Decolonizing Ourselves Key For UNBC Planning Grad

UNBC alumna and planner Sarah Atkinson oversees a broad range of non-profit housing projects. As chair of the Planning Institute of B.C.'s Reconciliation in Planning Committee, she says there was a larger call to action; to decolonize our institutions, practices and approaches. She will share that work towards reconciliation at her IWAU/NRESi talk on Nov. 19.

November 17, 2021
Sarah Atkinson
Sarah Atkinson graduated from UNBC with her Bachelor of Planning Degree in 2004.

Planner Sarah Atkinson says we all have a role in decolonization and that we should start with decolonizing ourselves.

Atkinson graduated from the University of Northern British Columbia with her Bachelor of Planning degree in 2004. She now runs her own consulting firm, Vesta Development Consultants overseeing a broad range of non-profit housing projects.

Since August 2020, she has chaired the Planning Institute of B.C.’s (PIBC) Reconciliation in Planning Committee.

“We have so much to gain from Indigenous knowledge that you can think of it as a selfish task to undertake,” she says. “We need different ways of approaching our work to turn some of the most challenging global issues around. A connection to land and community coupled with science seems like a good place to start.”

Atkinson is the guest speaker at the Inspiring Women Among Us/Natural Resources and Environmental Studies Institute Colloquium talk titled: Reconciliation in Land Use Planning on Friday, Nov. 19.

She says through the work of the PIBC’s Reconciliation in Planning Committee, that there was a larger call to action; to decolonize our institutions, practices and approaches.

Atkinson’s talk on Friday (3:30 – 4:30 p.m. PT Room 8-164 and online) will share the beginning of that work towards reconciliation and the lessons she has learned.

“I am fortunate to work alongside BC Housing on my projects, and they have a strong commitment to reconciliation,” she says. “Our projects are more and more focusing on engagement with the local Nations. We have a long way to go in this work and it is far from perfect but the work has started and I know it will continue to grow.”

Atkinson says it was during her time living in Prince George and going to school at UNBC where she learned about northern issues and the adversity Indigenous People face. She didn’t realize that there are “entire communities living below the poverty line, in some cases without running water, in our supposed First World country.” She also started learning about missing and murdered Indigenous women and girls and the violence experienced by Indigenous women.

One of Atkinson’s professors, Dr. Annie Booth from Environmental and Sustainability Studies, would bring in guest lecturers from northern Nations to speak to her classes. Students would hear about the resilience of First Nations; their ingenuity, resource management, and traditional knowledge.

“I always wanted to have a career that provided some good back to the community,” Atkinson says. “I genuinely had no idea it would be in non-profit housing. The lessons I took away from UNBC have helped me shape my approach to working with non-profits. I see the importance of community and hope that each project will create those safe community spaces for the residents.”

In addition to the IWAU/NRESi Colloquium, Atkinson is also part of The Art of Mentoring Panel Friday from 1:30 – 3 p.m. PT with three others that will discuss the importance of mentoring for professionals.

“For me, it’s not about giving back but trying to contribute to a better place,” she says. “It’s really about community. We have an inescapable fact that humans need humans, so trying to make life better for each of us rewards ourselves.”

And she has a few words of advice for current Planning students and those who have recently graduated.

“I would say the most important thing to focus on is the way you treat people, and the work you put out will speak for itself,” she says. “Prioritize relationships, be kind and work hard at what you are passionate about. It will pay off.”