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The power of storytelling to elevate Indigenous-led housing projects

What is it about humans that differentiates us from other species on Earth?

We’re storytellers. Our ability to create stories allows us to share knowledge with groups big or small, within our community and sometimes even across communities.

Storytelling is what historian Yuval Noah says in his book Sapiens is a superpower that humans have to form connections, to build trust, and to give value to things.

Storytelling is a pillar of the Indigenous Homes Innovation Initiative 

As the former editor of a community newspaper, with a Masters of Journalism from Carleton University, I specialize in multimedia storytelling. On January 22, as Ecotrust Canada’s Manager of Communications and Engagement, I was asked to share the importance of storytelling with a cohort of Indigenous innovators at the Indigenous Homes Innovation Initiative (IHII) Accelerator Launch, held on traditional Snaw-naw-as First Nation Territory at the Tigh-Na-Mara Seaside Resort in Parksville, British Columbia.

Pamela Perreault, Ecotrust Canada, mentors David Flood and Audrey Coulombe, Innovators for the Tree to Home Supply Chain project. SHANNON LOUGH/ECOTRUST CANADA

The launch event was the first of its kind for the federal government, which is exploring a new pathway to support Indigenous-led housing solutions. Taking the lead on this approach is a national Indigenous organization, Cando, which specializes in community economic development. With $36-million in federal grant funds available to Indigenous housing projects, there were 342 applicants but only 24 were selected — this is why storytelling is such an essential piece. It’s key that the 24 Innovators (project leads) share their housing solutions with not only their own community and prospective funders, but with the communities across Canada who could gain insight on lessons learned.

Our role as partners

Through our Indigenous Home-Lands Initiative, Ecotrust Canada was asked to be a partner at the Accelerator Launch to lead a session on storytelling, while also producing videos and photos. Home-Lands director, Pamela Perreault, was also there as a mentor to our long-time community partner in Northeast Superior, Wahkohtowin, which was selected for its project the “Tree-to-Home Supply Chain.”

Building a community of practice

The value of each of these projects is apparent. As I walked around the upper lobby at Tigh-Na-Mara, I read through the posters for each of the projects represented at the IHII launch event:

An urban-based healing lodge for Indigenous women transitioning from a corrections facility into the community; rurally-based housing for an aging population; a friendship centre providing dignified and safe housing for members ready to leave the emergency shelter system; a family healing and wellness centre to accommodate families with intergenerational trauma; a supply chain that uses local resources and labour to meet demand and address local housing needs with energy efficient homes. 

Innovators travelled from coast-to-coast-to-coast to stay at Tigh-Na-Mara for the Accelerator Launch from January 20-23. The intention was to build a “community of practice” among the Innovators and Mentors (housing experts or Indigenous architects) working together to bring Indigenous housing solutions to scale in the next 18 months.

Over this period, Ecotrust Canada will support Innovators by providing a webinar on storytelling tools for sharing their project experiences within the IHII circle and with the world.

Shannon Lough presenting on Storytelling at the IHII Accelerator Launch in Tigh-Na-Mara. ALANNA VIVANI/VANCOUVER ISLAND UNIVERSITY

The benefits of sharing their project story

There are many benefits when it comes to sharing meaningful stories about the projects they are bringing to life — this includes forming connections, building trust, and giving value to their project.

Project stories have the power to connect communities in remote locations in the Yukon or Bella Coola, with urban centres within Toronto or Vancouver. Through stories they can find similarities in their successes and challenges. They can learn from each other, inspire other communities to pursue their own housing solutions, and attract potential funders.

Through photos, video, written words, or interactive graphics, there are many opportunities to share our stories online with the world. Plant the seeds into the hearts and minds of others and watch them grow.

Shannon Lough, Manager of Communications and Engagement

The Indigenous Homes Innovation Initiative (IHII) is a five-year $40M federal program funded by Indigenous Services Canada and delivered in partnership with the Council for the Advancement of Native Development Officers (CANDO). An Indigenous Steering Committee selected 24 projects led by  Indigenous Innovators to participate in the Accelerator phase where innovators will spend up to 18 months refining their project ideas. Project ideas that meet eligibility criteria will access additional funding to support implementation. Follow or contribute to the community of practice through the IHII Circle.