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By Jordan MacDonald, Employment Social Enterprise Project Coordinator

Hecate Strait Employment Development Society (HSEDS) has been assisting the residents of Prince Rupert, Queen Charlotte City, Masset, and surrounding communities achieve their employment, training, and settlement goals for more than 25 years.

Since January, I have fulfilled the role of Project Coordinator, Employment Social Enterprise with HSEDS in partnership with Ecotrust Canada’s North Coast Innovation Lab. The goal of this partnership is to explore employment social enterprise initiatives that HSEDS could undertake to provide experiential learning activities and support its clients to gain hands-on work experience.

Jordan MacDonald is the Employment Social Enterprise Coordinator with Hecate Strait Employment Development Society and Ecotrust Canada’s North Coast Innovation Lab in Prince Rupert, B.C. (SHANNON LOUGH/ECOTRUST CANADA)

Social value

Social enterprises are business organizations that prioritize the creation of social value over profits alone. For an employment social enterprise this means the organization works with its employees to address the barriers to employment they experience and provide training in workplace-specific skills while developing other essential and transferable skills. This approach seeks to provide a supportive work environment where individuals are viewed as employees – not simply clients – and they are able to build the confidence needed to achieve gainful employment in the community.

To date this project has connected with other employment social enterprises to gather best practices in the field. It has also worked within HSEDS to better understand both the programs and services that are offered, as well as the needs and expectations of the people who interact with the organization. A review of employment social enterprise models has also been completed with special attention to ideas that could address the specific needs of Prince Rupert’s labour market.

Tourism and event planning

In the coming months, I will be working with HSEDS to develop an experiential training cohort that will integrate both in-class and community-based learning activities focused on tourism, event planning, and customer service. Through this course participants will learn and complete specific tasks related to working in a retail or tourism environment. This cohort will support the entrepreneurial spirit of Prince Rupert and act as a pilot and learning opportunity for any future retail-based social enterprise activities.

More than 20 cruise ships are visiting Prince Rupert in 2019. (SHANNON LOUGH PHOTO)

Extracurriculars

While in Prince Rupert I have also had an opportunity take in many of the exciting activities and events that make this community so unique. This includes attending the All Native Basketball Tournament, Salmon Fest, La Cabane à Sucre, and exploring several historic sites and trails along the way.

I have also had the privileged of continuing to participate in several events and conferences relating to my current program of studies. In early June, I attended the Congress of the Humanities where I presented on the connection of university-based refugee resettlement groups to their community contexts.

Innovative approaches

While at Congress, I also attended workshops and sessions hosted by the Association of Nonprofit and Social Economy Research, which had specific relevance to the work I am a part of in Prince Rupert. This included the ability for social enterprises to take part in government and business procurement and purchasing activities, youth outcomes in work-integration social enterprises, and strategic planning in the non-profit context.

Each of these areas – whether they be social enterprise, employment, skill development, food literacy, or immigration – are connected through the lens of social innovation. In each of these projects I am working to explore how existing initiatives are socially innovative or can be innovated in some way. Barriers to employment, childhood obesity, and the integration of newcomers pose complex challenges that require socially responsible and innovative approaches and solutions.

READ MORE: Exploring restorative ocean farming in Northern B.C.

READ MORE: Growing a jungle of edible veggies for Indigenous food security

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The North Coast Innovation Lab internships are made possible through support from Mitacs Canada.

By Morgan Sage, Food Security Project Coordinator

Prince Rupert has a deep connection to local food through its history and culture of fishing. However, locally grown produce is really only available to people who grow it themselves in their own gardens, or gather it from the wild. Growing food in Prince Rupert has its challenges including soil quality, climate, and deer. Many of those problems are mitigated with protected agriculture, or greenhouse growing.

Morgan Sage holds up a bunch of carrots that she grew inside the greenhouse at Rupert Lawn and Garden to provide for members of the Gitmaxmak’ay Nisga’a Society in Prince Rupert. (MORGAN SAGE PHOTO)

Since this January, I’ve been the Food Security Project coordinator as part of Ecotrust Canada’s North Coast Innovation Lab and my partner organization the Gitmaxmak’ay Nisga’a Society. The latter owns and operates Rupert Lawn and Garden (RLG) as a social enterprise/business.

