RE: USA EMBASSY in OTTAWA
For years, local residents, concerned citizens, the Algonquin people, and tribes across the country have been working toward the long-held vision of an indigenous centre on the Akikodjiwan islands next to Chaudiere Falls in the Nation’s capital.
This vision was recently undermined, yet again, by the Canadian government offering the old USA embassy to house an Indigenous Centre instead. The open letter explains the inappropriateness of this proposal.
We hope for the open letter to be discussed at the upcoming AFN gathering on July 25. Your support will help demonstrate to the assembly the importance of discussing the letter and responding to the Canadian government accordingly.
Draft for Support
July 19, 2017
Re: Proposed use of the former US embassy at 100 Wellington St. in Ottawa as an Indigenous Cultural Center
Dear Chief Bellegarde, President Chartier, and President Obed,
Cc: Prime Minister Justin Trudeau, Governor General David Johnston, National Capital Commission CEO Mark Kristmanson, Ottawa Mayor Jim Watson, and Ottawa City Councilors
Throughout history architecture has served as the mother of the arts. At its most expressive, architecture combines painting, sculpture, space, and function to speak of the goals, aspirations, and vision of the culture it serves. It is a physical manifestation of the culture it houses, and it powerfully informs everyone who views the building from the outside and who experiences the spaces within its interior. In seeking to be the powerful medium it can be, architecture can raise the spirit of everyone it embraces.
Architecture can powerfully describe a people and their pursuits living and working within its spaces. It can mirror the values, the worldview, and the relationship that a people have with each other and with the environment around them. As a strong statement, architecture can either separate a people from the natural world or make them an intrinsic part of the natural world around them.
It is possible to envision an amazing, beautiful architectural statement that could house our First Nations people. We have lived in harmony and balance on this land for thousands of years. We embody a culture that thrived by living in a harmony with the wonders of nature that surround us. The people of the First Nations regarded all life as sacred and saw ourselves as being one with our Mother Earth. Our values were of loving and caring for each other and treating all people as our brothers and sisters, as well as cherishing the natural world around us.
With the values, the passion, and the exuberance that we possess, we can create a wondrous architectural form to house the goals and aspirations of our First Nations people. This architectural form can celebrate our past and embrace an open and optimistic future, expressing the best of who we are.
The old American embassy expresses a vision of an America that is no more. Their new embassy, on the other hand, is a contemporary statement that projects a more powerful view of the United States. The idea that the old embassy, this cast-off, second-hand garment, should now be re-purposed to serve as the building envelope to house our vibrant, dynamic cultures is completely inappropriate and wrong. It is not the right place for the peoples of the First Nations to celebrate with others our art, our dances, and our ceremonies.
In the eyes of some, whose values are often primarily financial and possibly also colonial, the embassy is obviously a “prime piece of real estate”, but this approach is not one that is shared by the people of the First Nations. Had we been different, our ancestors would have sold land for cash to the European settlers in the 17th century and would have become the “barons” of the New World. They chose to maintain the respect they always had for the land.
Occupying such a colonial hand-me-down is simply another form of oppression, colonization, and marginalization. It perpetuates a history that we do not want for our future. You can shape your environment, but it can, in turn, shape you. The embassy is the wrong environment in which to shape our future. We must have a space that truly expresses our values and culture, that will reinforce our vision for tomorrow, and that educates the immigrant culture about our genuine identity.
29 years ago, in 1988, the government of Canada developed a new master plan for the nation’s capital, establishing Confederation Boulevard’s circle, the capital’s “ceremonial and discovery route.” In this circle around the Ottawa River were the prominent centers for the English, the French, and the First Nations, similar to the agreement recorded in the wampum belt of 1701. This included Parliament Hill, the Royal Canadian Mint, Notre Dame Cathedral, the National Gallery of Canada, the Canadian Museum of History, Major Hill Park, the Supreme Court of Canada, and the Library and Archives Canada, to name a few. In the same plan, the indigenous center and their institutions, ceremonies, and celebrations were placed on the islands connecting to Chaudiere falls and the Great Kettle.
