Exploring the Truths about Planning



Occupation of Douglas Creek Estates. GSMacLean, CC BY-SA 4.0 <https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/4.0>, via Wikimedia Commons

Congratulations to SVS's Mitchell Avis on having an article published in  the Winter 2021 edition of Y Magazine, a publication put out by the Ontario Professional Planners Institute.  Mitchell is a member of the Planning Team  and we are so happy to share his knowledge and insight on planning in an Indigenous context. Mitchell's article is one of several that make up the Truth and Reconciliation themed winter issue. The magazine can be accessed through a member and non-member login from the Ontario Professional Planners Institute website


So without further ado, we present for your reading pleasure: 

Exploring the Truths About Planning


Author’s Note: This article was originally published in Y Magazine (Issue 07, Winter 2021), which is a publication of the Ontario Provincial Planning Institute (OPPI). OPPI is mandated to grant the Registered Professional Planner (RPP) designation, govern the rights and responsibilities of its members, and set academic, experience and examination requirements for membership. More information can be found at: https://ontarioplanners.ca/home



At 1492 Land Back Lane we observe the intersection between development and Indigenous rights, between treaties and broken promises, and between Indigenous and settler worldviews. As a profession, it serves as a wake-up call that our role in meaningful reconciliation requires us to have uncomfortable conversations about Indigenous rights, treaties, and land use planning.


Since July 19, 2020, Six Nations of the Grand River Land Defenders have been asserting their rights and jurisdiction by blockading the McKenzie Meadows housing development on unceded Haudenosaunee land within the Haldimand Tract, now present-day Caledonia, Ontario. The Land Defenders call it 1492 Land Back Lane. But 1492 Land Back Lane did not begin in July 2020; it is the result of centuries of oppression, systemic racism, and land dispossession.


It is important that the planning profession come to terms with our past and present because it is only when we seek to understand the truth that we can move towards reconciliation.


TRUTH: Land use planning is an inherently colonial practice and profession

We must first seek to understand the role of planning practices in the mistreatment of Indigenous peoples.[1] The historic and continued dispossession of Indigenous peoples from the land – forcing them onto reserves – has resulted in the loss of culture and access to areas for hunting, fishing, trapping, and gathering.[2] Settlers did not “give” Indigenous peoples reserves – settlers confined them to reserves.


TRUTH: Indigenous nations have always been self-governing

Since time immemorial Indigenous peoples have been organized sovereign nations with their own governance structures and laws. Upon contact with European nations, Indigenous peoples had been planning and building communities for millennia using Indigenous planning and architectural practices rooted in the belief the land and water are sacred and to be cared for communally, not a commodity that can be privately owned.[3] The Haudenosaunee Confederacy, for example, is the world’s oldest representative democracy.[4] They continue to assert sovereignty, self-governance, and jurisdiction over their lands.[5] The Haudenosaunee Confederacy opposes the McKenzie Meadows development[6] while the Six Nations Elected Council agreed to support the project.[7] This complex conflict over jurisdiction is a direct result of colonization and the Indian Act.


TRUTH: The Indian Act is a racist law that controls Indigenous lives

The Indian Act imposed many rules on Indigenous Peoples, including the elected chief and band council system enacted in 1869 and still in effect today.[8] The Chief and band council system reflect European governance structures, not Indigenous traditions of self-governance. As a result, communities like Six Nations continue to acknowledge the role of the traditional governance system of the Haudenosaunee Confederacy while also complying with the requirement of the Indian Act to have an elected Chief and band council. Systemic racism and ignorance within many Canadian laws, legislations, and governance processes continue to suppress traditional governance systems today.


TRUTH: Nation-to-Nation Treaty promises have been broken and not upheld by the Crown

The Haldimand Treaty of 1784 allotted Six Nations six miles of land on either side of the Grand River (955,000 acres), “which them and their posterity are to enjoy for ever”.[9] However, over the ensuing centuries Six Nations lost 95% of their allotted lands through the Crown’s negligence, illegal sales, squatting, and disputed land surrenders.[10] Six Nations monies for this land were mismanaged by the Crown and ultimately used to help build this country including, for example, to cover government debts, payoff war debts, build the Welland Canal, and save McGill College from bankruptcy.[11] Canada has failed to account for the sale, lease, and monies owed to Six Nations within the Haldimand Treaty, including the McKenzie Meadows land, which remain unresolved today. Six Nations filed a Statement of Claim against Canada and Ontario in 1995 after originally launching 29 land claims between 1980-95.[12] A trial date has been set for 2022.[13]


TRUTH: The Planning Act perpetuates the dispossession of Indigenous peoples from the land

The Planning Act usurps treaty and Aboriginal rights to land and fails to recognize and uphold the United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples (UNDRIP) and Free, Prior and Informed Consent (FPIC). The cumulative impact of development increasingly infringes on Indigenous rights to access and use land.[14] Indigenous communities continue to be dispossessed of their land for agriculture, settlement, and resource extraction without free, prior and informed consent. Six Nations is the largest populated reserve in Canada and its land needs are growing.[15] Every development built on unceded or disputed lands before a land claim settlement results in less land remaining available for their community to use and grow.