RLG has three greenhouses onsite that are used as nurseries and plant sales throughout the growing season. As the spring turns to summer the greenhouses start to empty, leaving unused valuable greenhouse space. My project is using this space to produce food. Because the greenhouses have gravel floors, immovable tables, and is used for different purposes throughout the year, I’m using containers to grow vegetables.

Large scale container gardening is the best way to describe what my project physically looks like. Pots upon pots of tomatoes, herbs, cucumbers, carrots, salad greens, peppers and eggplants are filling Greenhouse 3 at RLG. Planting started mid-March and from there everything has exploded. “It looks like a jungle in here!” has been uttered more than once upon someone’s entry into the greenhouse.

Fresh food

The ultimate goal is to increase food security for Nisga’a in Prince Rupert. Recently there was a Nisga’a household survey conducted in Prince Rupert and Port Edward that identified that the number one household need for members is food, and price was the largest barrier to accessing food. Gitmaxmak’ay already has a household food distribution program in place for traditional foods such as oolichan and oolichan grease, herring row, and salmon. This distribution setup will be used to make fresh food grown at RLG available to Nisga’a members.

Just one of the many cucumbers growing from inside the greenhouse. (MORGAN SAGE PHOTO)

However, about half of the produce grown at RLG will be available to purchase by the general public at Rupert Lawn and Garden to help cover some of the costs of production.

So far there have been three harvests of salad greens, that have went to staff at Gitmaxmak’ay and Rupert Lawn and Garden, volunteers for Salmon Fest, and the Elders Fundraiser at the end of May.

Food programs

Even though growing food is the most visible part of the project, I’m aiming to initiate a few programs including a community kitchen where people can cook, eat, and spend time together over food, as well as a program for elders and youth to get their hands dirty at Rupert Lawn and Garden. Elders and youth could also share in the harvest by having their monthly meetings over a meal they helped produce.

Also as part of my project I was able to attend the Northwest Food Action Network’s Food Conference, Food Glorious Food, in Terrace this spring. While there was able to connect in person with some of the Food Action Network’s members; attend sessions on food waste; monitoring fish stocks; and attend workshops on seed starting and community kitchens. This conference highlighted the place-based nature of food security and how important food security is for the Northwest.

Since Morgan Sage planted seeds in the spring the greenhouse dedicated to her project has exploded with edible veggies to distribute to members of the Gitmaxmak’ay Nisga’a Society. (MORGAN SAGE PHOTO)

READ MORE: The Spirit of Innovation

READ MORE: Exploring restorative ocean farming in Northern B.C.

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The North Coast Innovation Lab internships are made possible through support from Mitacs Canada.

Theory put into practice in northern B.C.

By Taylor Reidlinger, Restorative Ocean Farming Project Coordinator

Do you feel like the world is changing ever more rapidly? I do. To thrive as humans, we need to address both the effects of climate change and the needs of growing populations. This demands that communities act as stewards of the environment while adapting to its changes.
An exciting initiative that aims to support both community food needs and environmental well-being is restorative ocean farming, an aquaculture practice where seaweeds and shellfish are grown together in vertical ocean plots. Since January, I have been exploring restorative ocean farming — tangibly — in Metlakatla territory.

Shannon Lough photo

Taylor Reidlinger, who is the Restorative Ocean Farming Project Coordinator with Coastal Shellfish and part of Ecotrust Canada’s North Coast Innovation Lab, holds up a tiny scallop at the facility on the coast of Prince Rupert, B.C. (SHANNON LOUGH/ECOTRUST CANADA)

Is it feasible?

