Eladia Smoke Reintroduces Indigenous Perspectives into Architecture
KaaSheGaaBaaWeak | Eladia Smoke is the founder of one of the few Indigenous-owned architectural firms in the country. She is an emerging visionary in her field – the architect behind vast, light-filled public buildings that connect with the natural environment. In 2021, Smoke Architecture and Moriyama & Teshima Architects were jointly selected to design the Mukwa Waakaa’igan Indigenous Center for Cultural Excellence at Algoma University in Sault Ste. Marie, Ont. The project will be the new focal point of the campus – a masterpiece of contemporary design that combines steel and glass with earth and water while incorporating Indigenous traditions and ceremonial spaces to foster the sharing of knowledge.
Situated at: Hamilton, Ont.
Degrees: B.Env.D. and Mr. Arch. (University of Manitoba)
My goal in life :
Reintroduce Indigenous perspectives into the built environment and bring people together in our environments.
My first memory:
I’m going to sound like an idiot, but I remember being inside my mother. I remember it was dark red, very comfortable and warm. I pushed my foot against her rib, and she pushed my foot from the outside.
I thought I would become:
In medicine or law enforcement. I am White Wolf Clan, a subset of Bear Clan, which is about healing and protection. I finally realized that architecture was another way to have an incredibly beneficial effect on people.
My first job:
Cooking at a children’s camp at Llama Mountain in New Mexico when I was 15.
Best advice I’ve ever heard:
Dr. Terri Fuglem, one of my professors at the University of Manitoba, said, “Deadlines are our friends. Architecture can be perfected endlessly, so deadlines force us to stop perfecting and start implementing our ideas.
My major break:
In architecture, it is more of a slow build than a major break. You continue to build new relationships and people entrust you with their hopes and dreams of a new space.
The hardest decision I’ve ever made:
I thought long and hard before starting my own business. It really felt like stepping into the ocean, but it was the best business decision I’ve ever made.
My most memorable mistake:
Do not hire an office manager for several years after starting the business. In 2020, we hired our first office manager, Marie Keele. We evolved incredibly quickly because she gave us a hand with our internal administration. She has since been promoted to head of finance.
A great leader:
Figure out what people like to do and what people do well and make room for them to do it.
One thing that needs to change in my industry is:
The profession needs to listen to Indigenous peoples. The Canadian architecture we now have borrows almost exclusively from European methodologies, but a wealth of ideas and design can be achieved when we listen to the people who have lived here for millennia.
I never confuse:
Expertise to know everything. We can never know everything, nor should we try to find out. The best we can hope for is to know a little more about a lot of things.
I want people to remember:
Inspire more Indigenous youth to pursue a career in architecture. We are the only licensed Indigenous-led firm practicing in the province of Quebec, and there are no Indigenous-led firms east of that.
My current obsession:
Finding how to create a safe space for sharing the knowledge that our ancestors passed on to us through modern architectural education.
The word I abuse the most: