UNCEDED: Voices of the Land

The Lieutenant Governor stands with the team of architects behind UNCEDED


A talented team
After a nation-wide juried competition in 2017, the Canada Council for the Arts announced that renowned architect Douglas Cardinal would lead a team to represent Canada at the 2018 Venice Biennale—the most prestigious architectural showcase in the world. The entry took the form of an exhibition titled UNCEDED—Voices of the Land. Co-curated by Gerald McMaster, a member of the Siksika First Nation, artist, author, and professor at OCAD University, and David Fortin, a Métis architect and academic based in Sudbury, the exhibition features the talents of 18 Indigenous architects and designers from across Turtle Island. According to Cardinal it “is a way that we can show the world the beauty, the vitality, the strength, and the resilience of our Indigenous people in surviving a terrible history, but rising above that.”

An immersive experience
In Venice, the exhibition was unique in its immersive storytelling approach. Rather than a presentation of architectural models and drawings, it was a series of intriguing soundscapes and large curved forms displaying images of natural landscapes and depictions of Indigenous cultures. The exhibition was organized into four thematic sections: sovereignty, resilience, colonization, and indigeneity. It features life-sized videos of the architects speaking directly to visitors about their work and worldview. They explained how Indigenous architecture is a way of thinking, told stories about their families’ experiences in residential schools, and spoke powerfully of resilience

Lessons for the future
UNCEDED positioned Indigenous architecture in the global spotlight and was recognized as an innovative contribution to the 2018 Venice Architecture Biennale. A Guardian article quoted Douglas Cardinal: “I firmly believe that the Indigenous world view, which has always sought this balance between nature, culture and technology, is the path that humanity must rediscover and adopt for our future. The teachings of the elders are not the teachings of the past. They’re lessons for the future.” People still have an opportunity to experience the exhibition at the Canadian Museum of History until March 2020.

Rendering of UNCEDED exhibition

As the Honorary Patron of UNCEDED, I had the privilege of witnessing firsthand its reception as Canada’s entry to the Venice Biennale. It was simply unforgettable. This breathtaking installation gave insight into what a world might look like with a more inclusive understanding of our cultural heritage.

Architects shape the world through their visions, creativity, and technical skills, but above all through their empathy for the physical and social environments they inhabit. Unmistakable within UNCEDED is the idea that place matters: our identities are shaped by both the natural and built environments around us, as well as by the perspectives of those who share them with us. These relationships are inscribed in buildings and landscapes, all of which have the power to change the way we understand our surroundings and each other.

UNCEDED has the potential to provide significant insights into the strength of Indigenous cultures, the long journey of healing and reconciliation, and ultimately peaceful coexistence. Its stories may inform our efforts to build sustainability and resilience. Indeed, any solution to challenges such as inequality, biodiversity loss, and food insecurity will be incomplete without the unique perspectives of generations of Indigenous peoples.