Working in Prince Rupert with support and guidance from Ecotrust Canada’s North Coast Innovation Lab (NCIL), Coastal Shellfish Corporation, Metlakatla Stewardship Society, and Metlakatla Aquatic Resources, I have been scoping the realm of feasibility to understand what governance structures, business models, and project plans could lead to local positive outcomes through restorative ocean farming.
The main goal is to provide access to wholesome local seafood while reducing the energy inputs, space requirements, and environmental impacts of food production. I also hope that we can lay a foundation for this program that encourages community connection to the environment and to one another, which can help further diversify the local job market and marine economy. By building on Coastal Shellfish’s success in shellfish aquaculture, we are working to design a program that respects Coast Tsimshian heritage and territory and supports the community into the future.

The benefits

Shellfish aquaculture produces delicious protein that is healthy for humans and the environment. Kelp aquaculture regulates oceanographic imbalances and provides habitat for other species while it grows into nutritious food, and a product with a variety of other uses. When grown in combination, these species create a restorative ocean farm that becomes a nutritious, delicious, and sustainable combination.

Shannon Lough photo

Taylor Reidlinger stands inside Coastal Shellfish’s algae microbrewery in Prince Rupert, B.C. (SHANNON LOUGH/ECOTRUST CANADA)

Seeding the ocean

Now that the realm of what is possible has started to develop, I will be working toward setting up test plots, engaging further with community members and knowledge holders, and continuing to find ways to mitigate any potential roadblocks to success. By the end of summer, we hope to start our Coastal Shellfish pilot program – seeding the ocean with species that will grow to demonstrate what local seafood could be produced in a larger long-term, financially self-sustaining program.
The Mitacs–NCIL opportunity has enabled this partnership and the exploration of an idea that has, until now, rested only in the hopeful minds of community members.

From theory to practice

Working as a project manager on an initiative in its early stages has been an amazing professional learning experience for me. While working on the project, I’ve also completed coursework toward my Master of Science degree in Environment and Management. I’ve been able to apply the theory of sustainable community development coursework directly into this real-world scenario.
This type of coursework has synced beautifully with the Ecotrust Canada social innovation lab model – where theory is applied to practice – and learning from the resulting effects helps us to progress closer toward intended outcomes where community members act as stewards in a changing world.

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The North Coast Innovation Lab internships are made possible through support from Mitacs Canada.

READ MORE: The Spirit of Innovation

 

The North Coast Innovation Lab (NCIL) is a community-based social innovation lab in Prince Rupert – which essentially means a “place” for bringing people and organizations together to understand complex challenges within the community, and to work together to find lasting solutions. The NCIL works to empower the community to reclaim their economy to work for their residents, and not the other way around.

NCIL Manager, Nathan Randall, shares an update of how the NCIL is contributing to building a more resilient Prince Rupert, and where things are at as the initiative proceeds into its second year.

Gaining Momentum

Year 1 was all about direction setting and building meaningful relationships within Prince Rupert. From November 2017 until December 2018, the community members co-developed the NCIL’s structure and focus areas, hired two project coordinators for four-month research and feasibility projects, and built foundations of knowledge on models for local seafood access and coworking space viability. We also co-organized several demonstration projects – namely, a seafood literacy workshop and a capacity-building workshop and market for small-scale entrepreneurs.

New Initiatives

Year 2 of the NCIL is building on our past momentum to bring four projects to life with our first cohort of community partners and Masters student Project Coordinators. These initiatives, which all vary in their stages of development and area of focus, align with the NCIL’s community-directed objectives around resilience, inclusive and sustainable economic development:

  • Taylor Reidlinger, MSc Environment and Management candidate with Royal Roads University, is working with Coastal Shellfish Corporation to conduct a Restorative Ocean Farming Feasibility and Planning project that aims to address food insecurity and sustainable seafood access.
  • Morgan Sage, MA Geography candidate with Queen’s University, is working with Gitmaxmak’ay Nisga’a Society to develop a food production and distribution initiative as a means to educate and localize fresh produce for Rupertites.
  • Jordan MacDonald, MSc Capacity Development and Extension candidate with University of Guelph, has teamed up with Hecate Strait Employment Development Society to research and pilot an employment social enterprise project, providing a bridge between employment training, practical experience, and meaningful employment for HSEDS clients.
  • Denise Gonzalez, MA Human Geography candidate with York University, is working with Redesign Rupert to better understand and enable downtown revitalization, in the form of pilot social programs and events that complement the larger shifts in municipal planning and investment around downtown Prince Rupert.

