from within our own circles challenge us, we’re more likely to take a second and rethink what we’re saying,” says Houle.

“In business even, if we witness people acting differently towards certain clients, maybe correcting them and asking them to take a second to reexamine how they are approaching certain people because we know these circumstances exist and that micro-aggression and unconscious bias infiltrate everyone’s workspaces. It's important to recognize and call things out when we do see them.”

From a literary perspective Riddle suggests checking out any of the work by Saskatchewan Author Sylvia McAdam. “She writes really digestible, non-academic books about understanding Cree worldview which is really important.”

Part of Emily’s work with EPL has included the development of PÎYÊSÎW WÂSKÂHIKAN (Thunderbird House), a dedicated Indigenous space that is built for ceremony and gatherings at the new Stanley A. Milner Library.

“It is the first public ceremony space that’s available in Edmonton, so it’s super exciting, and we have an Elder in residence currently working out of that space.”

Photo Credit: Edmonton Public Library 

Creating these types of spaces within our city’s infrastructure are a critical component to honouring Treaty 6. Houle suggests that Indigenous communities recognize the importance of advancement and industry, but that development to date hasn’t been as safe or environmentally friendly as it should have been. 

“People are realizing that Indigenous people aren’t all anti-development, we are pro-positive resource development and pro-stewardship. That’s one thing we’ve always been is the stewards of resources and the stewards of the lands for thousands of years before contact. So that type of cultural knowledge and environmental understanding needs to be brought into it so they can be done more effectively than they have in the past.” 

Once again we’d like to thank Robert and Emily for sharing with us their thoughts, their stories and their teachings to share with our community and colleagues. The conversations are a critical component that will inform the way we conduct ourselves in business and in life moving forward. 

 

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