The center for our indigenous people used to be on that sacred site, which we regarded with veneration for thousands of years. The elders of the Anishinaabe nations from the Atlantic to the Rocky Mountains, as well as elder William Commanda of the Algonquin nation, advise us all that this site would always be our place, our sacred place, as it has been for thousands of years.
It is on that site that we have existed for millennia and where our indigenous roots find their everlasting life. It is there that our Cultural Centre should be developed and that our future in the Capital should take form.
We, the undersigned, urge you to set aside the option of occupying the old American Embassy, a symbol of our colonization, and rather insist on the development of those ancestral islands on the Ottawa River.
We share with you these reflections because we trust that your vision will be respectful of our past, and of who we are, and of our lasting values.
Chief Perry Bellegarde
Assembly of First Nations
55 Metcalfe Street
Ottawa, ON K1P 6L5
President Clément Chartier
Métis National Council
#4 – 340 MacLaren Street
Ottawa, ON K2P 0M6
President Natan Obed
Inuit Tapiriit Kanatami
75 Albert Street
Ottawa, ON K1P 5E7
Right Honourable Justin Trudeau
Prime Minister of Canada
House of Commons
Ottawa, ON K1A 0A6
His Excellency the Right
Honourable David Johnston
Governor General of Canada
1 Sussex Drive
Ottawa, ON K1A 0A1
Dr. Mark Kristmanson
Chief Executive Officer
National Capital Commission
202–40 Elgin Street
Ottawa, ON K1P 1C7
The Honourable Carolyn Bennett
Minister of Indigenous and Northern Affairs
House of Commons
Ottawa, ON K1A 0A6
Ottawa City Mayor
110 Laurier Avenue West
Ottawa, ON K1P 2J1
ATTN Ottawa City Councilors:
Bob Monette, Jody Mitic, Jan Harder, Marianne Williamson, Eli El-Chantiry, Shad Qadri, Mark Taylor, Rick Chiarelli, Keith Egli, Diane Deans, Tim Tierney, Mathieu Fleury, Tobi Nussbaum, Catherine McKenney, Jeff Leiper, Riley Brockington, David Chernushenko, Jean Cloutier, Stephen Blais, George Darouze, Scott Moffatt, Michael Qaqish, Allan Hubley
Royal Architectural Institute of Canada
Indigenous Task Force (RAIC ITF)
Douglas Cardinal O.C., Ph.D. (h.c.)
Principle and Founder, Douglas Cardinal Architect Inc.
Luugigyoo Patrick Reid Stewart
Patrick R. Stewart Architect, PhD, AIBC, MRAIC, LEED AP Associate Professor, McEwen School of Architecture, Laurentian University Chair, Provinical Aboriginal Homelessness Committee (BC)
Indigenous Task Force, Ray Gosselin Architect Limited
MRAIC; Principle, NORDEC Consulting and Design
Eladia Smoke | KaaSheGaaBaaWeak
Architect OAA, MRAIC, LEED AP; Principle Architect, Smoke Architecture Inc; Master Lecturer, McEwen School of Architecture, Laurentian University
Senator Serge Joyal
Dr. David Suzuki, Ph.D., C.C.
Broadcaster, Author, Grandfather and Co-Founder, The David Suzuki Foundation
Ogima Chief, Kinounchepirini Algonquin First Nation
Groups, Organizations, and Businesses
The Carleton University Graduate Students Association
Co-chair, Independent Jewish Voices Canada
Chair, AWARE Simcoe, ngo
Right Relation Network Ottawa
Indigenous Businesses and Professionals
Owner, Turtle Lodge Trading Post
Owner-President, Medicine Wheel Path
Indigenous Grandmothers, Elders, groups and individuals
Traditional Algonquin Grandmothers of Pikwakanagan
Lanark County Neighbours for Truth & Reconciliation
Elder Maria Ramirez
Mayan Elder, Waxaqq'ib Q'ojoom Toronto Council
Writer, Lac Des Mille Lacs First Nation
Nation Métis Québec
Marvyn J Morrison
Harriet Burdett-Moulton, NWTAA, Architect, Stantec
Adrienne Fainman, AIA Associate, M.Arch
Mary Ann Valentine
Michael Main, Teacher
Sarah Parkinson, Britannia Ottawa
Elizabeth Nelson, MA Candidate Queens University