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Architecture Student speaks out ‘From the Void’

March 21, 2018 — 

Jason Surkan, a graduate student in the Department of Architecture, has just returned from the void – and the experience was “extraordinary.” 

“From the void,” or Nā Te Kore in Māori, was the transformative theme of the 2nd Biennial International Indigenous Design Forum, held in Ōtautahi, Aotearoa (Christchurch, New Zealand) from March 2-5, 2018. Over these four days, Indigenous designers, thinkers, artists and consultants from around the world gathered to share stories and scholarship, and to show how new light can emerge from darkness.

Jason Surkan was among eight emergent Indigenous designers invited to contribute to this international forum. His presentation was entitled Kîhokewin Kumik: An Elders Lodge. It described current research on Métis architecture and his developing design for an Indigenous cultural centre near the historic Métis site of Batoche, Saskatchewan. Jason’s design research is being guided by Mètis author and elder, Maria Campbell, and Associate Professor Lancelot Coar.

While Jason was honoured to share his own design thesis at this prestigious venue, he was also inspired by other stories of expropriation and resistance, revitalization and triumph. As Jason says, “Participation in this forum allowed me to contextualize my own culture and to further understand Mètis culture in relation to other Indigenous people. These other narratives help create a larger understanding of how Indigenous design and architecture can create better futures for all of our children.”

The International Indigenous Design Forum was hosted by the Nga Aho. This network of design professionals is committed to understanding and promoting the inherited ideas, beliefs, values and knowledge of Māori and Indigenous world views, which form the bases of interaction between Indigenous people, clients, and designers. According to Jason, “this forum has strengthened cultural connections, including a trans-Pacific relationship with the Māori people and our Indigenous Design network here on Turtle Island (North America).”

Most impressive to Jason was that the Biennial took place in the Marae (a Gathering House) and was hosted by the local Iwi (tribe). Events were conducted following traditional protocols, led by respected Maori Elder, Haare Mahanga Te Wehinga Williams. “The forum was culturally immersive and academic at the same time, creating a unique hybrid of Indigenous knowledge and academic learning,” says Jason.

In May 2017, Jason attended the International Indigenous Architecture and Design Symposium organized by the Royal Architectural Institute of Canada in Ottawa. His participation as a presenter in the 2018 International Indigenous Design Forum in Aotearoa is advancing his research and furthering the collective project of reclaiming Indigenous design agency. According to Jason, “these events make space for Indigenous voices to be heard and for connections to be made. The global Indigenous architecture and design community is quite small and events like these allow designers to connect and collaborate.” Jason is already making plans to work collaboratively with Maori designers on future projects.

Also presenting at this International Indigenous Design Forum was Faculty of Architecture alumnus, Ryan Gorrie (M.Arch 2009). Ryan is a member of Bingwi Neyaashi Anishinaabek (Sand Point First Nation on Lake Nipigon). He is an artist and a registered architect, based in Winnipeg.  Cheyenne Thomas (B.E.D., 2013) also participated in this event. Cheyenne, Ryan and Jason are all part of the Royal Architectural Institute of Canada Indigenous Task Force, launched in 2016.

These emergent Indigenous architectural voices from the University of Manitoba are resounding with optimism, integrity and leadership from the void.

Jason Surkan’s research trip was supported by the Faculty of Architecture and an FGS Student Travel Award.

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