Blog: Housing Concerns and the Need for Indigenous-led Housing Initiatives
This blog takes a critical look at how colonization continues to impact housing access for Indigenous Peoples and how Indigenous-led housing initiatives are one way to contribute to de-colonization and reconciliation.
By Jordan Clark Marcichiw (Mar-see-shoe), ESPC Volunteer
Housing remains a significant issue for First Nation, Metis, and Inuit Peoples (hereafter referred to as Indigenous Peoples) in Canada. Studies report Indigenous Peoples are eight times more likely to experience homelessness than non-Indigenous Peoples, regardless of whether they reside in urban or rural settings. (1) Mainstream definitions of homelessness include any individual or group’s situation where they are without “stable, safe, permanent, appropriate housing, or the immediate prospect, means and ability of acquiring it” (2) and is caused by several structural and systemic factors, such as poverty, racism, and housing shortages, as well as personal circumstances. (3) This definition largely reflects a Western, settler perspective. In the context of discussing Indigenous homelessness, it is important to consider the definition of homelessness from an Indigenous worldview:
“Unlike the common colonialist definition of homelessness, Indigenous homelessness is not defined as lacking a structure of habitation; rather, it is more fully described and understood through a composite lens of Indigenous worldviews. These include: individuals, families and communities isolated from their relationships to land, water, place, family, kin, each other, animals, cultures, languages and identities. Importantly, Indigenous people experiencing these kinds of homelessness cannot culturally, spiritually, emotionally or physically reconnect with their Indigeneity or lost relationships” (4).
Why do we need Indigenous-led Housing Initiatives?
Despite the immense impact this issue has on Indigenous Peoples in Canada, there remains a lack of resources and strategies informed and led by Indigenous Peoples and Indigenous ways of knowing. (1) Policies informed by colonization remain prevalent today, thus worsening the experiences of the housing crisis for Indigenous Peoples. For example, policies that deem traditional family housing as being inadequate and “overcrowded” lead to the apprehension of children by child welfare agencies (5), which may increase a child’s likelihood of later experiencing homelessness. (6) In order to respectfully and appropriately respond to housing challenges in Indigenous populations, the overall strategy needs to be reflective of Indigenous priorities and ways of knowing. Pairing culturally appropriate supports with housing allows for wrap-around services that address key needs identified by Indigenous Peoples (for example, intergenerational trauma), and is a key step towards decolonization. (7)
“Decolonization is about ‘cultural, psychological, and economic freedom’ for Indigenous Peoples with the goal of achieving Indigenous sovereignty — the right and ability of Indigenous Peoples to practice self-determination over their land, cultures, and political and economic systems. Colonialism is a historical and ongoing global project where settlers continue to occupy land, dictate social, political, and economic systems, and exploit Indigenous Peoples and their resources” (8).
Indigenous-led Housing Initiatives in Edmonton
There are a variety of Indigenous-led initiatives in Edmonton, including: Native Counselling Services of Alberta, NiGiNan Housing Ventures, Metis Capital Housing, Ben Calf Robe Society, and Bent Arrow. Despite this, more work needs to be done to better respond to the needs of Indigenous Peoples in our City. In early 2021, the City of Edmonton Council called for a research project to inform an Indigenous Affordable Housing Strategy in Edmonton. (9) Throughout the project, recommendations offered by Indigenous stakeholders in Edmonton include increasing sustainable funding, ensuring Indigenous-specific housing data is available to program developers, and creating an Indigenous community-based organization focused on housing. Additionally, stakeholders asked for more collaboration and improved partnerships with the government, industry, and other housing developers. Importantly, a key piece of collaboration was identified to include the diversity of Indigenous Peoples (including those represented by existing Indigenous bodies, as well as those not already represented). This diversity is an essential component in highlighting the ways Indigenous Peoples understand housing, as well as understanding their unique needs such as addressing racism in the housing market. More highlights and recommendations identified in the project can be found here.
What can I do?
