Famous Indigenous Canadian architect Douglas Cardinal spoke in Wetaskiwin, Alta., Saturday May 14, 2022. Cardinal heritage is considered one of Canada’s most influential contemporary Indigenous architects and is known for his European expressionist style architecture influenced by his Indigenous heritage.
Some of Cardinal’s best-known designs include the Canadian Museum of History in Gatineau, Quebec; the National Museum of the American Indian in Washington, D.C.; and the Telus World of Science in Edmonton, Alta.
Some in attendance travelled from neighbouring communities including Maskwacis, Alta., and others from as far as British Columbia to hear Cardinal speak.
Cardinal says he remembers being taught that he must be humble to communicate with life around him and that humans are no more important than any other part of nature—even a blade of grass. He says that because of this he wants to make sure his buildings do not cause harm to the land and aspires for them all to be net-zero energy.
Cardinal was also taught that the Creator gave humans the gift of creativity.
“We can create something beautiful on this planet or we can destroy it,” Cardinal said. “The worldview of our Indigenous people is quite different than the worldview of the western world.”
He says that the Indigenous community has, “a gift of knowledge that the world needs.”
He states that it is this creativity that he incorporates into his architectural designs.
Cardinal was a residential school survivor, attending one in Red Deer, Alta.
While at the residential school Cardinal says he remembers being confused because he grew up learning that God, that the Creator, was loving and forgiving and not punishing as the nuns taught.
He said it made him question himself and his heritage. He used to ask himself,
“Why was I born to be native? But then I realized that was not a curse at all but a blessing.”
He says while his time in the residential school system was a painful period in his life, he decided to build something beautiful rather than holding onto the anger. Cardinal said it was there that he learned art and music, and the love for the arts is what inspired him to pursue architecture.
In 1968 his first commission was to design St. Mary’s Church, the former location of his residential school.
At 88-years-old, Cardinal continues to travel the world and design buildings with Indigenous influence.
He recently returned from a trip to Peru where he consulted with Inca Elders on a building for re-connecting with the wisdom of the Incas and presented an exhibit supporting Indigenous Architects in Venice, Italy.