Where next?

It is okay if you feel uncomfortable reading this. Your discomfort means that you realize “we can do better”. And we can. We all have a role to play in reconciliation. For our profession, doing better begins with an understanding of the relationship between planning and Indigenous peoples’ use, access, and rights to the land. It is time we begin to travel “side by side down the river of life” like we agreed to in the Two Row Wampum of 1613.[16]


Mitchell Avis, MSc, RPP, MCIP is a white settler and works as a planner at Shared Value Solutions, which is an environmental and community development consulting firm supporting First Nations, Métis, and Inuit Nations from coast to coast to coast.


[1] Porter, L. (2010). Unlearning the colonial cultures of planning. Ashgate Publishing Limited.

[2] Truth and Reconciliation Commission of Canada. (2015). What we have learned: Principles of truth and reconciliation. Truth and Reconciliation Commission of Canada. http://nctr.ca/assets/reports/Final%20Reports/Principles_English_Web.pdf

[3] Brook, C., Millette, D., & Robertson, S. (2019). Appendix B: establishing context. Indigenous Perspectives in Planning: Report of the Indigenous Planning Perspectives Task Force. https://ontarioplanners.ca/OPPIAssets/Documents/OPPI/Indigenous-Planning-Perspectives-Task-Force-Report-FINAL.pdf

[4] Haudenosaunee Confederacy. (2020). Who we are. Haudenosaunee Confederacy. https://www.haudenosauneeconfederacy.com/who-we-are/

[5] Ibid.

[6] Six Nations “Iroquois” Confederacy. (2020, August 15). Statement Regarding Unlawful McKenzie Meadows Development. Haudenosaunee Confederacy. https://www.haudenosauneeconfederacy.com/2020/08/statement-regarding-unlawful-mckenzie-meadows-development/

[7] Forester, B. (2020, August 11). Six Nations Elected Council agreed to ‘publicly support’ McKenzie Meadows development, help stop protests as part of accommodation deal: court docs. APTN News. https://www.aptnnews.ca/national-news/six-nations-elected-council-agreed-to-publicly-support-mckenzie-meadows-development-help-stop-protests-as-part-of-accommodation-deal-court-docs/

[8] Joseph, B. (2018). 21 things you may not know about the Indian Act: Helping Canadians make reconciliation with Indigenous peoples a reality. Indigenous Relations Press.

[9] Six Nations Council. (2008). The Haldimand Treaty of 1784. Six Nations Lands and Resources. http://www.sixnations.ca/LandsResources/HaldProc.htm

[10] Six Nations Lands & Resources Department. (n.d). Land Rights: A global solution for the Six Nations of the Grand River. Impact Assessment Agency of Canada. https://iaac-aeic.gc.ca/050/documents/p80100/130877E.pdf

[11] Ibid.

[12] P. Monture, personal communication, November 5, 2020

[13] Ibid.

[14] McIvor, B. (2015, August 18). The Piecemeal Infringement of Treaty Rights. First Peoples Law. https://www.firstpeopleslaw.com/public-education/blog/the-piecemeal-infringement-of-treaty-rights

[15] Six Nations Elected Council. (2013). Community Profile. Six Nations Elected Council. http://www.sixnations.ca/CommunityProfile.htm

[16] Onondaga Nation. (2020). Two Row Wampum – Gä•sweñta’. Onondaga Nation. https://www.onondaganation.org/culture/wampum/two-row-wampum-belt-guswenta/



About Us: Shared Value Solutions

We are an Canadian B Corp, and we assist Indigenous communities with support throughout regulatory processes surrounding major development projects like mines, hydroelectric facilities, transmission lines, highway expansions, oil and gas pipelines, natural resource transport applications and nuclear power. 


We have deep context and experience behind the recommendations we provide, having worked for our clients on almost every major project in Canada over the last 10 years. For us, it’s all about building long-term relationships with our clients. We want to get to know you and what you want to do so we can help you move your plans forward. 

  • Impact Benefit Agreement Negotiation Support 
  • Technical Reviews and Regulatory Process Support 
  • Community and Economic Development Planning 
  • Indigenous Knowledge and Land Use Studies 
  • Environmental Monitoring 
  • Guardians Program Development 
  • Climate Change Readiness 
  • GIS and Mapping 

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