The NCIL team look forward to sharing their progress and project directions on Tuesday, April 30th at Coast Mountain College in Prince Rupert. This is an opportunity to inform the community of their work at large, and to gain valuable feedback and ideas from residents about how to better contribute to a more resilient community. Stay tuned for future updates from the four Project Coordinators about their experiences working and living on the North Coast!

~Nathan Randall, Project Manager North Coast Innovation Lab

There’s been a lot in the news lately around BC’s herring fishery. Some groups are calling for a suspension or moratorium of the fishery in the Georgia Strait, and in pursuit of this are using inflammatory rhetoric pitting fishermen against the environment.

Having worked with fish harvesters for much of our 20+ year history, we are disappointed in the portrayal of these fishermen and how the fishery is being sensationalized in the media. We believe strongly that we need to have inclusive and respectful discussions about the use and management of our resources, and how that affects the wellbeing of people, communities, and ecosystems; this includes discussions with those who harvest this resource for the many who rely on it.

Social media can be a powerful tool to spread information, and misinformation. As a society and as individuals we need to make sure that we are taking into account well-rounded and sound information that considers the range of views and known facts. Fisheries are incredibly complex with many dimensions to how they are managed. We have amazing resources in Canada that if well-managed can provide many benefits including sustainable and meaningful work, and contributions to local cultures and economies.

Fisheries for communities

At Ecotrust Canada, our vision is for resilient fisheries – fisheries and marine resource use that meets the immediate social and economic needs of society, without compromising ecological integrity or the ability of future generations to meet their needs. Adjacent communities, and fish harvesters in those communities, are a critical locus of action and stewardship; they should co-manage, and be the primary benefactors of their fishery resources.

To pit fishermen against the environment and communities ignores the interconnectedness, complexity, and fact that fish harvesters are an integral part of their communities. They are also knowledge holders and stewards of the environment they rely on. In our 2011 Values Study, we mapped the tangible and intangible values that commercial fishing brings to communities, including food security, resource stewardship, intergenerational transfer of knowledge, and maintaining transportation linkages up and down the coast. Fishermen play a critical role in creating wealth for, and maintaining the health of, their communities, and need to be a respected part of developing solutions for the sustainability of marine resources, and the fishery.

Collaboration is key

The decisions over what we harvest, when we harvest, and who gets to harvest are complicated, and in many ways the current system we have for figuring it out isn’t working – for marine ecosystems, harvesters, or communities. We need a new approach to working together, prioritizing the health of our fisheries and all those reliant on them, and to do that we need to continue to do the kinds of collaborative research, analysis, and demonstration of alternative management solutions that have been at the heart of Ecotrust Canada’s approach for over 20 years.  Perhaps even more importantly, we must ensure that everyone’s voice is heard and valued.

~ Chuck Rumsey, CEO, and Tasha Sutcliffe, Senior Advisor on Fisheries

(photos by Chelsey Ellis)

Dear Friends & Supporters of Ecotrust Canada,

Last autumn, Jean Pogge made the decision to step down at year end as CEO of Ecotrust Canada. As incoming CEO, I want to take this opportunity to formally thank Jean for her leadership over the last three years, and the efforts she made to ensure a smooth transition. Coming from the role of VP of External Affairs and Development at Ecotrust Canada, I’m very familiar with the work of the organization, but it’s still been an exciting start to the year as I take over the reins.

While only a few weeks in, all indications are that 2019, like the year previous, will be marked by growing social, political, economic, and environmental divides – in Canada, and the world at large. Unfortunately, Canada’s rural and remote communities disproportionately suffer the consequence of this pulling apart, as they find themselves on the front lines of accelerating climate change, deepening energy poverty, unsustainable fish harvesting, and a continuing crisis of housing for Indigenous communities.

