TVO documentary ‘From Earth to Sky’ brings awareness to Indigenous architecture

EDMONTON — A new documentary “From Earth to Sky” tells the story of seven Indigenous architects — whose creative work is centred on respecting the planet.

Directed by Ron Chapman, the documentary highlights the importance of Indigenous architecture in the modern world.

The film features North America’s first Indigenous architect, Douglas Cardinal from Siksika, Blackfoot in Calgary.

The idea for the film began after a group of 18 architects put together a proposal to The Canada Council to represent Canada at the Venice Biennale – an international architecture exhibit. Chapman followed seven architects to discover their unique body of work and impact on the community.

“The film was an opportunity to use architecture as a lens to better understand Indigenous communities and principles. To understand the culture, traditions, responsibility and commitment to community and environmental responsibility,” said Chapman.

Describing the artists as “the writers of the film”, Chapman said the film brought Indigenous culture to the world.

Wanda Dalla Costa, an architect from Saddle Lake First Nation in Alberta, said her passion for architecture began after extensive travel. Having backpacked across the world for seven years, she developed an appreciation for culture.

“What I found during that time was a love for culture, the expression of culture and built form, different modes of creating cities, different styles of creating architecture – there was so much variety out there,” she said.

She says today’s architectural designs stem from values and beliefs, with some cultures being undervalued compared to others.

“There were so many people of the place that still using built in environments that were reflective of their life ways and supportive of their every day activities and beliefs systems. When I came back to North America after that long journey and went into architecture school, I realized that it was important to begin that exploration – what it means to connect culture with the built environment,” said Dalla Costa.

Wanda, who is an Architect Institute Professor in Arizona, hopes to bring Indigenous architecture to the modern world.

“There’s so much beauty and so much layering of associations that goes on in the architecture that we are creating and I think it’s really invisible,” she said.

As a field predominantly centred on math and science, architecture was not an accessible profession to Indigenous peoples, said Dalla Costa. She said Indigenous people were often discouraged from excelling in those subjects or were not given the resources to succeed.

“This is a field that has been predominantly male and predominately Caucasian,” said Wanda.

She hopes the film will encourage young students to follow their love for architecture.

Chapman wants the documentary to bring awareness to the world, giving Indigenous creators “a seat at the table.”

“The film got an amazing reception and I’ve been flooded by e-mails and comments from people who as a result of the film are seeing Indigenous people through new eyes,” said Chapman.

The documentary can be watched online. 

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