Transformative planning practice and urban Indigenous governance in Vancouver, British Columbia

Author/s: Lily Canan Reynolds

Creation date: 2015-12-17

Contact info:

Senior supervisor: Karen Ferguson

Keywords:  Indigenous governance, transformative planning practice, Indigenous rights, urban planning, aboriginal, non-profit organizations

Geographic focus: Coast Salish Territories; Vancouver, BC; British Columbia; Canada

Research question/s: What are the planning practices of non-Indigenous planners that make them effective according to the Indigenous people they work with? How do these practices connect to designing urban Indigenous governance with the purpose of incorporating and expressing Indigenous rights in cities?


More than half of Indigenous people in Canada live in cities, yet there is little understanding of Indigenous rights in urban contexts. Most legislation, policies and research about Indigenous rights in Canada are at the federal and provincial scales, so there is a need to better understand how urban and regional planning can articulate Indigenous rights in cities. However, planning has been instrumental to the dispossession of Indigenous peoples and this raises the question of how planning could or should be involved in discussions of Indigenous rights. This study aims to understand what transformative planning practices are potential approaches for improved urban Indigenous governance. Interviews with planners and non-profit leaders respond to a gap in the literature about grassroots urban Indigenous non-profits. This gap is significant because these organizations have long played a leading role as urban Indigenous community hubs.


This study used an interviewee-referral process designed to ensure Indigenous leaders set the criteria of what benefits their communities. The findings demonstrate that Indigenous self-determination is a fundamental aspect of effective planning practices with urban Indigenous communities. However, the author found significant variation in how non-Indigenous planners describe Indigenous self-determination within the context of urban governance. Additional findings indicate that effective planning practice incorporates Indigenous cultures and connects urban Indigenous groups to much-needed resources. Interviews with some non-Indigenous planners revealed clear limits to their commitment to Indigenous rights in urban contexts. The findings lay bare the real challenges planners grapple with in working to implement urban Indigenous rights within the context of municipal governance, with one of those being the lack of existing models of Indigenous rights in cities. The author emphasized the need for more research about Indigenous rights in Canadian cities and the role of urban and regional planning in expressing those rights.