- Listen and Learn – Seek the stories and lived experiences of the Indigenous population. Familiarize yourself with the Truth and Reconciliation Commission’s calls for action. (10)
- Support – Become aware of existing Indigenous-led housing initiatives. Familiarize yourself with proposed Urban, Rural and Northern Indigenous Housing strategies (11) and the recommendations they offer. (7, 9)
- Advocate – Query existing housing initiatives on how they can further decenter colonial policies, attitudes, and perspectives. Hold them accountable to decolonize the housing landscape and encourage funders to support Indigenous-led initiatives.
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Jordan Clark Marcichiw (she/her) is a volunteer with Edmonton Social Planning Council is a social worker who is passionate about spreading knowledge and advocating for systems change for the betterment of all individuals. Her personal interests include hiking, kayaking, skiing, playing slopitch, reading, and adventuring with her pup.
To enjoy more of our blog posts or to learn more about Edmonton Social Planning Council please follow us on social media @edmontonspc
(1) Thistle, J. & Smylie, J. (2020, March 9). Pekiwewin (coming home): advancing good relations with Indigenous people experiencing homelessness. Canadian Medical Association Journal (192)10, E257-E259. https://www.cmaj.ca/content/cmaj/192/10/E257.full.pdf
(2) Gaetz, S., Barr, C., Friesen, A., Harris, B., Hill, C., Kovacs-Burns, K., Pauly, B., Pearce, B., Turner, A., & Marsolais, A. (2012). Canadian Definition of Homelessness. Canadian Observatory on Homelessness Press. https://www.homelesshub.ca/sites/default/files/COHhomelessdefinition.pdf
(3) Homeless Hub. (n.d.). Causes of Homelessness. https://www.homelesshub.ca/about-homelessness/homelessness-101/causes-homelessness
(4) Thistle, J. (2017). Definition of Indigenous homelessness in Canada. Homeless Hub. https://www.homelesshub.ca/IndigenousHomelessness
(5) Lafferty, K. (2022, July 13). The need for Indigenous-led housing. Policy Options. https://policyoptions.irpp.org/magazines/july-2022/indigenous-housing-need/
(6) Serge, L., Eberle, M., Goldbeg, M., Sullivan, S., & Dudding, P. (2002, December). Pilot study the child welfare system and homelessness among Canadian youth. National Homelessness Initiative. https://www.homelesshub.ca/sites/default/files/attachments/Pilot_Study_The_Child_Welfare_System_and_Homelessness.pdf
(7) Canada Mortgage and Housing Corporation. (2022, May 10). Urban, rural, and northern Indigenous housing. https://www.cmhc-schl.gc.ca/en/professionals/housing-markets-data-and-research/housing-research/research-reports/housing-needs/research-insight-urban-rural-northern-indigenous-housing
(8) Belfi, E. & Sandiford, N. (2021). Decolonization series part 1: exploring decolonization. In S. Brandauer and E. Hartman (Eds.). Interdependence: Global Solidarity and Local Actions. The Community-based Global Learning Collaborative. http://globalsolidaritylocalaction.sites.haverford.edu/what-is-decolonization-why-is-it-important/
(9) Sokoluk, L. & Hannley, L. (2022, May 18). Prioritizing and incentivising the development of Indigenous-led affordable housing in Edmonton. https://pub-edmonton.escribemeetings.com/filestream.ashx?DocumentId=158480
(10) Truth and Reconciliation Commission of Canada. (2012). Truth and reconciliation commission of Canada: Calls to action. https://www2.gov.bc.ca/assets/gov/british-columbians-our-governments/indigenous-people/aboriginal-peoples-documents/calls_to_action_english2.pdf
(11) The Canadian Housing and Renewal Association. (2020, November). An Urban, Rural and Northern Indigenous Housing Strategy for Canada. https://www.ourcommons.ca/Content/Committee/432/HUMA/Brief/BR11000896/br-external/CanadianHousingAndRenewalAssociation-e.pdf