On October 22, 2012, Dr. Ian Skelton (U of Manitoba planning professor) led a discussion on Indigenous Design and Planning. According to Skelton, these concepts are important in the context of First Nations water rights because “when you talk about doing anything about water, you’re going to be invoking some concept of a development process – changing the status quo into some other situation.”

The word “development” has many meanings, but is generally associated with the European model, which assumes that development happens by increasing capital through privatization, individuality, and lack of co-operation. There is little room for other worldviews and values, and this model is not appropriate for working with Indigenous communities.

Instead, Skelton suggests the Indigenous model of development. Under this model, development is not focused on profit, but on the relationships between the community and the land base. This model also recognizes that what is appropriate for one community may not be appropriate for the next.

“Each community will have within it the core that will define what the different development process will be like,” Skelton noted. “You’ll have to relate to the context and do things that make sense within it.”

Though historical planning processes often aimed to marginalize minority groups, modern planning can promote equality. The first step is for non-Indigenous planners to recognize the privileges associated with their identity, which will “enable [planners] to set in motion processes which are free from those [privileges],” Skelton advised.

Planners can also promote equality by engaging each community in a culturally and contextually appropriate way, listening to and spending time with community members, and understanding how one’s identity can impact the planning process.

Skelton and students in the University of Manitoba’s Indigenous Planning Studio strive to incorporate these principles in their partnerships with First Nations communities in Manitoba. They believe that, above all else, “Indigenous planning must be led by Indigenous development.”


The Critical Conversations seminar series is designed to start an ongoing conversation on First Nations and the Right to Water.  Each week we will post some of the most interesting questions raised by our audience.

Issues discussed this week:

What kind of work have you done in the Island Lake region, which has serious water and wastewater issues?

Skelton said that this summer, he and other planners worked with a group from Garden Hill First Nation to start a long-term planning process. Together, the group made an Oji-Cree video of community members’ experiences during the planning process in hopes of increasing understanding of and support for the planning process. “I hope and anticipate that we will work with them again soon,” Skelton said.

What kinds of projects are done by the Indigenous Planning Lab?

One planning student shared that she is working with Sapotaweyak Cree Nation.  “We’re going to do a cultural mapping exercise… to determine some sacred area buffer zones where there should not be development.”

Two other planning students have recently partnered with Brokenhead Ojibway Nation. “It’s our first year working with them, so we’re just starting off working towards a land use plan. Right now we’re starting to create a bond with them.”

See seminar series podcasts and schedule.