The beautiful country of Canada, helmed by the Pacific, Atlantic, and Arctic oceans, and famed for its poutine and maple syrup, may soon be the new home of Prince Harry and Meghan Markle. But how is this oft-considered egalitarian country housing its Indigenous peoples? 


The 2016 Canadian census suggests that 4.9% of the country’s 35.15 million inhabitants are Aboriginal, or Indigenous. There are 634 recognised First Nations governments spread across the country of Canada, with a majority in the provinces of Ontario and British Columbia. The term First Nations refers to the predominant Indigenous peoples of North America that live below the arctic circle, and are not Inuit people or European-descended Métis people.


This month plans were unveiled to rebuild a First Nations reserve for Squamish peoples, who are native to Western British Columbia including Vancouver and Whistler. The new district will be built over an original Squamish area in downtown Vancouver which was destroyed over a century ago by Canadian officials. The government coerced the remaining residents in the original Squamish village to sell their land, after which the residents were placed on a barge bound for the north of British Columbia and their village was razed. Potentially housing up to 10,000 people, this move is vital in securing a safe space for some of Canada’s Indigenous peoples. 


The Squamish people, or Skwxwu7mesh in the Squamish language (the 7 represents a glottal pause), are a people who value oral traditions, working without a writing system until the late 18th century upon coming into contact with Europeans. Yet it was not until the 20th century when Europeans and Canadians began speaking with the elders and informants to document their history. Mainly due to the spread of European diseases, such as influenza, and usurpation of traditionally Squamish lands, over the past century, the Squamish population has been severely reduced. 


The location for the reserve exists underneath Burrard Street Bridge, across 11.7 acres of disused wasteland. 87% of internal Squamish Nation members voted in favour of transforming this area into a new district: Senakw. Vancouver is a city exponentially growing in popularity for its economic prospects and enviable lifestyle, being enclosed by several beaches, a metropolitan downtown and beautiful mountains, lakes and nature trails a short drive away.  This has, in turn, led to a shortage in affordable housing which Senakw will surely improve. Between 2010-2018, the city gained 40,000 inhabitants, but only 2,300 rental units. 


At more than 500 units per acre, and with buildings up to 56 floors tall, when construction of Senakw begins in 2021, the population density will equal that of Hong Kong – a fact that is only permitted because Senakw exists on federal reserve land rather than on city land of Vancouver.


Already, the Squamish Nation has helped comprise three Vancouverite First Nations areas’ smaller projects, returning profits to the nation’s members for community development. Permitting, and encouraging, such a development is a sharp rebuke to a common idea in once-colonial cities that Indigenous peoples and urban living are incompatible. 



Photo by Revery Architecture



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