Douglas Cardinal

is an influential Indigenous architect who designed the Canadian Museum of History, among other notable buildings.

Anishinaabe Roots


Douglas Cardinal talks about his father’s Anishinaabe roots and their influence on his life.

Douglas Cardinal: Well, my father was Anishinaabe. His mother was from the Blackfoot Reserve, and he lived off the land as a... a trapper, a hunter, and he then became a forest ranger. So he totally... wanted to be very independent and really had nothing to do with the reserve community but lived totally independent. And... he had, I think, a very close relationship with his mother, and he knew everything about the environment. I think he was well taught by his grandmother, who was a very strong member of the Blackfoot Nation, on the Blood Reserve.

Educated in the Catholic Church

1 min 31 s

Douglas Cardinal explains his mother’s desire for him to receive a good education, particularly in t...

Douglas Cardinal: So, they wanted to make sure we all had a good education. They emphasized that for us. And so... But my mother was very Catholic, and... so she wanted me to be trained in the arts in a residential school. So I was brought up in virtually a convent with my two brothers because she did not want us to be subject to racism of the dominant culture. So, she felt that she wanted to train me in the arts. She always felt that I would be an architect, in her vision. So I was trained in music at Toronto Conservatory, I was trained in the arts. And for a prairie boy, I was really trained with all the arts and the culture that the church, at that time, had to offer me. So the church, although it was a very painful experience for me, laid the whole foundation for my education.

A “Proper” Education

1 min 27 s

Douglas Cardinal elaborates on his parents’ wishes for him to receive a proper education and emphasi...

Douglas Cardinal: So then, when I decided to go to university... my parents worked very hard to make sure that all of us would have a good education because... that was my mother's wish. And, of course, my father felt the same because he felt that. And he always encouraged us not to... be bothered about the attitudes of Canada, which were very racist towards First Nations or anybody of First Nations background, particularly people that were mixed. We were subject to a lot of racism. So they felt that if I had a proper education, then I could write my own story rather than have the story be written by a country that practiced apartheid and genocide towards First Nations.

Culture Influences Design

1 min 7 s

Douglas Cardinal talks about how studying cultural anthropology as part of his architecture degree ...

Douglas Cardinal: I took cultural anthropology because I thought, "How can you design a building without understanding the needs of people and different cultures?" And the problem I saw is a lack of knowledge of different cultures. I saw that the dominant culture totally misunderstood and didn't know anything about the First Nations culture. If they did, if anything, they would emulate them instead of trying to bar them because the culture was very beautiful. It was all about loving, and caring, and sharing. It was not about power and control. It wasn't hierarchical, where there was one person noble, and everybody was like sheep. Everyone was noble: man, woman, child. Everybody demanded respect. And so, they governed themselves in a circle, without hierarchy.

Forgiveness Through Design

0 min 59 s

Douglas Cardinal talks about designing St. Mary’s Catholic Church in Red Deer, Alberta, and the imp...

Douglas Cardinal: I decided that would be a great opportunity. For one, I still had a lot of deep anger about the residential school, and that wasn't helping me any. And I had the opportunity to give the church an act of loving and caring in how I designed the church. It was like, "That's how you do it." You do things. You have to... In our Anishinaabe way, you have to have your heart open. And the only way... If you're hurt, the only way you can keep your heart open is by forgiving people to always keep your heart open because you'd follow your heart in how you deal with people. That was a great opportunity for me to follow my heart.

A Vision for the Future

3 min 41 s

Douglas Cardinal talks about receiving a powerful vision after meeting with a large group of Chiefs...

Douglas Cardinal: I was sitting with all the people, the elders, and they told me, "It's your responsibility to put together our vision." And I'm thinking, as they're speaking, "I don't know the languages." There were seven different languages that they were speaking, the 52 chiefs. How was I to find out what their vision was? And... So when the elders told me, "Don't worry, don't worry. The vision... You're okay. You just stay here and listen." So I stood there, and I spent the whole day with them, and they were talking all their languages, and they said, "When you go home tonight, you will have a vision. Tomorrow, you come back to us, and you will tell us what it is." So I say, "Okay." Because I'm trained as an academic, I'm not trained as a shaman. So I go home, and I go to sleep. In the middle of the night, I get this whole vision of what they're talking about, and I can't quite believe this whole thing that they want. And it was a beautiful view of the future, of how they're going to teach their children of the future. And I... I see this whole vision and so I come back and they're sitting there waiting for me. They said, "So?" I said, "I had a vision." "Yes. Tell us." So I started saying the vision, "We, the people of the land, from all the scattered areas, will come to virgin land, and here we will chart the destiny of our future. We will weep for the lost herds of buffalo. We will weep for the destruction of our land and our waters and the air. We will weep... But we have an even greater task that we're going to have to teach not only our children but teach the immigrant culture the love we feel for the land. We're going to teach them how to love the clear waters, the mountain streams. We're going to teach them to love the winds across our brow. We will teach them to love as we love because we've been here thousands of years and theirs is just a short time. We teach them to love because all of our lives depend on that." And so... I'm shortening it, but it was a beautiful vision of contribution and teaching, as their vision for the future.