The Royal Architectural Institute of Canada has selected Indigenous rights activist Justice Murray Sinclair as the RAIC Gold Medal recipient for 2024.
Sinclair was formerly the Chair of Canada's Indian Residential Schools Truth and Reconciliation Commission, an enormously influential body whose work was to uncover, document, and honor the memories of victims of the injustices and the harm facilitated against Indigenous people by both national and provincial governments throughout most of the 19th and 20th centuries.
The push to design important new public memorials and culture centers has been one of the most salient outcomes, along with the removal of monuments to problematic figures and a host of other conciliatory social gestures to Indigenous communities, such as the recent decision to rename Ryerson University to Toronto Metropolitan University in light of its namesake's role in promoting the network of Residential Schools that were established across the country.
Speaking in a press announcement, RAIC President Jason Robbins said: "The RAIC acknowledges the profound connection of Canada's colonial history and its impact on First Nations. To promote reconciliation, the RAIC instituted the Indigenous Task Force in 2016 and the Truth & Reconciliation Task Force in 2020. Honoring Murray Sinclair with the 2024 RAIC Gold Medal reflects the profession's recognition of architecture's transformative power in promoting reconciliation, social justice, and a more inclusive built environment."
In a final statement honoring the Gold Medal achievement of Sinclar (who has also taught at the University of Manitoba and was appointed to the Canadian Senate in 2016), the RAIC Board of Directors stated the following:
"The Royal Architectural Institute of Canada (RAIC), with its century-long legacy representing architects, grapples with a profound connection to Canada's colonial history. Initiated by the Royal Proclamation of 1763, colonial administration established a complex dynamic between the Crown and First Nations, impacting their rights through subsequent legislation like the Gradual Civilization Act and the Indian Act. The enduring consequences, notably the dark legacy of residential schools, permeate Canadian history.
Recognizing this historical context and the imperative for reconciliation, the RAIC instituted the Indigenous Task Force in 2016 and the Truth & Reconciliation Task Force in 2020. Aligned with values such as integrity, climate action, reconciliation, social justice, and innovation in the 2022-2024 Strategic Plan, this transformative journey signifies a departure from historical norms toward a more comprehensive understanding of architectural responsibility.
In parallel to historical shifts, the RAIC's acknowledgment of The Honorable Justice Murray Sinclair echoes the pivotal moment catalyzed by the Truth and Reconciliation Commission (TRC) in 2015. Sinclair's role as the Chair of Canada's Indian Residential Schools Truth and Reconciliation Commission is particularly noteworthy. His leadership exposed historical injustices and systemic structures treating Indigenous people as less than human.
Sinclair's unwavering commitment to truth and reconciliation, as exemplified in his role with the TRC, signifies a commitment to dismantling colonial relationships, fostering spatial justice, and advocating for the rights of Canada's founding peoples. His legal career, witnessing the dismantling of residential schools and envisioning a better future, epitomizes qualities of empathy, forgiveness, and communication aligning with the RAIC's evolving values. Honoring Murray Sinclair with the 2024 RAIC Gold Medal reflects not just individual achievements but also the profession's recognition of architecture's transformative power in promoting reconciliation, social justice, and a more inclusive built environment.
It’s an incredible honour for the board to select (hon) Murray Sinclair to receive the RAIC’s highest honour."
Sinclair follows the late Claude Provencher (2023); Jerome Markson (2022); Shim-Sutcliffe Architects founders Brigitte Shim and A. Howard Sutcliffe (2021); and Blanche Lemco van Ginkel (2020) as one of five past winners of the award, which was first established in 1967.
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