University of Otago MPlan student Alex Kitson, Canadian academic Dr Janice Barry, and Otago academic Associate Professor Michelle Thompson-Fawcett are working on a two-year project funded by the Canadian Social Sciences and Humanities Research Council.
The project examines the changing relationships between Indigenous groups and local authorities post Treaty settlement. In particular, the team is investigating the way in which Indigenous aspirations for economic development and cultural expression are being embodied in the built environments of Christchurch and Winnipeg.
The research aims to articulate how municipal and Indigenous governments might collaboratively address their respective interests in land and how city planning might facilitate the co-determination of new patterns of urban development. The research assesses the processes surrounding the construction of Indigenous-led urban development and prioritises opportunities for both Indigenous partners and municipal planners to benefit directly from the shared learning the project creates.
The research asks how might municipal and Indigenous governments collaboratively address their respective interests in land and how can planning facilitate the co-determination of new patterns of urban development?
The research is already making a number of key contributions to both the scholarly study of Indigenous-municipal relations and the associated field of professional practice. The detailed comparative analysis of the interplay between textual and everyday experiences of municipal-Indigenous planning highlights how different histories of Treaty negotiation, options for land tenure, and approaches to local government shape and are potentially transformed by these relationships. This kind of empirical analysis is not only relevant to the academic community, but is also of great relevance to the planning profession as a whole. Existing studies tend to elide experiences of struggle and conflict, foreclosing opportunity for both scholars and professionals to draw lessons from the more challenging of Indigenous-municipal relations.
The project also differentiates itself by foregrounding Treaty principles and by focusing on mechanisms for sharing space and political authority in cities. These aspects of Indigenous self-governance and cultural recognition in the built environment have clear planning implications that scholars and practitioners are only just beginning to question.
The research is helping to address a major blind spot in the broader planning literature. Critical attention to discourse is an underdeveloped area of planning scholarship. The use of the conceptual and analytical tools found in institutional ethnography augments understanding of how the formal and informal rules found in written planning policies mediate citizens’ everyday experience of engaging in urban planning processes.