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From Forest to Frame: A Resource for First Nations Exploring a Do-It-Yourself Approach to Housing

This document is meant to serve as a resource for Indigenous communities interested in pursuing a do-it-yourself (DIY) approach to housing. The rationale for this resource stems from the increasing awareness that Indigenous peoples in Canada live amongst vast forest resources and yet are burdened by some of the worst housing in the country. Given this contradiction, housing holds possibility as one of the key drivers of economic change and well-being within Indigenous communities and territories.

There are an increasing number of examples and opportunities for Indigenous communities to control and process territorial resources locally, transform them into building materials through value-added enterprises, and use these alongside the necessary skill and labour to construct housing for their members.

While such opportunities appear to be an ideal pathway toward Indigenous housing self-determination, it is far from a simple process, and for many communities it may not be the best approach. Developing a DIY approach to housing can be a challenge for communities with already overstretched staffing and resources, and insufficient housing quality and quantity. However, it is an approach worthy of consideration, and one which can be carried out alongside and in conjunction with other practical measures aimed toward ameliorating existing housing conditions. The purpose of this resource is not to suggest a certain way to do housing, but rather to highlight examples of DIY housing approaches that are working for some communities, to discuss key concepts and challenges, and to share best practices.

How we developed this resource

This research project, entitled “From Forest to Frame: A Resource for First Nations Exploring a Do-It-Yourself Approach to Housing” was funded through BC Housing’s Building Excellence Research & Education Grants Program. The project builds upon many years of research and work carried out by First Nation communities and the Indigenous Homelands Initiative at Ecotrust Canada.

To develop this resource, we started with an initial engagement phase that included reaching out to First Nation community partners and sector experts in order to understand their perspectives on the development of the resource and its efficacy. At the same time an extensive literature review was carried out by our research team, including a review of all accessible First Nations community websites, grey and scholarly literature. Based on the findings, we created a Table of Contents for the resource as well as an initial database for organizing information to be included in the resource.

A survey was developed and sent out to all First Nations housing managers that we could identify via our web search and existing network in British Columbia, resulting in 25 responses. Based on the results of the survey and the literature review, we developed an interview script and invited select survey participants to join us for interviews, resulting in 13 formal interviews with practitioners and experts involved in First Nations housing and value-added forestry.

This resource is the synthesis of those findings, supplemented with the knowledge, expertise, and experience of the research team and the many partners and collaborators on this project who have been working on this challenge over the last decade.

Download From Forest to Frame: A Resource for First Nations Exploring a Do-It-Yourself Approach to Housing


The aim of this report is to increase understanding and enable informed decision-making for First Nations specifically interested in pursuing a DIY approach to housing. This resource is not exhaustive and does not cover all things related to Indigenous Housing, nor does it address all of the challenges that may arise when attempting to connect territorial timber resources with local housing processes. Indigenous housing is complex and part of a broader system of community well-being, development, land use, and governance.

Some useful complementary resources to this guide include BC Housing’s Interim Guide to Indigenous Housing Development and Design, and the numerous documents offered on Ecotrust Canada’s Indigenous Homelands Initiative website.