Indigenous elder on Sidewalk Labs's Toronto consultation: "like being given blankets and gun powder and whisky to trade for our participation"

Originally published at:


It really doesn’t matter what any one says, there are massive yards with i-beams and stacks of rebar waiting to be used at SWL, this was all approved years ago.

1 Like

Beads! They forgot the nice shiny beads! That’s the problem!


I wouldn’t expect any progress on these kinds of citizen concerns from either Sidewalk Labs or Waterfront Toronto, even though they could have been addressed a long time ago. The over-arching priority is obviously the profit margins of Alphabet, and the concerns of anyone else are a very distant third or fourth place at best. It’s a shame, because there’s nothing inherent in actually dealing with these concerns that would detract from the stated goal of building an innovative “smart city” that primarily benefits regular humans (instead of “slow AIs” and their shareholders and executives).


Ugh, wow. Not (by a long shot) the first time white folks have used non-white folks to signal hypocritically their own good intentions.


Good on Elder Duke Redbird for calling out this BS! And it isn’t just First Nations that developers pull this sort of crap “consultation” with – increasingly it seems to be how business is done in Toronto. The University of Toronto has endless consultations, and then goes ahead with whatever their plan was saying that they consulted the community. And the “for profit” developers are equally bad it seems.


Even if the developers followed through with this 5% reparation-style plan for the precariat, that number is insultingly low.

Many for-profit lenders ask for more in interest than this, in a “we care” way.


An Indigenous land acknowledgment appears on the first page

Ok, when a land acknowledgment is the opening for a land-grab, I think maybe the whole concept needs to be rethought.


there are massive yards with i-beams and stacks of rebar waiting to be used at SWL

Geez, I hope this was a throw-away line and not insider info; my sense of humour for the whole SWL situation hit zero a while ago.

We’re very likely in a demand-driven slump at the moment, and surveillance-driven digital fairy dust isn’t going to cure that. This is about the civilian application and “retooling” of post-9/11 surveillance infrastructure. Unlike Grumman post-WW2, I doubt anything as useful as a canoe is going to come out of it.

Edit to remove rant, clarity… I’ve really lost patience with SWL. Also, I actually read the open letter and it’s far, far more important than the newspapers give it credit for…

To stay in the metaphor, better check those “blankets” for smallpox.


I suspect that that’s only partially true(for both better and worse):

Aside from the fact that development projects can, and sometimes do, stall seemingly indefinitely at the ‘mud lots and open-air storage’ stage; much of the fight here isn’t over some buildings; but over whether or not those buildings will exist inside Google’s pet corpronational surveillance dystopia or just be a prosaic cluster of buildings without a secretive collection of cyberpunk bylaws.

If they can’t ram that through, the project will be marked by the usual coercive charm of large scale real estate development; but nothing out of the ordinary. It’s certainly cheaper to cable for the electronic bits ahead of time; but omitting them if the original plan falls through is simple enough.

That said, activating or reteofitting the same ‘features’ at a future time is also a fairly minor operation; so opponents of the plan face the problem that it can be resurrected, given a new coat of paint; and shopped around again at intervals pretty much indefinitely.

I’m sure that Omni Consumer Products would prefer to construct Delta City all in one go; but they don’t need to.

1 Like

I’d recoend changing that to ‘discarded’; but I suspect that ‘acknowledgement’ is working exactly as designed.

It has a noble history of sounding better than the alternatives; but a ‘truty and reconciliation’ approach is always (indeed, is designed to be) an impunity-with-apologies plan; reserved for where no will or capability exists to redress wrongs through conventional criminal or civil channels.

In the context of a development project, real ‘land acknowledgement’ is purchasing it; little-people land acknowledgement is having it eminent-domained away for you; and then there’s this kind; which is purely for show.

West end of Unwin st @ Cherry St, visible from street. Google maps shows empty yards which is interesting :thinking:

"Don’t be evil” has been a cruel joke for years now, but I really am deeply curious how this comes to be. Most times we put “evil corporation” into narrative form, we need unequivocally evil characters at the top for it to make sense to an audience, but I’m a bit skeptical it really happens in so simple a way. Does somebody really go into a pitch meeting in a smoke-filled back room and twirl his waxed mustache while proposing a corporate surveillance state dressed up as a futuristic utopian community, replete with strategies for misleading the public and bullying governments into giving way? Is it really always just a cynical ploy to make suckers of us all and guarantee massive profits, or are there genuine good intentions that get subverted, and if so, is it by means we can understand, anticipate and compensate for? Or is “slow AI” a more accurate analogy than we might suspect, and the processes involved as opaque as a neural net?

I’m not just thinking of SWL here, but how this was an obsession of Walt Disney’s as well, one he swung at and missed repeatedly. I could be wrong, but I do believe the intent was more optimistic than “subvert conventional government and create a corrupt, self-dealing corporate oligarchy that monopolizes the very lives of its residents." Or in Disney’s case, apart from “Celebration,” the other failure mode of “just build some more animatronic rail rides.”

I’m in no way qualified to answer these questions, but I have a nagging suspicion that in that answer lies the answer to the question whether modern industrial capitalism is salvageable at all. Are the failures ours as individuals, and thus something we can rein in given the will and foresight to do so, or have we self-organized into a gestalt monster beyond any of our conscious influence?


Ugh… I’ll check that it out.

Actually, I finally read the letter itself, and the complaints are far more incisive than only being about inclusion. I’m going to go out on a limb here and call out the reporting itself as stereotyping and superficial. These are two professionals with superb qualifications and a unique and valuable perspective.

Redbird and Brook nail it with a concise and lethal summary of the problems with the development… I’d recommend the letter itself, it’s better and shorter than any of the reporting. That the papers didn’t just print it verbatim, if it’s an open letter, is itself astounding.


“Waterfront”? I thought that this project was called “Delta City”?


I read the letter, can’t say I got the same impression of a “lethal” criticism. The only concrete objection seems to be a somewhat esoteric one concerning timber. It would have been more useful if they had listed the recommendations that SWL ignored. My overall impression of the criticism of SWL remains that it’s only a few steps removed from those useless “you don’t have my permission to use my data” disclaimers people post to their Facebook feeds.

I read the letter, can’t say I got the same impression of a “lethal” criticism.

Perspective, perhaps.

The timber point is right on; it’s a head shaker to see all that exposed wood in the documents given that Gehry’s heavily CLT addition to the Art Gallery of Ontario is glass clad. You even have to re-finish pressure treat around here every few years or it splinters.

Most telling for me: they raise the sovereignty point, which is spot on, and the legal point about data management (particularly if we go in the direction of the GDPR here), both of which show a certain contempt for local law and culture. That the “plan” is a “marketing document” point is nice to hear from a professional urban planner; I skimmed it and it’s full of so much fluff and numbers that seem to appear from nowhere without back-up analysis and costing.

SWL’s proposal has always felt to me like a snow-job from beginning to end. I think the letter hits the key points with precision.

Huh, no mention of the $70K Redbird was paid by SWL. Also no mention of the letters of support from other Indigenous elders SWL has used hired as consultants. But it’s The Star, Canada’s number 1 one-sided tabloid with another easy prey article. There’s a lot of information missing from this article to consider it balanced journalism.

It’s right there in the title: “like being given blankets and gun powder and whisky to trade for our participation.” $70k is a lot of money for a lot of people, but what price to put on destruction of your cultural heritage?