Wanda Dalla Costa
Perhaps one of the main struggles in my life was choosing a career. In high school, I didn’t have any role models in careers I found interesting. The number of careers available overwhelmed me. There were so many options; I had no idea what I would do after high school. I went directly to the university, finished an undergraduate degree in sociology and native studies, followed by a year in law school and decided that a career in this field didn’t suit me. I decided to pursue my dream of backpacking around the world.
Over six years, I traveled to twenty-six different countries, many of which had indigenous cultures. I started to recognize that these places had their own form of architecture, usually influenced by the Indigenous cultures. I wondered what Canadian architecture would look like if it had been guided by Aboriginal culture and knowledge. This question led me to investigating architecture as a career. Growing up, my dad did a lot of home improvement work around the house. I followed his directions and hammered nails whenever I could.
I definitely wasn’t afraid of building. Also, time spent drawing and making dreamcatchers showed an interest in art and design, which is an indicator that I would enjoy architecture. So, I put together a portfolio of my art and crafts and applied to graduate school. In university, I really felt that I was forging new ground when I realized I was one of very few First Nations women in architecture. There were ONLY three women graduates in my class. There were no other Aboriginal students. As intimidating as this could have been, it is an advantage too. I was headhunted by the Federal Government two months after graduation.
Governments and industry want to hire Aboriginal people with education and expertise in science and technology fields. Moreover, any private architectural firm would jump at the opportunity to hire Aboriginal architects, as they would have someone on staff with a knowledge of First Nations culture and tradition. I just became a LEEDTM Accredited Professional. LEEDTM stands for «Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design.” It’s a designation offered through the United States Green Building Council designating a specialty in sustainable design or green building. I participate in a number of public speaking engagements and career fairs. My personal goal is to encourage Aboriginal students to continue their scholastic endeavors, and to think about a career in architecture. Our firm receives numerous awards each year for innovative work in sustainability and design. I’m looking forward to an upcoming gallery show for National Aboriginal Awareness Week that will showcase my work. My work is very rewarding.