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Grid Brief International: Canada’s Indigenous Development Push

Grid Brief International: Canada’s Indigenous Development Push

Mock up of Sen̓áḵw

"It looks like the future of Vancouver," a Nch'ḵay̓ Development Corporation representative said of the Squamish tribe’s planned high rise development, named Sen̓áḵw, in North America’s most expensive city for housing. Looking at the mock-ups available on the project’s website, the development looks like a sleek hybridization of the artificial and the organic—something the subscribers to the Whole Earth Catalog could have only fantasized about in the 1960s and 1970s. And that’s how the Squamish tribe describes it: “Sen̓áḵw demonstrates Squamish leadership to the world: on climate, on urban development, and on economic development.”

Sen̓áḵw, the $3-billion CAD ($2-billion US), 11-tower project along the waterfront, represents a major indigenous victory in the wake of a watershed change in Canadian federal law that enabled greater exercise of First Nations’ authority over their own lands. The planned 6,000 units should alleviate Vancouver’s tight housing supply and earn the Squamish $10 billion. They plan to finish construction in 2030 and, according to their website, have already started pouring concrete.

But not everyone is happy about the development. Some don’t want to see their views impeded by towering skyscrapers enabled by the lack of zoning laws on the Squamish’s land. Others want their scenic beachfront to remain unblemished. And some environmentalists have had a strange response—they have criticized Sen̓áḵw for not conforming to the noble savage mythology, in which First Nations are cast as spiritually elevated for their “primitive” society that brings them closer to “nature.” “When you’re building 30, 40-storey high rises out of concrete, there’s a big gap between that and an Indigenous way of building,” environmentalist and urban planner Gordon Price said in 2022.

Activists like Price are in for a rude awakening. First Nation sovereignty in Canada doesn’t just mean urban development, but energy and resource development. These tribes are about to show North America just what an “indigenous way of building” looks like in practice.

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