These realities do not simply flip on and off with elections, or the political flavour of the day.  These are problems deeply rooted in our political and economic systems, and it’s on the latter – the economy – that Ecotrust Canada will continue to apply itself in order to create solutions for the future.  In particular, we understand that the economic system that has created, and exacerbated the social and environmental crises we face, is not an immovable, unchangeable force.  Rather, together with our community partners, we have witnessed time and time again, that people have the generosity, ingenuity, and energy necessary to build innovative economic solutions – solutions that can repair and sustain the environment, while also creating prosperous, vibrant, and thriving communities for people to live and work.

In that spirit, in 2019 we will resist the trends that are pulling people and places apart, and instead focus on creating an economy that connects us.  This includes coming together with our community partners, our supporters, our funders, and within our own team of dedicated professionals.  Of particular note, the start of the new year brings with it several exciting additions to our staff, including Pamela Perreault as Director of Indigenous Homes & Housing, and Joseph Pallant as Director of Climate Innovation.  We are also pleased to announce that Graham Anderson has been promoted to Director of Community Energy. Meanwhile, our community fisheries team continues to make waves as it lays the foundation for a fundamental shift in how fisheries on the BC coast will be managed for the future.  These programs are all supported by dedicated operational and finance teams, and by leaders such as Sarah Stott who is stepping up to become VP of Development and Communications.

I could not be more excited to be part of this inspiring team, and the extended family of Ecotrust Canada partners, friends, and alumni.  Together, we look forward to the year ahead in which we build and accelerate toward our goal of creating a more equitable, prosperous, and sustainable Canada.

Chuck
CEO & President
Ecotrust Canada

 

In 2013, after several years of work and document review by federal agencies, Ecotrust Canada became the first charitable organization to obtain Corporation Certification to deliver at-sea and dockside fisheries monitoring programs. These programs include training courses for human Observers as well as data collection, entry and delivery protocols to ensure all federal fisheries data standards are met.

Amanda Barney, our General Manager for the Marine Monitoring Initiative, shares her personal insights on the human observer training happening with small indigenous fishing communities on Vancouver Island, and the benefits it’s bringing them.

Meeting a community need

For the last two years we’ve been working with the five Nuu-chah-nulth Nations supporting T’aaq-wiihak fisheries by delivering a dockside monitoring program for their Suuhaa (chinook) and Mi?aat (sockeye) directed salmon fisheries.  T’aaq-wiihak refers to fishing with the permission of the Ha’wiih (hereditary chiefs) to catch and sell all species traditionally harvested within their territories, and comprises the rights of five Nuu-chah-nulth Nations.

While the T’aaq-wiihak were collecting valuable data for their own fishery management, like many First Nations communities they were also having to hire external human monitors to be able to report that data back to the federal government based on the national standard. These intense hiring costs are not economically feasible for smaller fisheries, which limits their ability to keep boats on the water, and hence their ability to bring employment and income into their local communities.

Local knowledge and Indigenous-led monitoring

In order to support these First Nations located around Tofino on Vancouver Island, Ecotrust Canada actively works as a service provider. We offer training programs that enable the hiring of local Dockside Monitors, data entry and program coordination, as well as offering remote data collation and delivery services. While fisheries monitoring may seem like a strange thing for a charity to pursue, we have seen the invigorating effect our work has had on the industry and local communities.

Our goal for the training program for the T’aaq-wiihak fisheries is to reinforce and continue to build local fisheries knowledge and capacity in order to meet the needs of First Nations, local fishing communities and meeting the national standards from the DFO (Fisheries and Oceans Canada) for the designation of Observers. Observer training courses prepare students for employment as catch monitors, biological samplers or both, and guides them through the Observer certification process.

              

Additionally, supporting small and medium-sized fishing boats contributes to a less intensive and less stressful environment for the fish in comparison to modern industrial vessels.

Thus, we use the DFO designation as an umbrella to support small community fisheries and First Nation fisheries, offering affordable services to all, not just affluent industrial fisheries that can afford external monitoring. We believe that offering this service to small local fishing communities contributes to their long-term economic health, as well as local community culture and well-being.

