Indigenous Architect Douglas Cardinal Represents Canada at Venice Bienale with “Unceded”

Douglas Cardinal speaks at the opening of the “Unceded” exhibit at the Venice Bienale.

James Brian and Julian Mulock of the Rudolf Steiner Centre Toronto (RSCT) were in Venice with Canadian Indigenous architect Douglas Cardinal May 24th for the official opening of Canada’s Exhibit at the 2018 Venice Bienale in Italy. The Venice Bienale is an international art exhibition held every other year in Venice, Italy. The theme for the 2018 Venice Bienale is architecture.


Douglas Cardinal’s concept for Canada’s exhibit, titled “Unceded – Voices of the Land”, was chosen as the winner in a competition with twenty other competing bids, to represent Canada at the 2018 Venice Bienale. The “Unceded” exhibit includes contributions from eighteen indigenous architects, all from “Turtle Island”, which is the original name for what is now known as North America.


Ancient and Modern

Director and CEO of the Canada Council, Simone Brault, who opened the show, said he found it significant that in this exhibit we have one of the most ancient cultures, expressed through the most modern technologies. The exhibit includes no traditional architectural models, but rather a blend of audio-visual presentations from the participating architects. A film, titled “Road to Venice”, based on the Douglas Cardinal’s exhibit, is now being made, for wider circulation. Unceded was supported by a $500,000 grant from the Canada Council.


Everyone was there for the Opening

The opening ceremonies for Unceded featured the Red Sky (aboriginal) Dancers from Canada. Ontario Lt. Governor Elizabeth Dowdswell was on hand to represent the province (Douglas Cardinal is based in Ottawa). All of the eighteen participating Indigenous architects were also on hand for the opening of the show, along with six women elders from across Canada. Eight Indigenous architecture students from Turtle Island will also participate in the exhibit. According to Mark O’Neill, president and CEO of the Canadian Museum of History, Douglas Cardinal’s “Unceded” is the most important Canadian exhibition exported abroad from Canada in the last 100 years.

Douglas Cardinal receives a ceremonial headdress from one of the six elders present.

The World Takes Note

A news conference in Venice, preceding the opening was attended by journalists from the CBC, The Guardian, and the Wall Street Journal, among others. The Toronto Star ran a big story about the event and the Walrus magazine, one of the project’s media sponsors, ran a full page ad for the Unceded exhibit.

In 2017, Douglas Cardinal’s Canadian Museum of History in Ottawa was chosen by the Huffington Post as the fifth most beautiful building in the world. Also noted were Gaudi’s Casa Mila, the Sydney Opera House, and the Pantheon in Rome.

A Few of Douglas Cardinal’s Other Buildings

Douglas Cardinal was also the architect for the National Museum of the American Indian in Washington D.C. (2004), and closer to home, the York Administrative Centre and Newmarket Town Hall on Eagle St. and Yonge St., just an hour north of Toronto. Douglas Cardinal’s architecture was inspired by Rudolf Steiner’s concepts of organic architecture, which Douglas first encountered as an architecture student in Texas. (Rudolf Steiner also inspired Waldorf education, thus the indigenous Waldorf connection).

James Brian as the Bridge

The RSCT and Waldorf connection with Douglas Cardinal and the Venice exhibit is through James Brian’s dual role as both Executive Director of the RSCT and as President of the Douglas Cardinal Foundation for Indigenous Waldorf Education. This Foundation helps sponsor teachers at Indigenous schools who wish to attend professional development programs at the RSCT in Waldorf education, and also provides on-site courses and other support for the development of Indigenous Waldorf schools across Canada.

James Brian, Douglas Cardinal, Idoia Cardinal and Marie-France Bertrand in Venice

There has been considerable interest in Waldorf education among Indigenous people in Canada, and this trend has been encouraged and supported by the Foundation.

Julian Mulock and the other Canadians

Artist and RSCT teacher Julian Mulock was there because he is interested in working to support Indigenous Waldorf education. Julian was accompanied by his artist wife Andrea. And James was there with his friend Marie-France Bertrand who is based in Ottawa and handles financial logistics and fundraising for the Douglas Cardinal Foundation. Poet Farrel was there from the Foundation’s fundraising team. Douglas Cardinal’s wife Idoia, was also there for the opening. James says they didn’t have time to go on a gondola ride, but they did dine at a place where the legendary explorer Marco Polo used to live.

Julian, Andrea, Marie-France and James, not going for a gondola ride in Venice.

Indigenous Waldorf in Canada

As part of their July 9-27 Summer Festival, the RSCT will be hosting the first ever week-long course in Indigenous Waldorf education, which will be led by Everlasting Tree School co-founders, Amy Bomberry and Chandra Maracle, along with Sean Thompson, an Indigenous Waldorf teacher, also from the Everlasting Tree School near Brantford.

This past year, Sean has been deepening his knowledge of Waldorf by participating as a student in the full-time Professional Development for Waldorf Teachers program at the RSCT. At his graduation, Sean spoke of his hope that Waldorf education could help to heal some of the wounds from the residential schools.

Recently the Douglas Cardinal Foundation has been awarded a grant from the National Indian Brotherhood to host a conference on the Akwesasne reserve from August 1-3 titled “We will gather our minds”. Funds are being sought for a purpose built Indigenous Waldorf School to be designed by Douglas Cardinal and built on the Akwesasne reserve.