Students for Reconciliation: Jason Surkan

Jason will study the existing buildings and infrastructure to better understand current construction and design practices that have and have not worked in recent years in Garden Hill and Wasagamack. Yet this research cannot begin until he has a broad sense of what problems are occurring on site and also what the general life is like on these reserves. 

Through traveling to these communities, the research will gather of a general impression of the community, the environment, and to generally meet the community in a public setting. The outcome of this visit is not being pre-determined, nor are there any private or specific discussions or meetings being planned.  He will participate by listening to community discussions in public settings and will not record any of these conversations. He will observe and take part in public events during the trip. He will also photograph and sketch the buildings and community structures to record the existing context of these communities.” 

This work is in parallel with Jason’s thesis, which will collaborate with a Métis Elder on a design proposal for a space that facilitates cultural practice through a process of Kîhokewin. This includes storytelling, dreaming, art, music, language, craft, ceremony, and cultural activities at the historic site of Gabriel Dumont’s Crossing along the South Saskatchewan River. The thesis will be an exploration of not only a Métis Vernacular, but an exploration of a contemporary Métis architecture that is grounded in the teachings and wisdom of our Elders. It will braid together the past, present, and future through an Indigenous architectural process that creates a catalyst space to strengthen kinship in the Métis Nation at Gabriel’s Crossing, a place that has always been a hub for Métis resistance and culture. “The Métis are a distinct group of Indigenous people that have unique cultural practices, language and building traditions that differ from both their maternal (Indigenous) and paternal (Scottish/French/English) lineages. One of the primary spatial conditions that historically distinguished the Métis from other groups in the Canadian prairie provinces emerged from their overriding emphasis on egalitarian principles of social organization and consensus that evolved out of their Buffalo hunting culture during the 19th century.[1] The Métis built and continue to build spaces across the prairie provinces that respond to each local environment in ingenious, sustainable, egalitarian, and resourceful ways. This Métis vernacular architecture is the manifestation that developed when the lived consequences were too severe to make error. These responses have been learned through inherited experiences that were and continue to be distilled by countless generations of lived experience in harsh environmental and even harsher social conditions.

This research will explore both historical and contemporary examples of Métis architecture to better understand what is Métis architecture. Other Indigenous cultures in Canada have recognizable vernacular typologies such as the igloo, tipi, longhouse, and wigwam. What then is Métis architecture beyond log cabin nostalgia and pasted visual lexicons? Is there a place for a contemporary Métis architecture in the prairies?

[1] David T. Fortin, and Jason L. Surkan. Towards an Architecture of Métis Resistance. (THE SITE MAGAZINE. June 28, 2017).

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