Natural stewards of lands and resources

From my own perspective, I have come to my role as lead trainer for our Observer programs very organically. Not only did I work many years ago as both a dockside and an at-sea Observer in Alaska, but in my first years at Ecotrust Canada I did salmon Observer work in Prince Rupert and helped deliver training programs to our North Coast and Namgis’ partners.

I find training local community members to monitor and engage with the fisheries that occur in the waters around their homes particularly fulfilling, as they are connected to the resource and area in such a mindful way that makes them very natural stewards, and also, very engaged students.

For more information, read about our Observer Training Program.

 

Indigenous communities in British Columbia face a number of unique challenges related to housing and energy use that cause or exacerbate other social, economic, and environmental issues on reserves. With limited access to affordable fuel for these remote communities, coupled with poor quality housing, the proportion of household income needed to adequately heat their homes is significantly higher than the average BC resident.

Graham Anderson, our Energy Program Manager, shares more about the issue of energy poverty and his recent work to help find solutions.

Energy poverty has significant impacts

Early on in my work at Ecotrust Canada, I picked up an elderly hitchhiker from one of the remote Indigenous communities I was working with in the Interior of BC. On the ride, he told me the purpose for his trip – he was going into Lillooet to pay his BC Hydro bill, which was over $1,000 for just two months of electricity. He had usually heated his home with wood in the winter, but was sick this year and primarily relied on electric heaters instead. At the time I was shocked to hear about such a high electricity bill for a home with electric heat. Unfortunately, in the years since that encounter, I’ve learned that this experience is all-too-common in BC’s remote Indigenous communities.

Only about 40% of people living on-reserve in BC have access to natural gas to heat their homes – compared to 95% of other BC residents. This lack of access results in Indigenous communities having to transport more expensive fuels such as diesel or oil into their towns, increasing the heating cost for individual households who may already be struggling to make ends meet financially.

With this limited access to affordable fuels, low quality housing and, in some cases, no access to grid electricity, a typical on-reserve household is estimated to spend three times as much of their income* as the median Canadian household on meeting their basic energy needs. These excessively high energy costs exacerbate the social distress and impact of poverty on people, while inadequate heating systems lead to negative health impacts due to lower air quality and mold.

 

Heating efficiency solutions are available

We’ve seen that energy efficiency retrofits to home heating systems can really help families switch to cleaner fuels and dramatically reduce their energy costs. If done in partnership with Indigenous communities, these retrofits can also create new training and employment opportunities for local residents, as well as addressing their longstanding health, social, and environmental challenges.

Earlier this year, we worked in partnership with the Heiltsuk Tribal Council in Bella Bella, BC, to install heat pumps in twenty community homes. The heat pumps work like an air conditioner in reverse, collecting warmth out of the air and bringing it inside the home, typically using one third of the energy used to create the same heat by a furnace. The results of this pilot were impressive, saving about $300/month on average for the impacted residents. We were also very pleased to see community members trained and employed in installing and maintaining the new systems, creating new opportunities for local people and building local capacity to support the new equipment.

 

Barriers exist to taking solutions to scale

While clean energy solutions are available, unfortunately they are not happening at scale across Indigenous communities due to barriers to financing, vastly insufficient funding programs, and capacity constraints within communities.
So throughout 2018, we’ve been undertaking a program of research, exploration, and convening in order to gain a deeper understanding of the barriers in place, explore solutions that have been developed in other parts of Canada and the rest of the world, and validate the appropriateness of these solutions to the realities faced by Indigenous communities in BC.
I’m especially looking forward to planning a convening event with community leaders and policymakers in the coming months, to directly engage about the most appropriate solutions to the problem of energy poverty on reserves.

* This figure was estimated by Ecotrust Canada based on available data and project-based knowledge of typical community experiences. There are a wide range of household experiences and this estimate is intended to reflect a reasonable average.

Watch the video about the project here:


Thank you to Vancity Credit Union, Patagonia, and the Province of British Columbia for supporting this important project.

