Could tiny homes solve indigenous peoples' housing crisis in Canada?

CBC
© CBC

Tiny houses are many things to many people: some see them as a way out of the mortgaged-out-the-ears rat race, others see it as fad, others use them as a source of rental income, while some criticize them as still too costly per square foot, and as a form of "poverty appropriation."

Others believe that micro-housing could be a possible solution for rejuvenating rural towns, sheltering the homeless with dignity, and to tackle a growing shortage of affordable housing. Here in Canada, it could help address what is one of the nation's dirty little secrets: no, not the tar sands, but the deplorable lack of safe, adequate and affordable housing in many aboriginal First Nations communities, in one of the most developed nations in the world.

Earlier this month, the CBC reported that tiny house builder Mini Homes of Winnipeg, Manitoba completed a 16' x 8' tiny house over four weeks, intended for a man who had been living in a dilapidated "shanty" with no electricity or running water, in Big River First Nation, north of Saskatoon, Saskatchewan. Here is the excerpt from CBC Radio's Unreserved:

The community of 3,300 faces a critical housing shortage: though 40 mobile homes were purchased last year, there are still over 270 people on a waiting list for housing. Many First Nations communities across the country have been dealing with inadequate, overcrowded homes in disrepair for years, which could be replaced with durable and energy-efficient tiny or small homes, adapted to reflect indigenous cultural values and lifestyles.

CBCCBC/Video screen capture

One House, Many Nations

The building of this $15,000 tiny home was made possible by the crowdfunding efforts of indigenous advocacy group Idle No More, as part of the One House, Many Nations initiative, which aims to build "sustainable homes for humans with compassion that respects their dignity."

Sylvia McAdam, one of the founders of the Idle No More and the crowdfunding campaign, says that the Canadian federal government needs to uphold treaty promises made to aboriginal peoples:

This is a treaty term — and promise for indigenous people — that shelter is one of the promises. It's a fundamental and foundational human rights issue. When you address shelter and housing, you address so many things. We're talking about mental health, the well-being of families and stability of families.

I'm calling out the colonial government — the settler government — to begin addressing the issue of homes, homelessness, and the treaty terms and promises to shelter. Those are the kind of things that need to be talked about because having a home is a fundamental human right.

The group has now raised more than $25,000 for two more small homes to be built for other communities, and is partnering with student designers from Harvard University to develop an eco-friendly and affordable building system.

Sylvia McAdamSylvia McAdam/via

Institutionalized discrimination

But the lack of adequate housing is only a small part of a broader problem. Besides housing, the underlying issues of poverty and other social problems -- such as higher rates of substance abuse and incarceration -- now facing aboriginal peoples in Canada is an extremely complex one. For instance, one has to consider the ongoing intergenerational trauma inflicted by government-sponsored residential school programs, which forcibly separated aboriginal children from their families and communities starting in the late nineteenth century until the 1990s, under the guise of 'educating' them. As the heart-breaking testimonies of residential school survivors recorded during the Truth and Reconciliation Commission reveal, many of these children were physically, sexually and psychologically abused in these schools -- the ripple effects of which are still felt today in many families and communities.

Sadly, it appears that similar injustices are continuing to this day. Says aboriginal lawyer Katherine Hensel about this week's Canadian Human Rights Tribunal landmark ruling indicating Canada's indigenous peoples do face widespread institutionalized discrimination, neglect and underfunding for many on-reserve services:

There's child welfare, there's health, there's education, there's water, there's infrastructure, housing. Every single element of government services that Canadians take for granted, First Nations people do not. These are, for the most part across the country, treaty people who gave up a tremendous amount based on assurances that they would have access to what the rest of Canada had access to, and they simply haven't.

Ultimately, tiny houses probably aren't the silver bullet to singlehandedly solve the crisis, though it could help in the short term -- and probably more so than the previous Conservative government's $300-million "market-based solution," which has so far, been woefully ineffective. Whatever it may take, it will certainly require sound government policy, intercultural sensitivity and a lot of collective moral courage to right a long-standing wrong.

Read more over at "Tiny house built by Idle No More on way to Saskatchewan", "Idle No More co-founder launches First Nations housing campaign;" and "Canada’s First Nations: A Legacy of Institutional Racism".

Tags: Canada | Small Spaces

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