My name is Andrea Oakunsheyld (she/her) and I am a white, curvy, neurodivergent, disabled, queer, bigender woman working on the traditional, ancestral, and stolen lands of the xwməθkwəyə̓ m (Musqueam), səlilwətaɁɬ (Tsleil-Waututh), Swwú7mesh (Squamish), and Stó:lō Nations. I come from the MacKay clan of Scotland, the O'Farrell clan of Ireland, and the Eder and Swoboda Houses of Austria.
A Non-Linear Path
My path to planning has been neither conventional nor linear. Rather, it has been an accumulation of my education, lived experiences, interests, skills, times I have been asked for help, and the needs I have seen and wanted to meet.
The first memory that continually influences my planning practice is a friendship that I held in preschool in North Vancouver. I had different friends in preschool but really enjoyed playing with James, especially because it was often just the two of us. One day I came home from school and told my mom that I went with James to see a lady. She asked me “what lady?”, so I told her that I was invited to go with James to a room with a lady who asked us questions. What I didn’t know is that James was autistic and that the school was trying to find out more about how he processed. He was non-verbal with many people, but I didn’t know this because he always talked to me when we played. I was asked to come with him to this meeting to better understand him in a way that recognized his preferences and context. James was the first person I remember who made me think about the strength of connection and how we can impact people through those connections. I have collected and reflected on many experiences since this friendship which have led me to understand the importance of relationship, solidarity, and connection.
My Journey to Planning
I have two Bachelor of Arts degrees from the University of Calgary, one in English and one in Urban Studies, as well as a Masters of Community and Regional Planning from the University of British Columbia with a concentration in Indigenous Community Planning and a directed thesis in intersectional planning. Originally, I was going to pursue an undergrad in engineering and then a Masters of Architecture; I was a math and science kid all the way through school. Then I took an English Lit class (an elective that was the closest thing my school had to an AP course). That course and that teacher changed my life and the next thing my parents knew, I was accepted to an English program. I added an Urban Studies degree, still intending to somehow swing back to architecture but, as I got more involved in human rights activism from 2011 onwards, I started to explore where social change and urbanism come together, eventually landing on planning as my desired field (despite the strong pull I felt to stay in English academia). Throughout my undergraduate and graduate degrees, I continued to find teachers in every sense of the word who pushed me to become more of myself.
Comic in its disastrous proportions, I put everything I had into my graduate education only to be in the first cohort to graduate right into the pandemic. Oakunsheyld Consulting was born from adversity and has been an embodiment of adaptation, innovation, and resilience ever since.
During my graduate degree, I also started to explore death work. Death work is something that I have done for a long time with my friends, family, and community, and during my planning degree I started to think about how death work could be applied to my planning practice. In October 2022, I took a Death Doula course through Douglas College – essentially a formalization of my existing knowledge – and started practicing as a Death Doula beyond friends and family. While I practice as a Death Doula outside of planning, this competency continues to strengthen my trauma-informed planning practice. As we reckon with the end of the American Empire, late stage capitalism, climate emergency, and other crises, I am finding ways to support difficult endings and transitions in the world of planning as well.
Planning Through Connections
I resist the idea that we need to pick one or only a few areas of focus. I think this works well for some folks, but I thrive by diving deep into a number of interconnected areas of interest, fleshing out the connections further, and embodying my practice around these connections. Often my areas of expertise are shaped by what people tell me they need, which is how and why my diverse knowledge and skills are so interwoven. Some of the titles I’ve been given include planner, storyteller, community organizer, urbanist, world-builder, death worker, healer, strategist, theorist, educator, and advocate and I’m honoured to be what my clients and communities need me to be. If you’d like to connect with me, I would love to hear your story!