 

 

September 5th marks the International Day of Charity – established by the United Nations to recognize that eradicating poverty in all its forms is an indispensable requirement for sustainable development. This day creates a time for us all to reflect and mobilize around how we voluntarily give our money, goods or time to those in need, either directly or by means of a charitable organization.

We’d like to take this opportunity to thank all of you who make donations, big and small, in support of our vision of people and nature thriving together. At Ecotrust Canada, we are firm believers that the solutions to poverty lie in a hands-together approach, so that communities are equipped with the tools they need to create widespread prosperity. That means creating opportunities for meaningful work and prosperous livelihoods while also ensuring the health of our environment is sustained.

This short video shows the impact of one of our most recent projects, tackling housing and energy in partnership with the Heiltsuk Tribal Council, in the remote community of Bella Bella, BC. The results are impressive – reduced heating costs, improved air quality in their homes, and better health for their children.

If you believe in our vision, please consider a one-time or monthly donation to help us continue our vital work. Our Board of Directors has kindly committed to matching any new donations made during the month of September, up to a limit of $10,000 – doubling the impact of your money!

From coast to coast to coast, our work helps to transform communities into vibrant, sustainable and interconnected hubs of health, justice and security. It couldn’t happen without your support.

Thank you.

 

The standard model of housing on reserves is failing Indigenous communities, where a system of poorly built homes has resulted in overcrowding, disrepair, health issues and cultural degradation. A growing Indigenous population with a real need for a new approach to housing requires a reformulation of this problem and innovation in how housing is conceived, designed, planned and constructed.

Anthony Persaud, our lead researcher on Ecotrust Canadas Housing and Energy Initiative, shares his thoughts on his recent work to create a housing assessment framework as a tool for communities seeking to transform their housing systems to maximize local economic, social and cultural benefits for their communities.

Learning from communities

Housing projects offer incredible potential to achieve sustainable and equitable economic development, create meaningful livelihoods, and enhance individual well-being and cultural resilience in Indigenous communities. Developing the Framework for Assessing Community Housing Systems has been a major learning process. It’s a great example of how an initiative with a broad, national scope can be effectively informed and designed in its early stages with community input and participation.

In April of this year, Satnam Manhas, Ecotrust Canada’s Director of Forestry and myself set off on a BC-wide roadtrip to discuss housing with communities. We spoke with First Nation bands, National governments, Indigenous economic development corporations, forestry practitioners, and many others with both direct and indirect connections to housing. Our goal was to build awareness around this approach, strengthen partnerships, and to receive input from communities on the development of the Framework. The trip included thousands of kilometres of driving, an unexpected lunch of sea lion meat, a sit in a traditional pit-house style sweat lodge, and a dip in the Aiyansh hot springs in the stunning Nisga’a valley.

Tackling a housing crisis

The Framework was always considered an important part of the development of the Housing and Energy Initiative, but it wasn’t until we started visiting and speaking with communities specifically about this work that we realized just how important this initial activity really was.

Indigenous communities across Canada are simply overwhelmed by the housing crisis that they face, leaving little time or resources to look at the broader picture of housing and its connections to other processes occurring within and beyond their communities. All of the leaders that we spoke with realized the need for a different approach, but putting that need into action is a major challenge. The Framework we’ve developed achieves a first step, providing practical resources and information to help them assess their readiness for a self-determined housing system.

Building culturally inspired homes

There are many examples of Indigenous communities that are taking the lead on transforming housing, and we hope to build upon those examples moving forward. The cultural resiliency of Indigenous peoples is what has allowed them to remain and grow as distinct First Nations today despite 200 years of colonial policies aimed toward erasing such identities. The transformation of the Indigenous home succeeded in destroying the traditional domestic spaces of Indigenous peoples physically, but never in essence.

This indicates that solutions to the First Nation housing crisis in Canada must be built upon the cultural values and development visions of indigenous peoples themselves. With this approach, communities can build dignified, culturally inspired and sustainable housing in a way that also helps them build more resilient, thriving communities.