Urban Studies Program

SFU Urban Studies congratulates Kamala Todd on her new continuing faculty position

January 02, 2024

On January 1st, 2024, Kamala Todd became SFU’s Urban Studies Program’s newest continuing faculty member. Previously a part of Urban Studies’ adjunct faculty, Todd continues to bring her expertise as a Métis-Cree planner, filmmaker, and researcher to the program.

When Todd initially became a part of the Urban Studies faculty, she was working at the City of Vancouver on its cultural policy, as the first Indigenous Arts and Culture Planner. In the past, she had given guest lectures in Urban Studies classes and been an external examiner on Urban Studies defences, but her role expanded when she was asked to teach a course focused on art and culture in planning, and to develop a stand-alone course, Indigenous City, through a Decolonizing and Indigenizing grant that she and Professor Meg Holden received in 2020.

“I thought, ‘I would love to teach this course and give it my own spin and bring in direct, immediate information from cultural policy that’s being established right now,’” says Todd.

Todd still teaches that course, URB 413 – 613 Storyscapes: Decolonizing the City through Arts and Culture. In it, she emphasizes to students that Vancouver is, was, and always will be xʷməθkʷəy̓əm (Musqueam), Sḵwx̱wú7mesh (Squamish), and səlilwətaɬ (Tsleil-Waututh) lands. In doing that, Todd discusses how the city has displaced and tried to erase Indigenous peoples, and how arts and cultural policy can play a role in addressing that.

“I look closely at the stories that are told and the narratives that are embedded into the city, and embedded into city hall, and embedded into policy and law and how harmful those can be and how much we need to change them,” she says. “I realize that the stories and visibility of Indigenous people are really crucial to changing those narratives.”

Todd is also a filmmaker and integrates many of her films into the course, as they focus on the Coast Salish peoples, Indigenous laws, and Indigenous knowledge. She sees film as a form of oral history and encourages students to present their work in video format if they wish.

“I always say that I work at the intersection of planning and film,” she says. “It’s a way to share stories and important knowledge and really inform people about what needs to be considered when making decisions about places.” 

In addition to being an educator, Todd is part of the SAGA: Translanguaging and Sustainability project, along with two other Urban Studies faculty members, Professor Meg Holden and Professor Annika Airas. This five-year project is focused on investigating and advancing sustainability transitions across language and context.

“We’re looking at the language of sustainability and the dominance of the English language and Western European world views within sustainability and thinking about the Sḵwx̱wú7mesh language and the hən̓q̓əmin̓əm̓ language, which are the original languages here and the cultural views and cultural knowledge that come with that as part of rethinking sustainability or deepening sustainability,” she says.

Personally, Todd looks forward to learning more about the Cree language and teachings, which she didn’t have access to growing up.

“There is a Cree law concept of Wahkohtowin, which is around kinship, and the idea that we are interrelated and interdependent and we are accountable to all our relations,” she says. “So, exploring that in an urban context and how learning those teachings again offers a lot of hope to everyone who lives in cities of better ways to live.”