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

Sidewalk Labs (previously) is a "smart city" company that was spun out of Google, though it remains owned by Alphabet, Google's parent company; Sidewalk Labs's first major outing is a planned "experimental city" on Toronto's lakeshore, and it's been a disaster, from the bullying it used to get the project's initial approval to being outed for sneaking a massive expansion into the agreement and then lying about it, to mass resignations by its privacy advisors, who denounced the project as a corporate surveillance city whose "privacy protections" were mere figleafs for unfettered, nonconsensual collection and exploitation of residents' data.

Now, as the plan struggles with court challenges, it is spinning for its life, and one of the oft-repeated claims it makes to justify its existence is that the company conducted deep consultation with indigenous leaders as part of Canada's ongoing (and totally inadequate) truth and reconciliation with the country's First Nations.

But Duke Redbird and Calvin Brook, two of the indigenous leaders who took part in that consultation, have published an open letter to Waterfront Toronto's board of directors, accusing Sidewalk Labs of discarding all their input to the new city's plans, while touting the consultation as evidence of the company's goodwill and sincerity.

Redbird and Brook describe the consultation with phrases like "hollow and tokenistic," and remind us that the indigenous consultation came up with 14 recommendations for Sidewalk Labs, and that the company has taken up exactly zero of these in its 1500 page, four-volume master plan for the city.

Sidewalks Lab's response reeks of the same spin that they deployed when they were caught lying about the scale of the project and pretending that it would not expand to Toronto's entire waterfront: they say that they allowed the indigenous peoples' input to "inform" the plan, and hold up as evidence a written acknowledgment in the plan that they will be occupying unceded indigenous lands with their for-profit surveillance city.

The master plan is full of references to indigenous people that make Sidewalk Labs look like a good actor, but there are no promises or commitments to do anything to include them in the final project. Moreover, many of the references use "indigenous" as a synonym for "unemployed."

An Indigenous land acknowledgment appears on the first page of the first volume of the master plan. It includes references to outdoor temporary winter installations that “could” be designed by Indigenous artists at Silo Park; employment opportunities for low-income and racialized youth, women and Indigenous people; and five per cent of affordable housing units with priority to people with disabilities, families, veterans, youth, seniors, newcomers and Indigenous residents.

Redbird described those references as “trinkets,” and said they did not bring a true “Indigenous lens” to the project.

He noted that Indigenous people who were invited to the consultation had not asked to be involved, and that Indigenous people have a long history of broken promises.

“That doesn’t sound like reconciliation. That sounds like being given blankets and gun powder and whisky or something to trade for our participation,” he said.

Indigenous elder slams ‘hollow and tokenistic’ consultation by Sidewalk Labs [May Warren/Toronto Star]

(via Naked Capitalism)