August 27, 2018 - The North is facing some serious housing challenges, however, three remote Northern Ontario First Nation communities are setting a positive example and have received national recognition at the First Nations Housing Conference (FNHC) for their innovation and achievements in housing. Recipients of the 2018 Community Housing Recognition Awards include Wunnumin Lake First Nation, Rainy River First Nations, and Nibinamik First Nation.
Wunnumin Lake First Nation – Community Recognition Award Winner
Wunnumin Lake is located approximately 360 kilometers northeast of Sioux Lookout. The community can be accessed primarily through air transportation, however during certain times of the year one can access this community using the winter road system or waterways. Half of the population speaks English fluently, but the native language (Oji-cree) is permanently established in the community.
In 2017, Wunnumin Lake First Nation received funding from the Department of Indigenous Services Canada to support a building project for a brand new duplex as well as funding to completely renovate ten homes in the area.
Hands-on training from experienced construction workers resulted in the entire project being completed by local community members. Houses were completely gutted and underwent renovations including new windows, new roofs, drywall, painting, blueprints, insulation and more. The duplex was built from the ground up with brand new materials.
The team atmosphere as well as the learning of transferable carpentry skills has had a positive impact on the community.
Labour worker, Pierrson Angees, stated in a FNHC video that “The work has been keeping me busy and off drinking. My brother passed away last year, but I have been sober for six months now. My parents are very proud of me.”
The needs of the housing project were expressed by community member/labourer, Jonathan Spence, “One of the older houses had a draft – there was wind coming through every window. There were cracks on the front windows and more.” Jonathan also mentions that the newly renovated homes provide tenants with a sense of pride and happiness in where they live.
All of this construction took place in only a year. The housing department hopes to continue the growth of the community by building new activity areas for the kids as well as updating the schools.
Nibinamik First Nation – Community Recognition Award Winner
Nibinamik First Nation is remotely located 530 km north of Thunder Bay and 370 km northeast of Red Lake. Nibinamik is accessible by air transportation and the winter road network.
The state of Nibinamik’s housing crisis is highlighted in a CBC Video. The video estimated that 60 new homes were needed in the community as there was improper construction everywhere - drafty windows, cracked firestove pipes, minimal space, no running water, mold and more.
Nibinamik First Nation received funding from the Department of Indigenous Services Canada to begin the construction of one fourplex, as well as one duplex. Building materials were sent to Nibinamik without any plan or construction contracts – leaving community members frustrated.
Housing needs, along with a ten year wait list for new housing initiated a project with the community members together with their Chief and Council in order to develop a self-sufficient housing policy.
The housing policy was developed through a complete collaboration between community members and their leaders, Chief and Council. With the help of urban planners from Ryerson University, over 100 community members participated in workshops and discussions in order to develop the policy. This teamwork allowed voices to be heard and their opinions respected. With the immersion of the community into the development of the housing policy, they now have a sense of ownership, respect and pride in the policy.
Nora Jean Wapoose-Wabasse, Chief and Council, stated in a FNHC recognition video that “We made it a fun thing… the process was an enjoyable learning experience for the kids, as well as the elders.”
The finished policy contains guidelines for current occupants, housing applications, waitlist standards and more.
The goal of the housing policy was to benefit the overall health of the community, with the mission that “healthy homes, equals healthy lives.” Along with the policy, the community also formalized a housing committee who are now responsible for implementing the policy as well as acting as leaders for future projects in Nibinamik.
Rainy River First Nations – Community Recognition Award Winner
Located about 380 kilometers west of Thunder Bay, Rainy River First Nations makes it their goal to act as a leader in the establishment of self-sufficiency and self-governance.
In 2017, with financial support from the Department of Indigenous Services Canada, Rainy River First Nations built three brand new duplexes on their land. The duplexes were built above code standards and had an innovative design and aesthetic. The duplexes also were built to provide cost savings for the tenants with the installation of high-efficiency appliances, LED lights and more.
Rainy River First Nations’ Chief (at the time of the build), Rob McGinnis, had the goal of providing energy efficient housing for the community by ensuring that each new duplex had an R-Value to code, or above code. R-Value describes the capacity of an insulating material to resist heat flow (the greater the R-Value, the better insulated a home is). Not only does an increased R-Value make the house more environmentally friendly, it is also economical for tenants.
Chief McGinnis believed that an increased R-Value provided the community with a higher quality of living. He states, “The whole idea behind these was for them to have pride in your house and take care of your house. And I hope that is going to move forward with everything else we do.”
Along with a Community Recognition Award from the FNHC, Rainy River First Nations also received an award for Aboriginal Community and Development Planning from the Canadian Institute of Planners, who recognize outstanding achievements across Canada and the world.
Nibinamik, Rainy River and Wunnumin Lake First Nations are great examples of innovative and successful housing programs right here in Northern Ontario. Their unique, award winning initiatives have been a great help to their communities and the people living in them.
Jenna Marsh is a Communications Officer for Northern Policy Institute. An independent social and economic think tank based here in Northern Ontario. This article first appeared in Northern Policy Institute's monthly newsletter.
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